Construction work is always dangerous. In spite of multiple layers of regulations and numerous agencies at the state and federal level, construction workers are always at risk of injury and death on the job. Sadly, that fact was underscored last year by the death of one worker and injuries to another. The construction company was cited by the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the agency proposed fining the company more than a quarter of a million dollars for the safety violations that led to the workers’ death and injuries.
The worker’s death should not have happened. This is something that can be said after virtually every accident on the job. Because accidents are almost never “accidents.” When OSHA or another agency investigates the aftermath of a incident that lead to severe injuries or a fatality, there is almost always clear negligence and too often, willful violations. As the OSHA director commented, “This incident should have been prevented….”
The incident involved the construction of a masonry retaining wall. Constructing a retaining wall, especially if it has any elevation to it, is complex and potentially dangerous. In this deadly incident, OSHA found that the wall was not designed by a registered engineer. Another contactor on the job site was cited for failing to properly train employees and failed to provide the required fall protection.
Construction companies often attempt to save time and money by taking shortcuts. Maybe they thought they didn’t need a “real” engineer to design the project or maybe they thought it was easy or straightforward and complying with safety requirements was unnecessary. Whatever the reason, in this case a worker paid for their mistake with his life.
Violations of safety requirements like having a registered engineer design a retaining wall are not just window-dressing. Variables like soil composition, height of the wall, and other elements can differ greatly from one jobsite to another and careful planning is necessary to prevent tragedies like this.
Additionally, the failure to provide and use fall protection is another indicator of an unsafe jobsite. Falls from height continue to be one of the most common causes of construction injuries and fatalities. Proper adherence to these regulations should not be view by employers and workers as an obstacle or as something to be worked around. They may be vital to your safety, your health and your life.
For at least two families, the “obstacle” they must deal with is the worker’s compensation system and ensuring they obtain the benefits they will need to cope with the aftermath.