Heightened Risk of Danger for Construction Workers on Scaffolds

The New York Committee of Occupational Safety and Health recently issued an alarming report regarding their findings of the hazardous conditions construction workers face in New York. While construction workers make up 4% of New York’s workforce, the occupation also accounts for 20% of New York’s worker fatalities. The Committee found that workers who work at elevated heights are at increased risk for accident and most OSHA violations occur in this category. 65% of construction workers are working at elevated heights on scaffolds, therefore, most construction workers are adversely affected by the risks associated with working at elevated heights. The Committee reported that two-thirds of construction sites visited were issued citations for serious violations. Additionally, most of the scaffold violations were found to occur at non-union sites, which are responsible for 79% of fatal construction accidents, according to OSHA.

Many tragic deaths could have been prevented by implementing basic safety protocol. In one case, a worker fell from a ladder simply because no one was available to hold it. The employer was only charged a $4,000 fine. In another case, a worker in his early twenties fell to his death because his harness was not attached to an independent anchorage. The New York City Department of Building inspectors have also cited instances of preventable tragedies due to unsecured planks, lack of protection systems on balconies, failure to install guardrails, failure to erect a scaffold properly, and cross braces missing. Due to the low number of OSHA inspectors, many violations go unnoticed.

The report also found a disproportionate number of Latino/immigrant deaths resulting from falls. OSHA has launched a bilingual campaign to educate workers who many not speak English about fall hazards and safety measures.

Construction company owners are rarely criminally prosecuted for these violations. Over the course of 35 years, only 84 cases have been prosecuted. A landmark case occurred recently in Staten Island when a construction company owner was charged with criminally negligent homicide as a result of the death of one of his workers. For a conviction of criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony, an offender can receive up to 1 ½ -4 years jail time in New York. OSHA violations resulting in loss of human life may be prosecuted, resulting in up to a 6 month prison sentence or fine of $250,000-$500,000. However, more commonly issued for the violations are basic monetary penalties which are not paid 30% of the time.

If you have been injured in a work accident, you may qualify for Worker’s Compensation. Additionally, if you were injured due to an elevation related accident, you may be able to sue your employer and third parties under New York’s strict liability “Scaffold Law.” Contact an attorney who is experienced with construction accidents who will fight for your rights. Call the attorneys at McIntyre, Donohue, Accardi, Salmonson & Riordan, LLP at (866)557-7500.

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