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New York City Is Back Open For Construction Industry But What About Safety?

By Rheingold Giuffra Ruffo Plotkin & Hellman LLP

A few weeks ago, the NY Times ran an article about the re-opening of construction projects in New York City. This is a huge piece of good news in a city that has been ravaged by the coronavirus. The NY Times reported that there some 5,200 construction projects that re-opened in the city at the end of last month. It’s good news for the hundreds if not thousands of displaced workers and potentially a sign that life is starting to return to normal in the city we call home. The NY Times detailed the “new normal” when it comes to construction site projects. New health measures are in effect due to COVID-19 and those measures are being strictly enforced.

“On the Far West Side of Manhattan, construction workers start every morning with a thermal forehead scan to take their temperatures. On service elevators at the high-rise development, they stand on floor markings to maintain social distancing. And when deliveries arrive, drivers stay behind the wheel while the haul is unloaded.

City building inspectors often show up unannounced, issuing warnings and fines if safety procedures are being ignored.

The construction industry, an engine that has helped power New York City’s tremendous growth in recent years, is slowly starting to reawaken, offering one of the first optimistic economic glimmers as the city struggles to recover.”

This is all well and good but what about the pre-existing safety concerns that plagued the construction industry prior to the coronavirus pandemic. It isn’t a small issue either, according to OSHA.

OSHA notes, ” Out of 4,779 worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2018, 1,008 or 21.1% were in construction — that is, one in five worker deaths last year were in construction. The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, followed by struck by object, electrocution, and caught-in/between. These “Fatal Four” were responsible for more than half (58.6%) the construction worker deaths in 2018, BLS reports. Eliminating the Fatal Four would save 591 workers’ lives in America every year.

More than 20% of work-related deaths involve construction site accidents. Some of these are true accidents. However, others are due to negligence and cost-cutting measures with safety the first item to be cut.

OSHA, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, was founded in 1971 by then President Richard M. Nixon. The OSHA Act covers most private sector employers in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and other U.S. jurisdictions—either directly through federal OSHA or through an OSHA approved state plan. The OSH Act does not cover the self-employed, immediate family members of farm employers, or workplace hazards regulated by another federal agency (for example, the Mine Safety and Health Administration, the Department of Energy, or Coast Guard).

By law, employers must provide their workers with a workplace that does not have serious hazards and must follow all OSH Act safety and health standards. Employers must find and correct safety and health problems. The OSH Act further requires that employers must first try to eliminate or reduce hazards by making feasible changes in working conditions rather than relying on personal protective equipment such as masks, gloves, or earplugs. Switching to safer chemicals, enclosing processes to trap harmful fumes, or using ventilation systems to clean the air are examples of effective ways to eliminate or reduce risks.

If you or a loved one has been injured in a construction accident, contact our firm for a free legal consultation to protect your rights.

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