Worker Accidents Are Rising As Construction Economy Rebounds

Nearly five years after the construction industry crashed, building picked up in New York City. In the first three months of 2013, the city's construction industry had a 13.7 percent increase in active bidding for new construction projects compared with a year ago.

The new construction, which may be attributed in part to rebuilding after Hurricane Sandy, is likely to mean more jobs for the region's construction workers. Could it also lead to a continued rise in construction worker accidents? The possibility may be troubling for the construction industry, which is already dealing with an increase in construction worker injuries and deaths.

Construction Accidents Rising

Construction accidents in the New York metro area were rising even before the uptick in construction was announced. Recent news reports showed that deaths at construction sites more than tripled in 2012. In 2011, there were six deaths; last year 21 people were killed in construction worker accidents.

According to news reports, Occupational Safety and Health Administration data show:

  • Eight deaths were caused by building collapses.
  • Eight deaths were caused by falls.
  • Four were caused by falling debris or construction equipment.
  • One death was from an unspecified hazard.

The number of construction fatalities in 2012 was the largest in New York City since 2008.

According to the New York Daily News, city records also show an increase in accidents from 2011 to 2012. The number of jobsite accidents increased from 119 to 157 and the number of injuries rose from 128 to 187. An article published by the paper points to the rebounding construction industry as a possible reason. It also points to a decrease in safety inspections.

Accidents Increase As Inspections Decrease

Records show that worksite inspections by the city Buildings Department fell from 244,000 in 2009 to 141,000 in 2010. Violations have also fallen. In a news story, a spokesman for the Buildings Department blamed the increase in accidents on an increase in falls by workers on construction sites and falls by construction materials. He also noted that New York City has strict construction regulations.

Regulations, however, need enforcement to be effective. In one case last spring, a crack appeared in plain view in a steel beam on the second floor of a warehouse being demolished. The floor was sagging, but the contractor did not try to stop the work, and it did not notify the Buildings Department of the crack.

A 69-year-old worker was using a sledgehammer on a brick wall when the ceiling gave way, sending concrete, steel and bricks on top of him. He died of massive head trauma.

Holding Negligent Parties Accountable

Even with greater enforcement of regulations, construction workers face serious dangers on the job. Falls through holes, falling debris, falls from ladders and scaffolds, electrocution and a host of hazards await workers. After an accident, injured construction workers should consult immediately with an experienced personal injury attorney to protect their rights. In addition to obtaining workers compensation benefits to cover medical costs and partial wage replacement, they may have other options for compensation.

"In some cases, injured workers may hold owners of jobsites, contractors or others who contributed to their injuries liable," said Mitchell Sassower of the New York law firm Arye, Lustig & Sassower, P.C. "A successful third-party claim may result in money damages to cover the injured worker's pain and suffering and provide for the worker's and his or her family."

Case Results

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  • $2.1 million settlement

    for 33-year old electrician who fell from ladder while attempting to fit heavy cable into crown box when cable sprung back and struck him, causing him to suffer left shoulder injury with impingement.

  • $1.6 million settlement

    for 38-year old electrician who slipped and fell on debris on stairway with resulting cervical herniated disc and aggravation of pre-existing arthritic changes.

  • $2.55 million settlement

    for 42-year old electrician who fell into an uncovered, unprotected hole and suffered a severe low back injury with herniated disc(s) that required surgery at L4-5 and L5-S1 levels.

  • $1.75 million settlement

    for 26-year old construction worker who fell through opening in roof and fractured his wrist, requiring surgery with open reduction and internal fixation, external fixation device, and eventual fusion.

  • $2.5 million settlement

    for 38-year old female electrician (with history of prior neck injury) who tripped on uneven Masonite protective floor covering, and suffered neck injury with herniated discs requiring cervical fusion.

  • $1.2 million settlement

    during trial for 40-year old sheet metal worker who was struck in the neck and shoulder by an air conditioning unit and suffered herniated cervical discs and cervical radiculopathy.