An overview of construction accidents in New York

New York and its cities are no strangers to construction. People who frequent urban areas are likely to see the scaffolding, hard hats and caution tape in and around new and existing buildings. In fact, according to one report, the number of construction jobs in New York City alone has been on an upward trend since 2012.

While that may mean good things for the overall economy, the boom has also been associated with an increase in accidents. What's worse, these incidents have led to more injuries and fatalities among workers.

In this article, we discuss some of the accident trends and what officials are doing to reduce the chances that these accidents will happen in the future. We also provide you with some general information about what you can do to help stay safe if you work in the construction industry. And finally, with a change of seasons right around the corner, we close with a brief discussion regarding some of the dangers facing construction workers during the winter months.

Construction accidents by the numbers

The Real Deal states that the number of construction jobs in New York City has seen an 8.8 percent increase in a 12-month period leading up to June 2016. However, the sharp rise in construction site injuries — a 62 percent jump — far outweighs those new positions. The article notes that in June 2016, 526 workers suffered an injury related to construction, towering over the 324 people who experienced the same thing a year before.

The numbers stem from the Mayor's Management Report, which was published in September 2016. The report acknowledges that many of the injuries and fatalities that have taken place have been preventable. In fiscal year 2016, 11 people lost their lives in a construction-related accident.

These accidents are clearly problematic. The report from the mayor's office noted that in order to curb these incidents, the Department of Buildings intends to do the following:

  • Revoke certain professional licenses from people associated with practices that are deemed unsafe
  • Enforce the February 2016 increase in penalties for sites that do not properly safeguard the property and workers
  • Provide further oversight on sites that are determined to be high-risk
  • Educate workers and industry members on best practices

The report noted that the DOB also provides safety-oriented programs in multi-lingual platforms.

Accident prevention

While the DOB can take a number of steps to prevent construction site accidents, individual workers can also keep themselves safe. For example, they should ensure they have the proper safety gear, such as hard hats, goggles and gloves. Further, workers should not use heavy machinery or specialty equipment without first receiving training.

Ongoing training is an important part of how workers can help themselves and their coworkers. OSHA develops and makes available a wide range of materials for safety training purposes. Many of these materials focus on the top four causes of injury, often referred to as the fatal four or the focus four. Topics range from everything like basic fall protection to details about ladder and scaffolding requirements for footing and more, including burns and electrocutions.

Getting ready for a change in seasons – and a potential for an increase in accidents

Winter is an especially dangerous time for workers. Winter weather can produce numerous hazards, from slippery sidewalks to challenging driving conditions. Unfortunately, for construction workers, such hazards are often also present on the jobsite, which can already be a dangerous place.

Hazard removal

Winter weather can cause various conditions that make construction site accidents more likely, including ice on walking surfaces, snow accumulation on rooftops and downed power lines. Each day, a supervisor should inspect the site thoroughly for these hazards before any work begins. All snow and ice should be removed, and salt or sand should be placed to reduce the risk of slip-and-fall injuries.

Appropriate gear

Employers should outfit workers with equipment that is designed for use in cold, wet weather, and they should train workers on dressing properly for these conditions. Employees should always wear at least three layers, including a moisture-wicking base layer and a ventilated outer layer. The use of gloves, hats, knit masks and waterproof boots is also frequently advisable.

Sensible scheduling

Employers should also aim to schedule work in a way that minimizes risk to their employees. Work involving cold weather exposure should be scheduled on mild days or during the warmest part of each day, and worsening weather conditions should be monitored closely. Workers who are new to the job or returning from time off should be given lighter shifts so that they can acclimate to the cold conditions.

Warm breaks

To minimize exposure to the elements, employers should always provide a warm space, such as a tent filled with space heaters, where workers can warm up. Workers should take short and frequent breaks throughout each shift. To help workers recover from the cold, employers may also want to provide hot beverages, although diuretics such as caffeine and alcohol should be avoided.

Employee education regarding winter weather

Employers should teach workers to recognize symptoms of cold stress, which occurs when cold conditions cause skin and body temperatures to drop dangerously low. Cold stress can lead to various work-related injuries, including the following:

  • Frostbite, which occurs when the skin and underlying tissue freeze. Frostbite may be signified by numbness or the development of hard gray and white patches on the skin
  • Hypothermia, which develops when the body temperature falls below 95 degrees. Hypothermia can cause uncontrollable shivering, issues with coordination, disorientation, unconsciousness and death.
  • Trench foot, which occurs when the feet are submerged in water in cold temperatures and the body restricts circulation. This causes numbness, blistering, inflammation and eventual tissue death.

Besides monitoring their own health closely, employees should always work in pairs and check one another for signs of these conditions. Unfortunately, these precautions may not be enough to prevent all wintertime accidents and injuries on construction sites.

What to do if you are injured in a construction accident

While preventing accidents is always the best scenario, it is equally important for New Yorkers to know how to take action if an accident does occur. At these times, talking with an attorney is recommended. A legal professional may help to guide people through the process of seeking benefits through the workers' compensation system.