59-year-old James Weiss, a former firefighter, sustained severe head trauma on the morning of Wednesday, January 15, 2020, when a piece of sheet metal fell on him while he was working at a construction site in Franklin Lakes, New Jersey. He was taken to St. Joseph’s Regional Medical Center for care. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is investigating the incident.
Barely 24 hours after that accident, there was another similar tragedy. On the morning of Thursday, January 16, 2020, 67-year-old Xiang Ji was killed by a piece of aluminum-covered plywood that flew off a building in Flushing, Queens. She was walking under a building on Main Street with various plywood advertisements attached to it, when one collapsed onto her. Stunningly, the building under which she was walking already had a Stop Work Order for 18 open violations. City Councilman Peter Koo called for the city to shut down the building until scaffolding is in place and the safety of the site can be assured, even though it is, sadly, too late for Ms. Ji.
These frightening construction accidents-falling object cases-illuminate the inherent dangers of construction work.
And make no mistake-falling object construction site accidents are no joke. According to OSHA, being struck by an object is the number two cause of private sector worker deaths in the construction industry, and is considered part of the “Fatal Four,” which also includes falls, electrocution, and caught-in-between accidents as common causes of construction-related deaths. “Struck by object” was the reason for 112 out of 1,008 total deaths in construction in 2018, or 11.1 percent. Additionally, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there was a 17 percent increase in workers struck by falling objects or equipment from 2017 to 2018.
Why the increase? Perhaps it is because most workers do not understand the serious threat that falling objects can pose. There can be many hazards on a construction site-such as the operation of heavy machinery and working in elevated or tight spaces-and falling objects are not always an obvious risk. Although there are precautions taken to keep workers from falling, objects like tools are not secured or given much thought. For example, an object like a tape measure or a wrench may seem harmless. But if the wrench falls from a great height, picking up speed as it goes down, it can have an extremely harmful impact.
The most tragic thing about these accidents is that they can often be prevented, simply by implementing certain safety measures. Some guidelines that OSHA has set for falling object protection include:
- Ensure all workers wear hard hats
- Secure all loose items aloft that are not in use
- Install guardrail systems, and ensure that these systems do not have holes large enough for objects to fall through
- Install safety nets, and confirm that they are strong enough to catch a falling object without breaking
- Implement designated safety areas that are clearly marked off where workers can go while other construction work is underway
- Install toeboards (protective barriers) along the exposed edge of an overhead work site
It is critical that these guidelines are followed and the proper precautions are taken to protect both workers and pedestrians from falling object accidents. Countless pedestrians and workers, like Ms. Ji and Mr. Weiss, have been tragically injured just by walking under scaffolding or through a construction site that is not clearly marked as a work zone, or in which these preventative measures haven’t been taken.
Above, we referenced a certain casual nature to safety with respect to falling objects at a construction site. Developing a “Culture of Safety” is also essential in limiting these harrowing accidents. It is easier said than done. What can help?
- Educating supervisors and workers about the perils of falling objects
- Making sure that the appropriate safety equipment is available to all workers
- Enforcing safety rules by punishing those who disregard them
- Rewarding contractors with a safer track record, thus fostering a safer work environment
If you or someone you know has been injured by a falling object at a construction site, you may be entitled to compensation for your suffering. The construction accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy can help. We have extensive experience handling construction accident cases. Notable case results include:
- $110,174,972.38 verdict for a young cyclist who was struck by a falling railroad tie dropped carelessly from a construction site above
- $7,000,000 settlement for a 25-year-old carpenter who was hit in the face by a 5-pound metal clamp that was not properly secured
- $4,750,000 settlement for a union labor foreman who sustained debilitating injuries after being hit in the back by a flying rock during a construction site blast
- $3,500,000 settlement for a pedestrian who was struck on his head and neck by a piece of limestone cement that fell from the 10th story during construction