A terrifying construction accident took place yesterday afternoon in Astoria, Queens. The accident, which is being reported by several local media outlets, took
place at approximately 3:40 PM at a work site located on 28th Road near 31st Street.
Initially, reports were that it was a crane that had collapsed and trapped 3 workers in the basement at the construction site. Those reports were inaccurate. Now, a day after the accident, it is clear that heavy construction materials were inadvertently dropped several floors from the top of the work site all the way down to the basement.
Records reflect that the construction work being performed at this location involved converting a two-story building into a three-story building. Construction had been ongoing for the last 2 months.
The materials which fell included 1200 pound laminated beams, according to officials with the Fire Department of New York City. These beams were resting on the roof of the building and the roof gave way, causing the beams as well as heavy bags filled with cement and other construction materials and debris to plummet all the way down to the basement. The materials finally crashed after reaching the basement of the building where three workers were simply doing their job. The imposing materials trapped the 3 unsuspecting, innocent workers.
Sheer Terror. Can you imagine doing your job in one minute and then finding yourself being crushed and trapped by 1200 pound beams and construction materials? These men had to be in fear of losing their lives.
A 37 year-old worker was able to free himself while emergency personnel attempted to save the other 2, according to an article in The New York Daily News. A second worker was rescued shortly thereafter. A third worker, a 28-year-old, remained trapped by the construction debris for hours. His body was reportedly covered from head to toe. Fire Department Medics were administering pain medication intravenously to the victim while other rescue workers were attempting to disengage. The pain and fear must have been overwhelming as they slowly tried to remove him. He eventually was rescued after being removed from the rubble with a hydraulic lift and a specially trained rescue team.
The workers were rushed to a local hospital where they are receiving treatment for their injuries. The New York Daily News report indicates that one of the victims, Salvador Velasquez, suffered numerous facial fractures and other injuries but remained conscious. The other victims’ wellbeing is unknown.
An investigation is already underway. Investigators from the Buildings Department and OSHA will attempt to determine why this accident occurred. Their investigation will focus on the dangerous materials which were placed on the roof.
- What was the overall weight of the materials?
- What type of surface were they placed on?
- What amount of pressure was this surface capable of withstanding?
- Were there other more appropriate resting places for these potentially lethal construction materials?
- Was an engineer consulted about the structural stability of the roof surface?
- Did the people responsible for safety at the site consider any overhead protections for the people working beneath these materials?
The above are all fair questions. Bottom line: many of the questions investigators will seek answers to will focus on whether this worksite was safe enough. Some of the workers, according to media accounts, thought the work environment that they were laboring in was an unsafe one. We will follow how this unfolds.
Our thoughts and prayers are with the injured construction workers and their families.
But, many will ask, what are the workers’ rights in a situation like this? Construction workers in New York are protected by a very specific body of law. Labor Law §240 applies to the type of construction work that these workers were involved with. This statute mandates that certain safeguards be taken during the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning, or pointing of a building or structure. It places the ultimate responsibility for safety at a construction site squarely on the shoulders of a general contractor, property owner and/or developer. These are the same entities who have the ability to control safety at the site. The law protects workers who were injured because of a failure to provide appropriate protection from a falling object. If a worker is injured by a falling object and the object that struck him was because of a failure to provide a safe workplace, then the worker is protected under the law. The legal determination will likely be dictated by whether the roof surface that these materials were placed on was strong enough. It says here that the investigation will reveal that it was a shoddy and unsafe way to complete the work.
Any worker who is injured in a construction related accident should seek the advice and counsel of an experienced construction accident attorney. This area of the law is very specific and often complicated. There is no substitute for skill and experience.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm that specializes in representing and fighting on behalf of injured construction workers and their families.