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Injuries From Falling Objects: Protecting Workers and Pedestrians

New Yorkers have become conditioned to the sight of high-rise construction projects at every turn. It’s common to walk under scaffolding and to see workers scaling beams on your daily commute. But when objects fall from construction projects suspended in the air, civilians and workers on the streets below are put at serious risk. 

Accidents that result from falling debris can lead to life-threatening injuries and fatalities. From tools, bricks, and equipment, contractors and owners are responsible for making sure materials are being properly secured on the worksite to prevent these unfortunate incidents from occurring. 

Falling Debris Accidents in NYC 

New York City is booming with construction projects, most of which take place at elevated heights. Fall prevention practices on the job are supposed to prevent workers and objects from falling. Yet, the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (O.S.H.A.) has found most American worksites are lacking in both areas. 

Fall protection in the construction industry was the leading safety violation in 2017, resulting in over 6,072 citations. The violations included anything from improperly securing materials and equipment, to tripping hazards that lead workers to drop tools from high above. 

NYC construction sites have seen plenty of accidents involving falling objects this year, highlighting a growing concern with how employers and contractors are managing fall protection safety. 

This week in Manhattan, a constructor worker went to the hospital in serious condition after he was struck in the head by falling rocks on the job. In April, a construction worker on another Manhattan worksite was killed when a copestone fell from the side of a building he was working on and fatally struck him in the head. Another construction worker was killed in SOHO only seven days later after being crushed by a falling counterweight that broke off of a crane. Back in January, a concrete slab came crashing through an apartment building on the Upper East Side after a wall collapsed on the 26th floor of a condo building under construction. One resident suffered minor injuries when part of the slab fell on top of him in the shower. He later reported that had he been in his kitchen, the accident could have been fatal. 

How Do Falling Debris Accidents Occur 

Many things can go wrong on a construction site that leads objects to fall or building components to break loose. Most of these accidents can be prevented with the proper safety measures in place. However, not all construction companies ensure that these precautions are set in place. 

These are some of the reasons why falling object accidents occur: 

– Overloading cranes and lifts with materials. 

– Improperly stacking building materials and supplies. 

– Neglecting to properly train workers in fall protection measures. 

– Failing to properly secure tools. 

– Incorrectly using a tool or equipment. 

– Errors made when operating lifts, cranes, and booms. 

– Neglecting the use of safety devices and netting to catch falling debris. 

– Improperly assembling scaffolding and elevated platforms. 

– Equipment malfunctions. 

Debris That Fall From Construction Sites 

When construction workers are performing tasks at elevated heights, all of their tools and materials must come with them. This puts a plethora of dangerous objects high in the sky that can cause catastrophic injuries when falling on pedestrians and workers below. 

Falling objects on construction sites are often located on platforms, scaffolding, building tops, and windows. Some examples include: 

– Tools: hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, tape measures. 

– Wooden boards or panels. 

– Nails and screws. 

– Sheets of glass or plastic. 

– Construction equipment and cranes. 

– Bricks, cement, or building siding. 

– Tree limbs or branches. 

– Metal stakes and railings. 

High-rise construction sites, sidewalks below scaffolding, and renovation projects are three of the high-risk areas where injuries caused by falling objects often occur: 

High-Rises 

Workers on high-rise building projects face more hazardous conditions than those on the ground. Aside from the risk of falling several stories down, workers have minimal space to secure tools and materials, as well as strong wind conditions that can easily blow loose debris. 

Additionally, gravity can make any dropped items (no matter how small) have a deadly impact when falling from high in the air. According to EHS, an eight-pound wrench dropped from 200 feet is equivalent to the impact of a small car, with a force of 2,833 pounds per square inch. 

Scaffolding 

Scaffolding and elevated platforms can become unstable if built poorly. When these structures collapse, entire platforms can plummet to the pavement, in addition to unsecured tools and materials. This is a terrifying thought considering news reports estimate there are over 8,300 scaffolding and sidewalk sheds in NYC. Some of which have been up for years. 

Renovation Projects 

Building renovations such as siding and roofing projects can pose a significant risk to those on the ground. These projects involve large amounts of materials being lifted high in the air. A board or windowpane crashing to the ground on one or two-story residential building project is disappointing. But when these same materials fall from a project over 10 stories high, the consequences can be detrimental. 

Serious Injuries Caused By Falling Objects Victims who are struck by falling objects can sustain catastrophic injuries depending on the weight and size of the item, as well as the height it fell from. Injuries from falling debris are categorized under the Fatal Four types of construction accidents, causing 80 out of 971 construction deaths in 2017. 

Serious injuries that can result from getting struck by a falling object include: 

– Lacerations – Broken Bones 

– Neck and Brain Injuries – Traumatic Brain Injuries – Spinal Cord Damage 

– Paralysis – Death 

The severity of these injuries can result in permanent disabilities victims have to cope with for the rest of their lives. They experience a variety of losses, affecting them physically, emotionally, and psychology. On top of the pain and suffering, the financial burdens of suffering a serious injury are monumental. Individuals who cannot return to work lose their income at the same time they acquire outstanding medical bills for necessary procedures to recover from their injury. 

How To Prevent Falling Injuries 

Fall protection in the construction industry does not only keep workers from falling, but it also protects objects from falling and causing harm to others. After discovering an alarming rate of fall protection violations in 2017, O.S.H.A. released updated fall regulation requirements to help reduce the risk of all fall injuries in the construction industry. Safety suggestions included: 

– Secure all scaffolding and elevated platforms. 

– Wear Personal Protective Equipment at all times, such as helmets and goggles. 

– Use barriers to block off areas where falling objects may pose harm to workers and pedestrians. 

– Follow all safety recommendations for using large equipment. 

– Do not exceed the weight recommendations for lifts and cranes. 

– Never lift unsecured materials. 

– Secure materials prior to working at elevated heights. 

– Train employees in accordance with the most recent fall protection requirements. 

-Show employees how to use protective equipment, railings, nets, and other protective barriers to prevent items from falling. 

New York City Construction Accident Attorneys 

Injuries sustained from falling objects and debris can be prevented by following strict safety measures on the worksite. Employers who neglect to train their employees in fall protection methods properly are putting workers and pedestrians at unnecessary risk for injuries. 

At the law firm of Pazer, Epstein, Jaffe & Fein, we have been fighting for New York City workers and victims of construction accidents for over 60 years. If you or a loved one has sustained a serious construction injury, our knowledgeable accident attorneys are here to help. Contact us for a free consultation to review your case and your rights. 

Sources 

“Fall Protection.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Retrieved October 4, 2019)https://www.osha.gov/SLTC/fallprotection/ 

Sundstron, Mark. “Construction worker seriously injured when hit in head by falling rocks: FDNY.” PIX 11. (Retrieved October 4, 2019) https://pix11.com/2019/10/07/construction-worker-seriously-injured-when-hit-in-head-by-falling-rocks-police/ 

Siff, Andrew. “Falling Copestone Kills Man Working on Manhattan Scaffold, FDNY Says.” Channel 4 New York. (Retrieved October 4, 2019) https://www.nbcnewyork.com/news/local/Multiple-Scaffolding-Collapses-Reported-At-Least-One-Injured-FDNY-New-York-City-NYC-508269251.html 

Waller, Derick. “Concrete slab falls from Upper East Side construction site into apartments.” ABC Eyewiteness News 7. (Retrieved October 4, 2019)https://abc7ny.com/concrete-slab-falls-from-ues-building-into-apartments/5043627/ 

Caldwell, Mark. “The Sky Isn’t Falling (And Your Tools Shouldn’t Either).” EHS Today. (Retrieved October 4, 2019)https://www.ehstoday.com/construction/sky-isnt-falling-and-your-tools-shouldnt-either#menu 

Ulrich, Eric. “Tame the scaffolding scourge: Too many sidewalk sheds left up for too long are a risk to the public and construction workers, an eyesore and a problem for businesses.” Daily News. (Retrieved October 4, 2019) https://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/ny-oped-tame-the-scaffolding-scourge-20190412-gdxm4pycz5aknaej4ckesf4ixe-story.html 

“Commonly Used Statistics.” Occupational Safety and Health Administration. (Retrieved October 4, 2019) https://www.osha.gov/oshstats/commonstats.html 

Occupational Safety and Health Administration. “Walking-Working Surfaces and Personal Protective Equipment (Fall Protection Systems).” Federal Register. (Retrieved October 4, 2019)https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2016/11/18/2016-24557/walking-working-surfaces-and-personal-protective-equipment-fall-protection-systems