CONSTRUCTION SITE INJURIES AND DEATHS
By: J. Norman Stark, Attorney & Registered Architect*
Construction is a hazardous occupation. The fatality rate for construction workers has been estimated at more than three times the rate for all other industry sectors. Predictably, for the seven (7) million men and women currently employed in the construction industry, simply going to work each day can be a risky venture.
Construction workers face serious risks of injuries or death when working in trenches or near potentially unstable ground. In one recent year, six workers died as a direct result of construction cave-ins. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) statistics reports an average of 60 workers die in unprotected cave-ins each year.
BUT, these deaths are entirely preventable, and it is appalling that workers continue to suffer serious injuries or death in “buried alive” cave-ins when, almost without exception, these deaths can be prevented with available, existing safety precautions. Even more importantly, these precautions are mandatory under the laws applicable in almost all states and jurisdictions.
Cave-ins are not the only threat to the safety of construction workers. Other hazards include: working at heights without proper safety harnesses or protection, working with heavy machinery, manually handling heavy or bulky materials, and working near or with sources of electricity, such as overhead power lines, and from failures to lock-out/tag-out live electrical circuits during maintenance or repairs, scaffolding, cranes, rigging, and many others in any daily schedule.
Several factors contribute to trench cave-ins. For example, soil stability is related to soil types and are affected by changes in weather. In the spring, unshored trench walls, heavy from rain, may become unstable. Also, when damp or even sandy soil, or shale, is exposed to air during excavation, it can dry out and lose the cohesive quality to stand on its own, increasing the risk that it will slide, or collapse. Still other factors include proximity to traveled highways, large vibrating machinery, loosely backfilled areas or existing, aging structures and foundations.
OSHA - the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, requires that one or more of the following precautions must be taken when working with open trenches:
Utilize a shield or trench box system designed to protect workers in excavations.
Shore sides of excavations with timbers or other materials to ensure that the earth does not collapse on workers who must enter them. ( Provide ladders for easy escape.)
· Slope the sides of excavations to reduce the "overburden" (weight and pressure exerted by large amounts of soil on the sides), and enhance the coefficient of friction to prevent slides.
Secure sides by equivalent means, such as engineer-designed sheeting or bracing.
Other safety requisites are readily available through OSHA and each state’s workers’ compensation administration, in addition to those of industrial labor organizations.
Construction fatalities and injuries cannot be accepted as an inevitable ritual occurrence of the construction process. Workers must be adequately protected from life-threatening hazards. Injuries and deaths can be prevented only if and when both employers and employees are aware of the hazards they face and implement proper precautions and enforce mandated safety measures.
* AUTHOR: J. NORMAN STARK is an Attorney-at-Law, a Registered Architect, (AIA, NCARB) Registered Landscape Architect, Interior Designer, Planner and Senior Appraiser (ASA), who practices as a Mediator, Arbitrator, and Litigator. He is admitted to practice law before the Bar of Ohio, the US District Courts, Ohio and Illinois (Central Dist.), the US Court of Appeals, and the United States Supreme Court. He has professional experience in Business, Construction, Public Works, Litigation, Real Estate and Construction-Legal Project and Crisis Management. He also serves as an Expert Witness and provides litigation support. His offices are in Cleveland, Ohio, and Sarasota, FL .