Construction sites are inherently dangerous, and falls are one of the leading causes of death and injury in the industry. That’s why it is essential for construction companies to provide their workers with fall protection equipment and follow the safety standards set by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Unfortunately, some companies prioritize profits over their safety, and the consequences can be deadly.
After a dip in 2020, construction accident deaths in New York State and New York City were on the rise again in 2021 according to the recently released “Deadly Skyline” report. “Deadly Skyline” is an annual report released by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH). NYCOSH uses the most recent available data from the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (DOL BLS) to compile an annual report on construction accident deaths in New York City and New York State.
A total of 61 hard hats died in NY State in 2021 compared to respectively 71, 69, 58, 55 and 41 in 2016, 2017, 2018, 2019 and 2020. Since 2016, during which a record number of construction workers died in NYS, the number of fatalities gradually declined to reach its lowest since 2013. While the slowdown in construction activity due to the Covid19 lockdown was a factor in the 2020 dip, the number of fatalities reported in 2021 jumped above the number of fatalities reported in 2019 and 2018.
Among the 61 construction workers who died in NY State, 20 of them died while working on a construction site in NYC. Construction workers fatalities also increased in 2021 in NYC compared to 2020 but remain lower or equal to the number of fatalities reported annually between 2013 and 2019 in the city. With the exception of 2020, construction fatalities in NYC never went below 20 since 2012 ands the only time they went down to 20 was in 2017.
The negligence of a contractor caused the death of a construction worker in Poughkeepsie in 2017. Maximiliano Saban died and another of his colleague suffered personal injury after a wall collapsed on them.
The wall collapsed because the contractor, Finbar O-Neil who owns OneKey LLC, did not follow OSHA safety rules. O-Neil had to implement a soil compacting plan involving piling large quantities of dirt called surcharges on top of the construction sites of 3 buildings. An engineering company prepared the plan on how to use the surcharges. However to gain time, O-Neil decided that, instead of following the plan, he would build a wall that would retain one of the surcharges so that workers could start to work on the building next to it. He made the decision on his own without consulting with engineers to know if the wall would sustain the surcharges.
On the day of the accident, some construction workers complained that construction machines were on the top of the surcharges adding dirt to it. Later on during the day, Maximiliano and a colleague were working next to the wall when it collapsed. They both ran away but Maximiliano was unable to escape.
Carlos’Law, a bill named after Carlos Moncayo, an undocumented and nonunion construction worker who was 22 year old when he was fatally crushed by a collapsing wall on a Manhattan construction site, is on the desk of NY Governor Hochul. The bill that passed the State legislature earlier in June proposes to significantly raise fines for contractors and their agents who have been criminally charged after a serious in jury or death occurred at their construction site. Fines for misdemeanor would be raised to $300,000 and fines for a felony in criminal cases related to the death of a construction worker would be raised to $500,000 instead of the actual $10,000.
The actual NY state-imposed limit on corporate penalties of $10,000 is “Monopoly money”
Construction companies are rarely criminally charged in New York. Since The Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 was signed by President Nixon, out of 400,000 hard hat fatalities, 80 of them were prosecuted and around 12 only resulted in criminal charges. Harco Construction, the general contractor for the site where Carlos Moncayo died was one of them (see previous posts). The contractor was sentenced to pay $10,000 (the maximum fine on corporate penalties in NY State) after being found guilty of reckless endangerment, criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter. At the time Cyrus R. Vance Jr who was the District Attorney called the fine “Monopoly money”.
Two years ago, on July 7 2020 in Geneseo, NY, Tim Barber, a 35 year old construction worker died from heat stress on his second day at work. The young man had just been hired as a construction laborer on the Genesee River bridge project in Geneseo, NY. Tim was living with his parents and came back home on the first day not feeling well. On the second day before he headed back to work, his father told him to eat his lunch, take breaks and drink water. Several hours later, in mid-afternoon, their son died from hyperthermia.
According to the investigation, Tim was working alone in a summer heat that was around 95 degrees. He was sorting bolts which is considered a light duty, however his body was not accustomed to the heat. The accident could have been prevented and the employer, Pavilion Drainage Supply, Inc. was cited by OSHA for not training and protecting their employees against extreme heat. His parents are now advocating for better workers education and protection for extreme heat.
Tim’s parents are not the only one campaigning for better workers protection against heat illness and fatality. New York Attorney General Laetitia James is at the head of a coalition of six States that are asking OSHA to implement a national standard to protect not only construction workers but all workers, outdoor and indoor, that are exposed to extreme heat during their work.
Road construction accidents have been increasing during the pandemic. According to a recent article in Construction Dive, 60% of contractors reported an increase in crashes in their work zone last year.
During the lockdown as construction work was deemed essential in many States, Department of Transportation officials thought that significantly less cars on the road would provide a good opportunity for them to execute some road work without blocking and disturbing too much traffic. However, with less traffic on the road, speeding and other reckless driving behavior increased and contractors reported more crashes in highway work zones all over the country during the lockdown. In a PEW study that was released last year, many States recorded an increased in work zone crashes despite a decline in traffic in the US by 40% in April and 26% in May.
444 reckless drivers ticketed during Operation Hard Hat in NY State
A NY contractor was fined $138,000 for putting his employees at risk of dangerous construction accidents by not respecting multiple OSHA safety rules. OSHA investigators visited a Multifamily Housing Construction site located at 176 E. Denison Parkway in Corning, NY, and found that the contractor Riedman Cos., a non unionized contractor from Rochester, did not set up an enclosed chute to dispose of waste material from heights of 20 feet or more. Additionally, employees working at heights of 6 feet or more were not provided with adequate fall safety such as personal fall arrest system, safety net system and guardrail system. As a result the contractor was hit with one willful violation and a $121,443 fine for the absence of fall protection and 2 serious violations with fines of $10,409 for dangerous disposal of waste material and $ 6,940 for unsafe stairways. The violations are being contested by Riedmans Cos. The total fine was the 8th highest OSHA fine received in the US during the last quarter of 2020.
The highest fine was issued to Fabcon Precast LLC in Ohio after a worker died at their facility. Fabcon was hit with a total of 10 serious and 5 willful violations for a total fine of $451,079 which is now being contested by the company.
The second highest fine was in an amount of $299,825 for a painting and restoration comapny that exposed its workers to methylene chloride and violated lead safety and cadmium standards. The company, Fortune Restoration Painting & Masonry in Illinois had already been hit with similar violations in 2014.
A 27 year old construction worker fell to his death in Suffolk county, NY, yesterday afternoon. Hector Aranda-Sanchez was working on the roof of the Four Seasons Sunrooms and Windows company located at 5005 Veteran Memorial Hwy in Holbrook, NY, when he fell. Aranda-Sanchez was rushed to the hospital but he did not survive his injuries. The young man who was from Peekskill, was working for a Yonkers based roofing company according to the police. Investigation is still ongoing to find out the exact conditions of the accident.
Earlier the same day and also in Suffolk county, a landscaper lost his life after he fell from a tree. 51 year old Vicente Oliver was trimming a tree on property located on Bluebird lane in West Hills. The man was sitting on a branch that gave way and he fell 40 feet to the ground.
It is unclear if any of the two men were wearing required safety equipment.
A NY construction worker who fell 45 to 50 feet from a roof survived after he fell in a dumpster full of debris. The 37-year-old man was working on a construction site located at 709 West Court in Ithaca, NY. The accident occurred just after 5:00 PM. The worker who was wearing a fall protection gear had just unclipped himself after finishing his work and was about to go home when he fell from the roof. He landed in a dumpster full of debris and survived. It is not exactly clear how exactly the accident occurred and what were the extent of the injuries he suffered.
The firefighters, the police and an emergency staff in an ambulance showed up to the scene of the accident shortly after. EMS workers were able to get in the dumpster, secure the worker on a back board with a cervical collar and splint his injured arm before taking him out of it. Because of the inclement weather, it was impossible to transport the injured construction worker by helicopter to a hospital. He was transported by ambulance to a trauma center in Pennsylvania.
So far neither the name or an update on his condition have been provided. The accident is under investigation. The weather conditions might have played a role in the fall.
Highway construction workers have one of of the highest rate of fatality among all categories of construction workers. Too often, they die in accidents caused by reckless drivers. In New York State, from May to November, the New York State Police and the New York State Department of Transportation are joining forces to crack down on reckless drivers in highway construction zone areas. Through “Operation Hard Hat”, any highway construction workers could actually be a State trooper checking on your driving behavior near construction zones and communicating with other state troopers down the road to stop and ticket drivers who do not respect construction workers safety.
State troopers are sometimes taking the role of a flagman or could be seated in a truck checking your speed or checking if you are using a cellphone
This year so far, according to a recent announcement by governor Cuomo, 37 operations have been conducted on New York State highways resulting in 432 speeding tickets, 112 seat-belts tickets, 192 cell phone tickets, 68 move over tickets, 2 failure to obey flagger tickets, 10 failure to obey traffic control device tickets, 1 DWI violation, 2 unsafe lane change tickets and 403 tickets for other violations. A total of 1,222 tickets were issued so far. Last year, the same campaign from May to November resulted in a total of 1,048 tickets.