On August 25, 2015, at approximately 12:40 p.m., a 30-year-old construction worker fell to his death when wooden boards covering an elevator shaft gave way, causing him to plummet four stories down into the basement of 577 Ninth Avenue, near the corner of 42nd Street in the Hells Kitchen section of Manhattan. The victim was found by police unconscious and unresponsive in several feet of water in the basement and was immediately rushed to Bellevue Hospital where he was pronounced dead. According to reports, the victim was not wearing a safety harness while walking along the wooden boards.
Two things are readily apparent, even early on in the investigation:
- A worker is entitled to perform his job duties on a safe, strong work surface. An unsecured wooden board covering an open elevator shaft woefully fails to meet that bare minimum requirement.
- When a worker is required to labor at an elevated height — 40 feet in this instance — their employer is mandated to provide fall protection devices. In this instance, a harness would have saved this man’s life if he was wearing it.
The construction site was immediately shut down as officials began their investigation. An investigation by the Department of Buildings is underway and will attempt to determine why the boards were being used as a temporary flooring. This will be a challenging one for the contractors to explain. This was the easy route; certainly not the safe practice. They will also try to learn how and why the wooden boards collapsed under the unsuspecting victim’s weight. Investigators will also seek to determine why the worker was not wearing a harness while performing the obviously dangerous work. A harness, if used properly, would have prevented this fatal fall entirely. Were there harnesses available for this worker? Was fall protection safety emphasized by those in charge of worker safety at the site? Was wearing a harness discouraged because it slowed the work down? All fair questions, we will see what the truth is soon enough.
Questions have already surfaced about the contractor on the site, BRF Construction, some reports citing a shoddy safety record. The contractor on the project was previously fined $12,000 for a similar unsafe work condition on the job site. Specifically, a worker was required to climb a rebar wall as high as 20 feet off the ground and was not provided a harness. As is evident from this tragic event, construction is a dangerous vocation. There are very few jobs where a normal day can end with a hard-working person being killed by inadequate temporary flooring or the failure to provide an appropriate safety device like a harness. In New York, construction workers represent the greatest percentage of worker fatalities. Yet, workers are consistently compelled to take safety short-cuts to complete a job faster.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to the victim, his family and all those who loved him. As they grapple with this loss, they are most certainly consumed with sorrow, fear, uncertainty and pain — the pain no doubt fueled in part because this appears to be a senseless, avoidable tragedy.
We will continue to keep you posted on yet another tragic construction accident, particularly as the Department of Buildings reveals their findings.
The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy take pride in fighting for victims of construction accidents and helping the victims and their families through difficult times. They have recovered more than $850,000,000 in verdicts and settlements for their clients. You can learn more about the firm by visiting the firm’s website at blockotoole.com.