Making Demolition Work Sites Safer
Health and Safety must be a priority on all demolition sites in New York. Well-planned demolition projects, many of which involve intricate deconstruction of old buildings, must be the goal. And yet, when rushed and frustrated workers must perform such a demolition, usually dismantling, razing, or wrecking a structure; hidden dangers can be disguised as mere irritations.
It comes as no surprise that demolition work involves most – often all – of OSHA’s “Fatal Four,” accident types: falls, struck by objects, electrocutions, and caught-in/between mishaps. The Fatal Four accounted for more than half (58.6 percent) of all the construction worker deaths in 2018 according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS).
In truth, demolition work is so hazardous that the federal Occupation Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) has devoted an unusually large portion of its Construction Standards to demolition. The agency also routinely dedicates its Safety and Health Topics page to workers who died while performing demolition work; and why it didn’t have to happen.
For example, One worker was killed and another seriously injured after a partial wall collapsed at a construction site for a landmarked building on the Lower East Side in October 2019. Both were trapped beneath the rubble after a wall collapsed during the disassembly of part of a former synagogue which was being transformed into a mixed-use building.
Wall failures such as this in New York City often involve unreinforced concrete masonry. Since many such inner-city buildings can be 100 years old or more, a structural engineer was likely not involved in their construction. Over time, gradual, tilting and poor drainage can erode building quality. The fact that the synagogue was a total loss to fire before the revitalization certainly contributed to the decayed structural integrity of the wall’s foundation, and hastened its disastrous collapse.
The incident is still being investigated and though its conclusions have not yet been reached, it’s fair to anticipate the final report will reveal shortcomings in safety procedures that could have prevented this fatal tragedy.
Property Owners and Contractors must Plan Ahead to Demolish Safely
Under the federal Occupational Safety and Health Act, Public Law § 91-596, and New York Labor Law Section § 240(1), employers have a legal obligation to provide a safe workplace for employees. They must also instruct employees (actually all workers not just their own employees on the site) how to recognize, avoid and/or remove hazards that may cause an injury or illness.
Many OSHA construction standards require that employees receive training in specific safety topics. Employers must provide this safety training in a language and vocabulary their workers can understand.
Proper planning is essential to ensure a demolition project is completed with no unfortunate injuries. Elements to such success include, but are not limited to:
- An engineering survey is completed by a competent person before any demolition begins. This should include assessing the structure’s integrity to anticipate an unplanned collapse.
- Locating, securing, and/or relocating any nearby utilities
- Fire prevention and an evacuation plan
- First Aid and Emergency Medical Services
- A full assessment of health hazards – including environmental (Asbestos, etc) – before any demolition work takes place.
Employers Must also Provide Construction Workers with the Right Protective Equipment
The employer must determine what Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) is necessary to do any construction job safely. For demolitions, PPE may include:
- Eye, face, head, hand, and foot protection
- Respiratory protection
- Hearing protection
- Personal Fall Arrest Systems (PFAS)
- Other protective clothing (for example, cutting or welding operations)
Moreover, in addition to being provided with appropriate protective equipment, employees must be trained on the selection, use, fitting, inspection, maintenance, and storage of PPE.
But all this works best if workers are involved. So if you see something that’s not right or looks dangerous as you demolish, tell someone; your supervisor, and if one is around, a safety officer.
Whether you were, or a family member was, injured due to construction, car, commercial vehicle, or semi-truck accident; you may be entitled to full benefits and compensation. Know your rights and get the answers you deserve.
About Kalra Law Firm
NYC Construction Accident Lawyers from Kalra Law Firm have recuperated millions of dollars for our clients. The toll of serious injury can be tremendous on you and your loved ones. We have devoted ourselves to fighting for justice and to making sure you receive the compensation you deserve. With Law Offices in Queens, Long Island, Corona, and The Bronx We are ready to serve you today.