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Fall protection a must to protect construction workers

After a crane malfunctioned at a Queen's construction site and dropped an I-beam without warning, killing the man inside the cab of the crane and sending another man falling to his death, all their coworkers could do was hold a candlelight vigil to show their solidarity with the dead men's families.

"There's no way we can bring these men back," remarked one of the workers. While true, there is every possibility that at least one of these employees could still be alive if appropriate safety measures had been taken. Building Department officials stopped work on the project and cited the owners for the both the failure to provide a safe work site and inadequate fall protection.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, falls are the leading cause of death in construction and can be avoided with proper planning, the right equipment and sufficient training on safe practices for employees. Contractors have plenty of information available to them that can help them do all three. Aside from the recommendations and educational materials available from OSHA, New York's Labor Laws 240 and 241 also give contractors specific regulations that need to be followed.

All too often, they aren't. For example, officials were still trying to determine if the Queens worker who fell to his death was even wearing a safety harness or other fall-prevention equipment. There really should never be a situation where any employee working at a height is without a harness and other gear.

Making sure that each employee is wearing some form of fall-prevention system is only part of the process of protecting employees. Employees need educated on how to use the harnesses correctly. For example, workers sometimes wear harnesses too loosely because their movements are more restricted. Anchor points for the harnesses also need to be placed liberally around the work area—a harness won't stop a fall if a worker disconnects from an anchor point because he or she can't maneuver around enough to do the job.

When falls happen at a construction site, they are almost always preventable and often represent a failure on the part of the contractor or subcontractor to adhere to the law, provide complete, functional safety equipment and educate employees. Talking to an attorney may be able to help clarify whether or not you have a case.

Source: New York Daily News, "Doomed construction worker stood atop steel beam as it fell on crane operator, killing both," Joseph Stepansky, Thomas Tracy and Larry McShane, Nov. 23, 2016

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