- December 1, 2023
- Attorney Matt Stoddard
- Construction Accidents
For many young people with a passion for power tools, machinery, and the satisfaction of building things, getting to work on a real construction site is an exciting milestone.
Unfortunately, construction is one of the most dangerous professions in the U.S, and the dangers that exist for adults are often even greater for minors. Teenagers’ brains and bodies are not yet fully developed. Because of this, they’re more likely to act impulsively, underestimate risk, and have physical difficulty using equipment safely due to their different proportions. They’re also less likely to speak up if they feel unsafe following an adult supervisor’s instructions.
In addition to keeping worksites safe in general, construction companies that hire teens have a special obligation to recognize their vulnerability and keep them out of hazardous situations.
A Teen Worker Was Crushed Under a Forklift Load at Georgia Southern University
While working a summer construction job on the university campus in 2008, 17-year-old Anthony “Thomas” Puckett Jr. was crushed under an emergency power backup unit. The unit, called an inverter, was being moved with a forklift when it slipped and fell on top of him. It weighed approximately one ton.
Puckett was still alive and somewhat conscious when emergency crews arrived, but he ultimately died from his injuries under hospital care five days later.
The main contractor in charge of the project was Hardin Construction Company, LLC, and Puckett was employed by a subcontractor, William Ryan Electrical.
According to his family, Puckett was planning on returning to the university in the fall as a student. Unfortunately, because his summer job put him in the middle of a particularly dangerous construction maneuver that then went wrong, he was robbed of that opportunity.
It Takes Multiple Companies and Individuals Working Together to Make Worksites Safe
When everyone puts due diligence into keeping construction workers safe, projects get finished, and everyone gets to go home. When that doesn’t happen, an investigation becomes necessary, to determine who made the fatal mistake, or if there were multiple contributing errors.
Here are just a few questions that definitely should have been asked in the wake of Puckett’s death.
1. Did Hardin Construction or William Ryan Electrical illegally allow Puckett to work on tasks that were too dangerous for a minor?
Federal law does not allow teenagers to operate forklifts or similar hoisting rigs. In most cases, teenagers may not even assist with these tasks.
2. Did Hardin Construction fail to control the worksite and enforce safety regulations?
Obviously, while protecting minors in the workplace is especially important, Puckett being a few months older would not have made this incident okay. Being struck by objects is one of the “Big Four” causes of serious injury and death for construction workers. Construction companies have a responsibility to do what they can to protect workers of all ages from this threat.
Specifically, construction companies should not allow anyone to stand near a suspended load unless they are actively needed to assist with the maneuver, and no one should ever be directly under the load.
3. Was the forklift itself unnecessarily dangerous?
It’s not clear what actually caused the inverter to fall from the forklift. If some part of the forklift failed, or had inadequate traction, the manufacturer could be partially or wholly liable for Puckett’s death.
Although the Puckett case is now outside the statute of limitations, it stands as a powerful example of the kinds of pointless tragedies that happen all too often in the construction industry, whenever corners are cut.