Scaffold Fall at Water Treatment Plant Kills 31 Year-Old Michael Buffamante

Thursday, October 27th, 2016

It was supposed to be an ordinary Wednesday at work.

It turned out to be anything but that for 31 year-old Michael Buffamante, a Hawthorne, NY resident who was killed while working for Welkin Mechanical. Buffamante was working on a scaffold that was elevated above a 35 foot deep tank at a water treatment facility called the Coney Island Water Pollution Control facility on Knapp Street in the Sheepshead Bay section of South Brooklyn. The tank, made of concrete, was filled with wastewater which was being treated with chlorine and other chemicals before it was determined that the water was safe to return to the waterways. Mr. Buffamante’s death was reported in the New York Daily News.

Buffamante was at the site, a location operated and controlled by the Department of Environmental Protection, to install dechlorination equipment. This is a necessary step before the water is returned to our waterways. Chlorine removes bacteria and other harmful substances from water. However, before water is returned to the waterways, it must be dechlorinated because fish, sea-life and plants can be harmed by the presence of chlorine.

Buffamante was caused to fall off of the scaffold, leading him directly into the sewage tank. He struggled in the tank for a long, harrowing 8 minutes as emergency workers desperately tried to find him, according to reports from the Fire Department. An 8 minute period filled with sheer terror.

The tank extended under a pier, compounding the challenges associated with finding this worker in the murky waters. His body was not visible for long stretches of time while stuck in the tank. Once found, he was brought to the surface but it was apparent that he was in cardiac arrest. Paramedics attempted CPR at the scene and rushed the patient, who was in critical condition, to Coney Island Hospital. He was later pronounced dead.

Our thoughts and prayers are with the family, friends and coworkers of Michael Buffamante. His loss was both tragic and premature.

Investigators will now seek to determine whether this loss was also preventable. More specifically, they will try to ascertain whether the deceased worker was provided a safe opportunity to do his job.

We at Block O’Toole & Murphy have long discussed worker safety and the frequency in which workers are either seriously injured or killed in work-related falls. Falls, statistically, are the most frequent cause of worker related deaths in the United States.

It too often boils down to a few very simple questions . . .

· Was the worker provided a safety harness and instructed on how to properly use the safety harness?

· Was there an appropriate place for the worker to tie off so that his safety harness could provide the appropriate fall protection?

New York law requires workers who are doing their jobs at an elevated level – – which this would clearly encompass – – to be provided with safety devices that offer them an opportunity to do their job in a safe manner. Scaffold work is dangerous and often results in serious consequences when not done safely. That is part of the motivation for our worker safety laws in the state.

Learn more about scaffold accidents here.

If the investigation uncovers that Mr. Buffamante was not provided a safe opportunity to do his job on the day he was killed then there will be plenty of people who have a lot of explaining to do. The persons and entities at his job site who are responsible for safety will share a legal responsibility for his death. The DEP claims that Mr. Buffamante was given certain protective equipment but they fail to specify what that is. One would think that if the worker was provided a harness and had an appropriate place to connect the harness to then the DEP would have very specifically concluded that in their statements. Their silence may very well speak volumes. A working harness prevents this tragedy. It is a simple as that. If this unwary worker lost his life because they failed to take such the primitive step of providing him with safety equipment then Shame on Them!

Families who have loved ones that have been involved in serious work accidents that either seriously injure or kill their loved one will feel frightened and unsettled about both the present and the future. They should have an opportunity to consult with an attorney who is experienced with serious work accident cases. Work injuries often allow the injured person and/or their family to legally recover for losses like lost wages, including potential wage loss in the future, medical bills, pain and suffering and the loss of parental guidance, if applicable. The attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy have a long and proud history of fighting on behalf of injured workers and their families. The firm, a team of fighters, has recovered nearly $1 billion in verdicts and settlements ( for their injured clients, including many for victims in work related accidents.

Learn more about our history of helping injured construction workers.

You may contact us at any time for a free consultation by calling 212-736-5300.


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