Latino Workers at Higher Risk for Fatal Construction Accidents

Recent Tragic Queens Construction Accident Illustrates Problem

Just days ago, a job-site accident in Queens tragically killed a young, Latino construction worker. The 26-year-old man was helping construct a 65-foot wall when the cinder-block wall suddenly collapsed, killing him and seriously injuring three others. Early reports indicate that the wall failed as scaffolding collapsed and fell onto the wall. Sadly, the victim was a father, survived by his pregnant wife and two children.

The Queens construction accident is still under investigation, but presumably there were some safety practices overlooked. In fact, that same construction site had previously received six violations issued by the New York City Department of Buildings since June, 2009. The violations were for failure to follow essential safety laws, such as posting necessary warning signs.

A formal investigation is under way by the Buildings Department, and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is likely to investigate, as they typically scrutinize the worksite of any fatal construction accident.

Accidents in the New York Construction Industry

New York City had 157 construction accidents in 2009, and those are just the accidents that were reported. In the construction industry, it is common practice to keep workplace accidents unreported unless a serious injury or death occurs. The construction industry is the second deadliest in the U.S. as 816 construction workers died in 2009, making it more dangerous than mining or factory work.

There are some risks a construction worker faces that can be reduced, but not eliminated. These threats are part of the job, such as:

  • Weather: rain, lightning and high winds can increase the risk of an accident.
  • Heavy equipment: many of the tools and equipment present a chance of serious injury or death to both the operator and nearby workers.
  • Heights: construction workers are often working at great heights and even when on the ground they risk being struck by falling equipment or debris.
  • A changing landscape: what may have been solid ground yesterday could be a 50-foot hole today.

However, health and safety officials have been working for decades to protect workers from these hazards. New York scrutinizes construction work especially closely because of the tight spaces and high population density. Countless laws and ordinances have been passed to make the industry safer, but unfortunately they mean nothing if construction companies continue failing to ensure safety measures.

The truth is that these fatal construction accidents will continue to occur as long as construction companies and foremen bypass important safety practices to save them time and money. Government and workers’ rights organizations can only do so much. Ultimately, the responsibility of worker safety falls upon the employer.

Latinos, Hispanics Often Victims of Construction-Safety Violations

Unfortunately, Latino construction-worker injuries and deaths remain common in the construction industry. The BLS reports that workplace accidents killed 668 Latinos in 2009, accounting for 15 percent of all job-related fatalities. Latinos endure a workplace fatality rate of 3.7 per 100,000, the highest of any ethnic group.

Experts propose many different reasons for the disproportionate risk that Hispanic or Latino construction workers face. Some of their reasons include:

  • Communication barriers – Spanish-speaking workers may not understand all English warnings or instructions. However, employers should accept the responsibility of providing sufficient communication to their workers, even if it means having an on-site translator or bilingual foreman.
  • Undocumented status: Construction companies often seek the labor of undocumented workers – sometimes referred to as illegal aliens – who came from Central or South American countries such as Mexico, El Salvador, Guatemala or Honduras. Construction companies know that these undocumented Latino workers will not report safety violations, out of fear of deportation.
  • Hardworking nature: Some experts believe that construction companies take advantage of the hard-working and non-complaining traits of Latinos by putting them up to dangerous tasks without the necessary safety precautions in place.

Regardless of the cause, Latino construction workers suffer a heightened risk of serious injury or death. Fortunately, all injured Latinos have legal rights in America.

All Injured Latino Workers Have Legal Rights to Recovery

It does not matter whether the Latino worker is a first or second-generation American, or whether the hurt worker has documented or undocumented status. The lack of a work-permit, visa or green card has no bearing on an injured worker’s entitlement to damages when they suffer a work injury. And when a Latino worker dies from a workplace accident, his surviving family is entitled to legal recovery as well.

If you have been seriously injured while working at your job, it is crucial to contact a skilled New York personal injury attorney. Do not hesitate; you can confidentially consult with an independent lawyer and it will not appear in your employment files. The attorney will share information to help you obtain adequate compensation for your work-related injury or loved one’s death.

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Construction Site Safety In New York

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has levied fines against two companies after an accident permanently blinded a construction worker. Fernando Fernandez was working on the Long Wharf Bridge when rebar used to reinforce a concrete pier came detached, striking him and causing multiple serious injuries. He is currently recovering.

Dangerous Workplaces

Construction sites are dangerous place. According to OSHA, accidental construction deaths account for 24 percent of the annual 5,000 workplace deaths nationwide. While most construction site deaths are caused by falls, other common causes include trench and scaffold collapse, electrocution, and arc flash.

In New York, the incidence of construction deaths is higher than the national average. Thirty-one construction workers died on the job in New York in 2008, an 11 percent increase at a time when the nationwide rate declined 10 percent.

Third Parties May Be Liable

When negligence results in a construction worker’s death in New York, workers’ compensation is the sole avenue for seeking compensation from the employer. However, in many cases, there are other parties who bear some responsibility and may be liable to the family of the deceased construction worker. Lawsuits may be filed against the site owner, equipment owners or the general contractor in appropriate cases, allowing the family of the deceased worker to recover damages from the parties whose negligence caused the death.

New York Labor Law § 240 (1) requires contractors, owners and their agents to erect “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection” to construction workers. Violation of this law is the basis of many suits by construction workers killed by falls resulting from improperly secured scaffolding or by falling objects. It imposes absolute liability on contractors and owners, even if the construction worker was negligent.

In Cahill v. The Triborough Bridge, the court narrowed the effect of the absolute liability statute to exclude recovery by workers properly trained with respect to safety who chose not to use protection that is readily available to them and are killed or injured as a result.

New York’s statute governing wrongful death sets forth the damages that may be recovered by specified relatives of a deceased person in wrongful death cases. The damages include the future financial support the deceased would have provided, loss of services, loss of a parent’s guidance, and funeral and medical expenses.

Contact An Attorney For More Information

If you or someone you love has been injured in a construction accident, contact an experienced personal injury attorney. A lawyer experienced in handling construction accident cases can help you receive the compensation you deserve.

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The ‘Fatal Four’ Cause More Than Half of Construction Deaths

At any construction site, a single error can result in serious injuries or deaths. Machinery can be defective or misused. Co-workers can leave holes uncovered. Protective gear may not be properly installed. Despite the limitless ways that construction accidents can happen, the many serious accidents have similar causes. In fact, more than half of fatal construction accidents have one of four causes.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) calls these construction accidents the Fatal Four. They include:

  • Falls, which caused 35 percent of fatal construction accidents in 2011
  • Being struck by objects, which caused 10 percent of fatal accidents in 2011
  • Electrocutions, which caused 9 percent of fatal construction accidents in 2011
  • Being caught in or between objects, which caused 2 percent of fatal construction accidents in 2011

According to OSHA, eliminating these four types of accidents could save 419 workers’ lives each year.

Third-Party Construction Claims May Be Available

Construction workers who are injured on the job – whether through the most common accident causes or not – may generally seek workers’ compensation for their injuries. They may also be able to obtain additional compensation through a civil claim. These civil claims are filed against third parties whose negligence or wrongdoing contributed to the workers’ injuries. Successful third-party claims may result in more compensation than workers’ compensation benefits would provide.

In one ladder accident case, an electrician was working for a contractor on construction of a new weight room at the former Shea Stadium in Queens. He stood on an 8-foot A-frame ladder as he worked on electrical service to the weight room. According to a lawsuit filed later, the ladder rested on plywood, and there were 12-inch steel I-beams and pieces of gravel the size of golf balls scattered around the floor.

The plywood shifted as the worker came down the ladder, and he fell. His head hit concrete, and his body landed on large gravel pieces and metal beams. He filed suit against the Mets, which played at Shea Stadium, for failing to provide him with a safe place to work and failing to warn him of the dangerous conditions. After a 2012 trial in front of a judge, the worker and his wife were awarded $3.85 million. The accident happened in 2003.

In another case, a mechanic installing duct work fell through a hole in a building under construction. He suffered a herniated disk, which required a laminectomy, discectomy and fusion, a rotator cuff tear that required surgical repairs, and a knee sprain. He sued the general contractors for the project, alleging that they had failed to provide a safe place to work and failed to warn of danger. He won a $1 million verdict.

Contact An Attorney

As OSHA statistics show, falls like these are common causes of construction accidents. If you have fallen from a ladder or scaffolding, fallen through a hole during building demolition, or been injured in some other way, you may be able to file a third-party claim. The situations in which a third-party claim can be filed are not always obvious. An experienced attorney can assess your case and explain your options.

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