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Falling is a Leading Cause of Fatalities on NYC Construction Sites

The recent deaths of two construction workers in falls from scaffolding on buildings in Manhattan highlight the dangers inherent in construction jobs.

One of the workers fell from scaffolding outside a Midtown hotel where he was working on the building’s facade, CBS New York reported. He fell through a gap in the scaffold’s planks and plunged 80 feet onto another piece of scaffolding directly above the hotel’s main entrance.

Two weeks later, the other worker fell to his death from the roof of a 10-story office building in Midtown, landing on scaffolding 25 feet above the sidewalk, according to the New York Post.

News about workers who die by falling from elevated structures grabs headlines. But on a day-to-day basis, construction workers must deal with many workplace hazards that can cause slip-and-fall injuries.

The Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration reports that falls from elevations are a leading cause of fatalities on construction sites, accounting for more than one third of all deaths in that industry.

Fall hazards include grease, oil or other liquids, uneven surfaces, tools, equipment, or machinery left in busy walkways, wires or cable that extend into high-traffic areas and debris left behind by careless workers.

Cracked cement walkways and steps, uneven scaffolding, potholes, trenches, and poorly marked holes in floors or rooftops can lead to fatal falls. Construction workers who must carry equipment, tools or other items can’t use their hands to break their falls, resulting in serious injuries

The state of New York requires construction site owners and general contractors to keep their sites safe. A violation of safety rules could result in liability if a worker should fall and get hurt.

In addition to pain and suffering, workers often endure financial hardship, including lost wages and lost benefits such as health insurance, retirement fund contributions and pensions. Workers who can’t return to their construction jobs may be entitled to recovery for the future wages and benefits they would have earned if they had not been hurt.

Conditions involving negligence can include trenches that are not adequately secured, poorly-trained workers, employers who fail to provide proper safety devices and equipment that is defective or in poor condition.

To help prevent slip-and-fall accidents, construction sites should be clear and tidy. These steps are easy to follow:

  • Promptly dispose of trash and scrap in designated waste areas.
  • Keep tools, ladders, gear, building materials, hard hats and other equipment or personal items safely stored when not in use.
  • Use cordless tools whenever possible.
  • Tape down cords, hoses, ropes and cables when they are not in use.
  • Keep the volume of materials on site to a minimum by carefully planning deliveries and controlling inventory.
  • Keep walkways clear at all times.
  • Clean up spills as soon as they are discovered.
  • Apply salt, sand or other de-icing materials to icy surfaces.
  • Place warning signs around hazardous areas.
  • Make sure sites have available personal fall arrest systems, including body harnesses and safety nets.
  • Protect open areas and holes by covering them and installing warning signs.
  • Assign spotters to be extra eyes and ears to alert their co-workers to potential hazards.
  • Implement internal controls.
  • Institute good training measures to alert workers to construction site dangers

Workers and supervisors should be familiar with their company’s job site risk analysis so they’ll the dangers associated with particular jobs.

In 2012, OSHA started a Fall Prevention Campaign in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to promote safety on construction sites. The organization is ramping up its efforts this summer with a National Safety Stand Down June 2-6, dedicated to fall prevention.

The program, which focuses on raising awareness and helping prevent falls on construction sites, includes free education and training resources.

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