Falling debris common cause of New York construction worker injury

Contractors must follow safety laws to prevent such dangerous incidents.

In February 2016, a construction worker at a Midtown Madison Avenue building demolition site was struck in the head by a piece of falling concrete as he worked on the 20th floor of the structure. With power to the elevator shut off, firefighters engaged in a harrowing rescue by lowering the unconscious victim by rope on a stretcher through an interior shaft. The man was admitted to a hospital for treatment of a severe head injury.

This incident is illustrative of a "struck by object" construction accident injury, one of the "fatal four" causes of death on construction sites, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration or OSHA. The other three in the fatal four are falls, electrocution and caught-in accidents. The fatal four accounted for almost 60 percent of construction worker job-related deaths in 2014, reports OSHA, with struck-by-object accidents accounting for almost 10 percent of the total.

(In addition to falling objects, the struck-by-object category includes injuries from flying, swinging and slipping objects or by objects on the same level.)

A construction worker (or bystander) is at risk of being struck by falling debris any time he or she is below an elevated work area. Of course, everyone knows that New York City is full of construction projects above ground, often at great heights. These projects include new construction, renovation, repair, demolition and excavation.

Obviously, a large or heavy object falling through the air poses a dangerous risk, but even a small object falling from great height could cause serious injury such as a nail or screw striking an eye. Potential injuries range from head trauma, brain injuries, crushing injuries, broken bones, and back and neck injuries, to death.

Examples of falling objects and debris on a construction site include:

  • Hand and power tools of all sizes and weights like hammers, sledgehammers, screwdrivers, wrenches, drills, buckets and many more
  • Heavy equipment
  • Ladders and scaffolding
  • Wheelbarrows
  • Building materials like bricks, cinder blocks, metal fittings, railings, bars, sheet metal pipes, ducts, beams, wood planks, wires, cables and many more
  • Components of existing buildings that break off when struck by cranes
  • Various loads dropped by cranes

Contractors, subcontractors, developers, property owners and other employers of construction workers must comply with industry best practices and with federal, state and local safety regulations on construction sites designed to protect workers from dangerous working conditions, including those that can cause falling debris.

For example, workers must be trained to safely handle, store and secure equipment and materials at heights and not to pass or work underneath dangerous loads or objects.

Proper safety equipment must be provided such as hard hats, safety goggles and face shields. Rigging, ropes, wires and cables that lift or secure overhead objects must be strong enough for the loads they support and subject to regular inspection.

Cranes must be regularly inspected, operators properly trained, loads kept under lifting limits and care taken not to operate in windy conditions.

Any construction worker or bystander injured by falling construction debris (or surviving loved ones in case of death) should seek legal advice as early as possible to understand potential legal remedies like workers' compensation, third-party lawsuits, New York Scaffold Law suits and wrongful death actions. Depending on the circumstances, recovery may be available for medical bills, therapies, long-term care, pain and suffering, lost wages or punitive damages.

The lawyers at Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C., in New York City regularly represent construction workers who have been injured on the job throughout the metropolitan area and Long Island and in Upstate New York.