Surprise Site Inspections Lead to Decrease in Construction Accidents

Friday, December 6th, 2019

We have often discussed construction accidents in this space. After all, fighting on behalf of injured workers is what we do. The most heartbreaking and senseless thing about most construction accidents is that many of them could have been prevented if fundamental safety rules and regulations were followed. Many accidents occur because of a lack of safety or supervision at a construction site. Our lawyers know firsthand how an unsafe work site can lead to an injury that changes someone’s life forever, and the statistics show it: according to OSHA, in 2017, a staggering one in 5 worker deaths were in construction. In New York City, the situation is not better. Between 2015 and 2018, construction-related injuries increased by 61 percent, according to city data cited in a New York Times article.

However, based on the same article, it seems that some steps are finally being taken to make construction work sites safer. Beginning in September of 2018, a surprise inspection team consisting of 38 experts in construction was formed. Since that time, the team completed 20,166 surprise inspections of 10,256 construction sites. This is approximately one quarter of all active construction sites in the city, the article stated. As a result of these inspections, 11,484 violations were issued, which adds up to a total of $15 million in fines. An additional 2,523 stop-work orders were issued due to dangerous working conditions like missing guardrails and/or inadequate safety supervision.

Typically, inspections are only completed during regularly scheduled times (when contractors and workers would have time to prepare in advance for the visit), when an accident occurs at a site, or in response to a complaint about a potential safety hazard. When inspectors are only called during these times-especially after an accident has already occurred-it is too late; even if they point out violations to be corrected or impose fines, it can’t prevent the catastrophic injury that has already happened.

That is why surprise inspections seem to be working so well; they prevent accidents before they can even occur. In the first nine months of this year, construction injuries decreased 26 percent (from 590 injuries to 437) throughout the same period as last year. Surprise inspections are the main differing factor; the major construction activity happening in New York has remained the same. The inspections have been such a success that there are plans to bring on an additional 15 inspectors.

Most people support the surprise inspections, especially since there has been an increase in construction in New York City-“the biggest building boom in more than half a century”, according to the article. In fact, some people even say that more should be done. They advocate for even more surprise inspections, in addition to increased follow-up once the inspection has been completed. Inspections and fines for violations are helpful, but there needs to be follow-up to ensure problem areas are actually resolved. Otherwise, the risk remains.

Although there has barely been any public opposition to these inspections, some contractors and developers have said that the visits can “disrupt work” and “lead to unnecessary fines and paperwork for minor infractions,” according to the New York Times article. This is a small price to pay for keeping workers safe and ensuring that they are able to return home unharmed at the end of each day. We hope that actions like these surprise inspections continue to be taken to improve the safety of construction sites and continue to keep workers from harm.

The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy are skilled in handling construction accident cases in which clients have been injured due to negligence or a lack of proper safety enforcement. One of our notable results is an $11,500,000 settlement for a worker who severely cut his wrist while working with a defective circular saw that was missing its safety guard. Other construction accident cases include:

  • $11,000,000 settlement for a masonry foreman who suffered serious pelvic and spinal injuries after he fell three stories through an unsecured temporary cover at his job site.
  • $10,875,000 jury verdict for a union worker who sustained debilitating internal injuries after he fell and was impaled by unguarded steel rebar.
  • $7,300,000 settlement for a construction worker who had to have his arm amputated when he was crushed by a steel beam because he had not been provided with proper equipment.
  • $6,793,881 jury verdict for a union laborer who suffered internal and back injuries after falling on an unguarded piece of rebar.

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