Staying Safe

 WORKPLACE ACCIDENTS 01Workplace accidents can be avoided.   

By Kevin J. Harrington and Glenn A. Monk

Without question, New York City, among many other busy cities around the country, is experiencing a building boom. With the rise in construction, more jobs are available for those in the industry. In fact, New York City alone enjoyed a 7 percent increase in construction jobs from 2014 to 2015. Although new construction and new jobs can mean great opportunities for local areas, it also has brought a tragic rise in construction-related injuries and fatalities. Statistics gathered for a 12-month period ending in June 2015, show an increase of 34 percent in construction-related accidents in New York, versus the same timeframe a year earlier. Out of 4,386 worker fatalities in private industry in 2014, 899, or 20.5 percent, were in construction.  Attempts to regulate the circumstances giving rise to these accidents has become an increasing priority.

The leading causes of private sector worker deaths (excluding highway collisions) in the construction industry were falls, followed by electrocution, workers who were struck by an object and those who were inside or caught in between objects. Since the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) was established in 1971, workplace fatalities have been cut by 62 percent and injury rates declined by 40 percent. However, as a result of recent accidents, OSHA has established initiatives designed to increase work-site inspections and enforcement of standards. 

The increase in serious workplace injuries and fatalities has gotten the attention of law enforcement officials. For construction companies and contractors, law enforcement’s response to these workplace fatalities and injuries can come with a high cost – financial, reputational and possibly criminal.  In cases where criminal charges are brought and sustained, these costs can include jail time for such charges as criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter, among others. Here are six proactive steps employers should implement to ensure safety on the job site: 

1. The first step is to re-evaluate the company’s health and safety programs and immediately correct any outstanding issues. In addition, be sure to fully familiarize yourself and your team with the job site safety program and job specifications related to safety before starting the job. 

2. It is crucial to complete the job with a proactive focus on safety. Workers should take their time and do things correctly and safely to make sure that nobody gets hurt.

3. It is important to keep detailed records for each job site for the entire duration of the project. That way if someone does get hurt, there is a record of the company’s safety efforts and compliance.  

4. It is imperative that companies develop and strengthen employer safety training programs for construction workers. Be sure jobs are handled by employees that have gone through the proper training and have the proper credentials. That includes not only your own employees, but also the employees of any subcontractors. 

5. Conduct frequent and thorough safety audits of the job site. Investigate any citations and inspection findings quickly and make the necessary changes and document your efforts. Make sure to heed warnings and recommendations from public and private inspectors. 

6. Lastly, thoroughly investigate all accidents to ensure they never happen again. Make sure to follow your gut if you are uneasy as to whether a particular operation is being performed safely.  Ask questions if there is a concern about safety and take prompt corrective action, if needed.  

Despite a company’s best efforts to ensure workplace safety, accidents still occur. There are many important steps to take and the first 72 hours are critical after an accident:

• Be sure to immediately involve legal counsel to provide advice of your legal rights and responsibilities. 

• Before agreeing to an OSHA violation, be aware of your potential criminal liability. 

• Be aware that prior violations may be used in subsequent criminal charges. 

• Make certain to strictly follow all pertinent OSHA guidelines, such as notifying OSHA of any workplace fatalities, the in-patient hospitalization of an employee and all work-related amputations or loss of an eye. 

• Secure the work site such that potential evidence as to the cause of the accident is carefully preserved around the scene. You are responsible for securing and protecting all equipment related to the accident until OSHA inspectors and your own attorneys have released it. 

• Be sure to locate and preserve all safety logs and related records, including training and orientation records, tool box talks, attendance sign-in sheets for jobsite meetings, safety manager logs, e-mails related to safety compliance and all other records that will document your regular practice of good safety compliance. 

Construction companies need to very carefully manage the risks associated with work sites so that many of the foreseeable accidents that occur can be prevented. Ultimately, this will help to protect the safety of the workers involved in the job, the individuals in the local communities around the construction sites and, of course, the construction company itself. 

Kevin J. Harrington and Glenn A. Monk are Partners at Harrington, Ocko & Monk LLP, a full-service law firm with offices in White Plains, N.Y., and New York City. Its lawyers have a wide breadth of experience in construction, liability defense, commercial and business litigation, business and corporate matters, real estate and financing transactions, professional liability litigation, trademark and copyright law, employment law, trusts and estates and outside general counsel services. For more information about Harrington, Ocko & Monk LLP, please visit:


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