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Fires and Explosions on Construction Sites: What You Need to Know

Construction has proven again and again to be one of the most dangerous occupational industries. In particular, fires and explosions pose a deadly hazard to the workers and property involved in a construction project.

According to the National Association of State Fire Marshals, every year, U.S. fire departments respond to more than 8,500 fires on structures undergoing construction, under renovation or being demolished. When a fire contributes to or causes an explosion, the damage can be catastrophic for construction workers who have devoted their time to a project and rely on their physical strength to make a living.

The Devastating Effects on Victims

Construction site fires and explosions can result in extensive property damage and serious injuries to construction workers and pedestrians. Because fire spreads so rapidly, workers may not have much time to respond and evacuate. Flames, extreme temperatures and falling debris in a construction site fire can cause burns, disfigurement, broken bones and numerous other injuries. This can lead to permanent impairment as well as loss of earning potential for the rest of a worker’s life.

In some terrible cases, fires and explosions claim the lives of innocent people who were only trying to put in an honest day’s work. The families of loved ones killed in construction site fires must cope with not only losing a family member but also making funeral arrangements and paying expensive medical bills. No one should have to endure this tragedy. Unfortunately, far too many construction fires come from preventable sources.

What Causes Construction Site Fires and Explosions?

The nature of construction sites is that flammable materials, electrical equipment and heat sources are often present. This means that there’s a multitude of sources for fires or explosions. Hazards that can cause fires and explosions in construction projects include:

  • Defective products: A defect in the design or manufacture of certain products can result in serious burn injuries to workers.
  • Electrical problems: Faulty wiring, circuit breakers, cables or other electrical equipment can cause a spark and ignite the surrounding materials.
  • Exploding gas lines: From improper installation to leaks, gas line explosion can be massive and have multiple casualties.
  • Acetylene tank explosions: Because acetylene gas is very unstable, it can detonate when under pressure.
  • Pressurized containers: Even small, pressurized containers such as aerosols can react to pressure by exploding.
  • Chemical tanks: Tanks holding any kind of flammable substance are significant safety hazards on construction sites.
  • Vehicles and other machinery: Fires and explosions can be caused by or exacerbated by vehicles in many scenarios, especially when a vehicle is carrying unstable chemicals or gases.

When an employer prepares a construction endeavor, they should carefully anticipate any possible sources of a fire. This can go a long way toward saving lives and minimizing property damage.

Preventing Construction Fires

One of the most important things that any construction company must do is to implement strategies for fire and explosion prevention. Practical safety measures can save lives and reduce property damage by millions of dollars. It is the duty of all parties involved in a construction project to invest time and resources into comprehensive safety measures. According to the National Safety Council, some of the most important steps for construction fire and explosion prevention include:

  1. Develop a fire prevention plan specific to the construction project.
  2. Educate and train all workers on the safety plan before the project even begins. Practice regular evacuation drills.
  3. Assign responsibility to the proper authority figures on construction projects, whether they be managers or prime contractors.
  4. Coordinate with the appropriate agencies regarding temporary power, the storage of flammable materials, blasting, temporary heating devices and other safety regulations.
  5. Inform the local fire department and other appropriate agencies of the construction plans as well as the location of pipes, fuel storage, entrances and exits, and power and fuel shutoffs.
  6. Encourage regular site inspections by the person delegated by the authority for fire safety.
  7. Equip the construction site with fire alarms, fire extinguishers and automatic sprinklers.
  8. Safely dispose of combustible materials – particularly oily rags. Do not burn materials on-site.

Education and careful planning can go a long way toward preventing or minimizing construction fires and explosions. Sadly, some employers neglect the important step of fire prevention, resulting in catastrophic injury to their workers.

Safety on Construction Sites

Those in charge of worker safety have an obligation to create a safe environment free from known hazards that could result in injuries or illness. The responsibility falls on them to adhere to local, state and federal regulations regarding fire safety. This includes educating their staff about safety protocols and other rules. To minimize the risk of injury to construction workers, they should develop a fire safety plan and evacuation route and inform all employees of it. Employers should also establish rules and guidelines for employees to follow when handling flammable or combustible materials.

Survivors and Their Families Do Have Options

If a pedestrian or a construction worker is injured in a fire or explosion and that injury could have been prevented by a more appropriate or thorough evacuation plan, or if the fire or explosion itself was caused by another party’s negligence, the victim may have legal recourse.

The first, most obvious avenue is to seek workers’ compensation from their employer’s insurance provider. The next is to consider filing a personal injury lawsuit against the property owner, general contractor, subcontractor or other negligent party that contributed to the accident. Lawsuits are a critical tool for recovering the compensation necessary to cover a victim’s damages. Some of the most common damages from fires include:

  • Hospital bills
  • Prescription medications
  • Skin grafts
  • Physical therapy
  • Lost wages
  • Loss of earning potential
  • Pain and suffering

The primary goal of a claim is to make sure that the victim has the funds for their physical recovery. Plaintiffs can also use lawsuits to send a message to the defendants that the negligence that contributed to a construction site fire or explosion was unacceptable. The fear of litigation can also be a motivating factor for other employers, contractors and other parties to do everything in their power to prevent fires and explosions on construction sites in the future.

How We Can Help

construction accident lawyer experienced in litigating these issues can help victims pursue compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering due to the disfigurement, disability and discomfort that fires and explosions can cause. You may be eligible to recover compensation for your injuries, so it is important to make sure that you have someone to protect your legal rights.

Our experienced lawyers can investigate your claim and your medical situation to determine the extent of the damages you have suffered and who should be held responsible for them. The law firm of Block O’Toole & Murphy specializes in construction accident litigation, and our lawyers are recognized as some of the best in the country. Since 2012, no other law firm in New York has attained more verdicts and settlements exceeding $1 million than Block O’Toole & Murphy. Select results for clients injured in construction accidents include:

  • $110 million verdict for a 23-year-old man who was paralyzed by a falling object while he was cycling underneath subway tracks that were being renovated.
  • $15 million settlement in a tragic case for the surviving family after they lost a 38-year-old husband and father to a serious work-related accident.
  • $12 million settlement for a union worker who suffered serious nerve injuries, blindness in one eye, multiple fractures and other internal injuries after an accident at a Manhattan construction site.
  • $11.5 million settlement in a Bronx case for a construction worker who suffered severe wrist and back injuries after a defective saw accident.
  • $11 million settlement in a Brooklyn case for a masonry foreman who suffered serious spinal and pelvic injuries after he fell through a hole during the construction of a new apartment building.

To speak with a Block O’Toole & Murphy attorney today, please call 212-736-5300 or fill out our contact form. We represent victims injured as a result of construction accidents in all New York, including Manhattan, Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Staten Island, Long Island, Westchester County and upstate New York.

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