There’s a reason why so many construction sites are considered “hard hat zones.” In any construction scenario where humans or machines are performing work over the heads of other humans, there is a danger of injury from falling objects. Head injuries are no small matter; even a seemingly minor impact can sometimes result in lifelong and debilitating symptoms, and repeated mild head trauma can raise the risk of certain degenerative illnesses.
Hard hats are an easy precaution to take, and construction companies should of course be providing them and encouraging their use. However, not all falling objects at construction sites are within the scope of what a hard hat can protect against, and personal protective equipment, including hard hats, should always be regarded as a last line of defense for when all other precautions fail. Construction companies and their equipment providers have a duty to take all reasonable steps to prevent head impacts from happening in the first place.
If you or a loved one have been struck by a falling object at a construction site and seriously injured, The Stoddard Firm can help.
FALLING OBJECTS ARE ONE OF THE TOP HAZARDS IN ONE OF AMERICA’S MOST HAZARDOUS CAREERS
It’s not difficult to understand why construction is one of the most dangerous jobs in the U.S. The combination of heavy machinery, power tools, heights, and moving around to new, sometimes unpredictable work sites adds up to a lot of opportunities for serious accidents. In 2018, there were almost 200,000 construction accidents serious enough to interfere with work, and over 1,000 construction site deaths — 21% of all worker fatalities in the U.S that year.
As many inherent dangers as there are associated with construction work, these tragic statistics should not be regarded as inevitable. Accidents can and should be prevented. The deaths and debilitating injuries of construction workers can usually be traced back to inadequate adherence to safety standards at some level, whether on site or in the supply chain, and there are strong correlations between common types of accidents and common safety violations.
Of course, not all accidents can be categorized as easily as “hit by falling board at construction site” or “fell from scaffolding without a personal fall arrest system.” Individual incidents can be unique and even bizarre or have multiple causes. However, the majority of construction accidents fall into consistent patterns that should be entirely possible to address.
In fact, more than half of construction worker deaths are associated with four main causes, as categorized by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
- Struck by object
- Caught in/between
“Struck by object” accidents alone caused injuries to 0.59% of all active construction workers in 2018, which comes out to about 42,000 people. A further 66 construction workers were killed this way the same year.
Not coincidentally, inadequate fall protection on construction sites is the single most common OSHA violation, not only in construction, but across all types of industry. Fall protection means both protection from falling and protection from falling objects, so this one violation contributes to both of the top two types of deadly construction accidents.
By failing to shield work areas from falling objects, or to properly secure objects that will be kept, moved, or used at a height, construction companies knowingly put their workers at unnecessary risk of serious injury or death.
FALLING OBJECT ACCIDENTS ARE ESPECIALLY COMMON DURING PROJECTS INVOLVING CRANES
Because objects must be elevated before they can fall, areas with a lot of vertical construction tend to be particularly affected by falling object accidents. For example, one survey of crane accidents in New York City found nine noteworthy incidents from 2007-2015, including four where an object was dropped from height — two air conditioning units, a steel bucket, and a broken piece of a crane itself. One person was killed and 22 injured over the course of those four accidents.
New York’s crane accidents have not let up since that time. In one case in the summer of 2018, the crane itself became the falling object when it “catapulted itself” off the edge of a building, causing life-altering injuries to two workers. The construction site superintendent and the company’s branch manager both faced criminal charges.
Then, in April of 2019, another New York construction worker was fatally struck from above by a crane’s counterweight. When the same company struck a building with another crane just three months later, it was investigated and fined $110,000.
Falling object accidents aren’t limited to New York or even to areas with high-rise buildings, however. Any construction site where objects, structures, or personnel will be located even one story above the ground can become the scene of such an accident, if the equipment is faulty or correct safety procedures are not observed.
In Brickell, Florida, in August of 2020, a crane dropped a cage full of rebar onto six workers below. All were injured, and two were impaled. Amazingly, they were all successfully rescued and treated, although this required cutting through the rebar to free them. A fire and rescue responder reported that the crane had malfunctioned.
Here in Georgia, just a month earlier, a boom truck seemingly experienced a similar malfunction and dropped a sign that was being installed at the West Macon Quality Inn. The falling sign killed an 18-year-old construction worker and seriously injured two more senior coworkers on the job. The inn was not by any means a high-rise building.
CONSTRUCTION COMPANIES HAVE A RESPONSIBILITY TO PROTECT WORKERS FROM FALLING OBJECTS
Like any other type of employer, construction companies are responsible for providing a safe, OSHA-compliant working environment for all employees, contractors, and authorized guests. OSHA provides specific instructions on protecting construction workers from falling objects, and regardless of how often these standards are violated, they continue to act as a reference point for what a safe workplace should look like, making it harder for negligent employers to deflect blame. Where there are relevant OSHA violations, a construction company can’t very well claim that it did everything it could to keep workers safe.
For projects involving cranes and similar hoisting equipment, OSHA regulations include daily rigging inspections, carefully planned movements during each lift, and keeping personnel clear of the potential drop zone to the greatest extent possible. There’s also an entire code section devoted to the slings that connect the cranes to their cargo, which must be used only according to the manufacturer’s ratings and recommendations.
Misused or poorly made cranes aren’t the only cause of falling objects at construction sites, however, and OSHA standards reflect this too. Whenever work is taking place six or more feet from the ground, with any possibility of tools or materials falling into other workspaces below, construction companies are required to use at least one of the following strategies to guard against accidents:
- Guardrails — Guardrails are primarily used to protect workers on higher levels from falling, but if they are accompanied by screens or other floor-length barriers, they can also protect workers on lower levels from falling objects.
- Toeboards — A toeboard is a vertical lip at the edge of an upper level, intended to keep objects from rolling or sliding off the edge. To provide sufficient protection, toeboards must run the entire length of the edge, be able to hold at least 50 lbs., and be at least 3.5 inches tall. If objects are going to be stacked any higher than 3.5 inches near the toeboard, a taller screen is required as well.
- Canopies — Canopies over lower level workspaces are also a viable option, but they must be able to stand up to the weight of the objects that could potentially fall from higher levels. This method works best in conjunction with higher level guards, or on sites where the most likely falling objects are hand tools and lightweight materials.
In addition to installing appropriate safeguards, construction companies should also ensure that bricks and similar materials are never stacked within four feet of an upper level’s edge.
EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS CAN ALSO SHARE RESPONSIBILITY FOR FALLING OBJECT INJURIES
Sometimes, construction companies and their workers at every level can do everything right, and the equipment can still fail, causing injuries or death. Other times, both defective equipment and inadequate onsite precautions can contribute to the same accident. In several of the cases above, for example, cranes dropped their cargo as the result of a malfunction. Those malfunctions could have been caused by design errors, manufacturing errors, misuse on the part of the construction company, or any combination of the three.
Manufacturers and designers of heavy machinery hold people’s lives in their hands just as much as employers do, and the law recognizes that responsibility. When an accident is caused by defective equipment, the equipment manufacturer is liable for the damages, instead of or in addition to the construction company.
In these cases, it can actually be easier for workers to obtain fair compensation than if only the construction company were at fault. This is because injuries caused by employer negligence are usually covered by worker’s comp, which only pays for medical expenses and a portion of lost income, with no consideration for pain or altered quality of life. Employees can only sue their employers for injury compensation if they are not eligible for worker’s comp, if they are wrongly denied worker’s comp, or if they can prove that the employer caused the injuries intentionally, rather than simply out of indifference or greed.
Product liability suits do not have to contend with this obstacle. Workers who have been injured by the negligence of a company they do not work for can sue that company for full compensation, regardless of their own employment classification or worker’s comp eligibility. That compensation can include medical expenses both present and future (including those already paid by worker’s comp), lost income both present and future, pain and suffering, and lost enjoyment in other aspects of life.
IF YOU OR A LOVED ONE HAVE BEEN HIT BY A FALLING OBJECT AT A CONSTRUCTION SITE, THE STODDARD FIRM CAN HELP
The legal experts at The Stoddard Firm are passionate about the right of every single worker to be protected from needless health and safety hazards, and to be fully, fairly compensated for any failure of that protection. When it comes to securing said compensation for our clients, we have extensive experience in all relevant areas of law, including employer liability, product liability, and premises liability.
If you’ve been injured or lost a loved one to a falling object at a construction site, we’ll examine the case from all angles, mapping out exactly what had to go wrong for the accident to occur, from equipment and supply quality to company policy to the exact circumstances present at the moment in question. We’ll also work with you to assess the accident’s full effect on your life, from immediate expenses to less obvious emotional losses that might not be your primary focus yet, but that deserve acknowledgement all the same. Finally, we’ll present the facts of your accident, the fault and the consequences, in terms that judges and juries’ respect.
To talk to one of our lawyers about your case today, reach out at 678-RESULT or through our online chat function for a free consultation.