OSHA’s Fatal Four Accidents

The Law Office Of Nicholas E. Tzaneteas
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Have you or a loved one been hurt or even fatally injured while on the job as a construction worker in New York City?

According to the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), one in 10 construction site laborers are injured each year in serious accidents. Moreover, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) says this statistic accounts for approximately 150,000 construction site accident injuries each year.

In 2019, more than 5,300 people were fatally injured while on the job. About 20% (1,061) of worker fatalities in private industry in calendar year 2019 were in the construction sector. This accounts for one in five worker deaths for the year, according to OSHA.

NYC Construction Accident Statistics

  • Workplace fatality rates are trending upward in New York’s construction industry.
  • Non-union construction sites are especially dangerous for workers.
  • Employers who violate health and safety laws also cause worker fatalities.
  • Latino construction workers die at a disproportionate rate due to falls and employers’ “willful” violations of health and safety laws.
  • Wage and hour violators are more likely to be safety and health violators.
  • The New York City construction sector, which employs 3% of the city’s workforce, has the highest occupational death rate: 34% of all workplace deaths across various industries. For Los Angeles and Chicago, the rates are 32% and 24% respectively. The NYC sector with the next highest occupational fatality rate was the trade, transportation, and utilities industry, accounting for 20% of all workplace deaths.

Common Fatal Construction Accidents

The most common types of fatal construction accidents in the U.S., according to OSHA’s “fatal four” are:  

  • Falls
  • Being struck by an object
  • Electrocution (overhead power lines and electrical hazards)
  • Workers getting caught in/between things

These “fatal four” types of accidents are responsible for more than 64% of construction worker deaths.

Let’s take a look at the fatal four causes of construction workplace injuries.

Falls on Construction Sites

Fall hazards are the leading cause of death among construction workers. In 2019, they were responsible for 403 of the 1,061 construction fatalities. Looking at the most frequently cited OSHA standard violations for the construction industry in Fiscal Year 2020 (October 2019 – September 2020), it’s no surprise that falls accounted for nearly 38% of all construction worker fatalities.

Fall Hazards: Claims Scenarios

  • A 59-year-old construction worker fell 18 feet to his death on a site in Times Square, and a 62-year-old surveyor was on a 16th floor platform in a build on the West Side of Manhattan when it collapsed and he fell 10 stories. Both of these deaths were potentially preventable.
  • In another incident, a construction worker fell from the upper level of the Verrazano Bridge and struck a beam and broke both legs. His rescue involved cutting through a fence.
  • A contractor working on a residential building on the Upper West Side was seriously injured when he fell from a crane and required firefighters to do a difficult high-angle rescue.
  • On the Upper East Side, a laborer was working on the 6th floor of a building when he fell onto a piece of steel and had to be put in a basket and lowered six stories to the ground level for medical attention.

Proper Fall Protection

General fall protection measures include:

  • Properly training construction workers in fall protection and prevention best practices prior to beginning each job
  • Ensuring proper personal protective equipment (belts, lanyards, lifelines, fully body harnesses) is utilized

Being Struck By Objects

Anything can fall and injure other workers including tools, rolling objects, vehicle or equipment strikes, and people themselves. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 50,000 “struck by falling object” OSHA-recorded incidents every year in the U.S. That equals more than one injury caused by a dropped object every 10 minutes.

Proper safety equipment and following all safety protocols could prevent thousands of falling objects. Most construction sites have fall protections in place for workers, including harnesses and being tied off, but only a few extend those protections to tools and equipment.


All construction workers, including bricklayers, welders, plumbers, carpenters, drywallers, and even painters are at risk of electrocution onsite. Electrical hazards include electrical sources, damaged or bare wires, and electrocution from equipment coming into contact with live overhead power lines and wires. These account for hundreds of accidents and injuries per year, including deaths.

An average of 40% of construction worker deaths from electrocution are the result of contact with overhead power lines. These power lines are very close to workers in heavy machinery like cranes, bucket trucks, scaffolds, those on ladders, and more. Workers can also be electrocuted in crawl spaces, attics, ceilings, and other areas. Electrocution can result in injuries like broken bones, brain damage, nerve damage, heart attacks, and even death.

In July 2017, for example, a construction worker was critically injured while working on the roof of a Midtown Manhattan skyscraper. Proper training and basic electrical safety knowledge and precautions (including how to operate portable electric tools) would be able to prevent many of these incidents.

Electrocution Protection

Protective measures for the electrocution hazards, one of the fatal four hazards in construction, include:

  • Conduct a risk assessment
  • Determine where electrical hazards are
  • Use testing equipment
  • Ensure workers are properly trained in electrical equipment
  • Utilize voltage breaker and ground fault circuit interrupters
  • Use cord protectors
  • Never work in wet conditions

Workplace Hazard: Getting Caught In or Between Things

Getting caught by objects or in between two objects is extremely dangerous, and accounts for more than 7% of construction accidents, the last of OSHA’s fatal four causes of injuries. While that may not seem like much, it adds up to about 70 annual deaths of workers who are killed when caught in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in a collapsing structure, equipment, or material. This often leads to very dangerous or precarious rescue attempts and can be a painful recovery with the potential for a permanent disability when the worker survives.

According to an OSHA training guide, the key factor in making a determination between a “Caught” event and a “Struck By” event is whether the impact of the object alone caused the injury. When the impact alone creates the injury, the event should be recorded as “Struck By.” When the injury is created more as a result of crushing injuries between objects, the event should be recorded as “Caught.”

Examples of Caught In/Between incidents:

  • Cave-ins (trenching).
  • Being pulled into or caught in machinery and equipment (this includes strangulation as the result of clothing caught in running machinery and equipment). 
  • Being compressed or crushed between rolling, sliding, or shifting objects such as semi-trailers and a dock wall, or between a truck frame and a hydraulic bed that is lowering.

Some of the working conditions that contribute to caught in/between hazards include:

  • Machinery that has unguarded moving parts or that is not locked out during maintenance.
  • Unprotected excavations and trenches.
  • Heavy equipment that tips over.
  • Collapsing walls during demolition.
  • Working between moving materials and immovable structures, vehicles, or equipment.

Protective Measures for Caught In/Between Incidents

  • Use properly guarded machinery.
  • When using a tool, never remove a safety guard.
  • Protect power tools and operating equipment with dangerous moving parts.
  • Don’t wear loose clothing.
  • Ensure equipment is de-energized and cannot be accidentally started. Before servicing and changing accessories such as blades, bits, and cutters, disconnect tools when not in use.
  • Before performing maintenance or repairs on a vehicle, turn it off. Lock out the power source to the equipment if at all possible. Before making repairs or when the equipment is not in use, lower or block the blades of bulldozers, scrapers, and similar equipment.
  • Always be aware of the heavy equipment around you and keep a safe distance from it.
  • Ascertain that all loads carried by the equipment are stable and secure. Keep out of the swing radius of cranes and other heavy machinery. Wear a seatbelt if necessary to avoid being thrown from a vehicle and being crushed by the vehicle if it tips over.
  • Protect yourself on excavation sites and avoid working in unprotected trenches that are 5 feet or deeper.

Labor Law in NY: Occupational Safety

New York Labor Law Section 240 (1), also known as the “Scaffold Law,” provides special rights of recovery to construction workers who are injured due to elevation injuries – i.e., falling from scaffolding. The law also covers cases by falls, as well as workers being hit by objects coming from heights. The law imposes absolute liability against the owner, general contractors and/or their agents. Liability is assumed. Source.

The Labor Law was put into place to protect workers and to hold their employers and third parties accountable for providing a safe workplace. The number of workers hurt and killed in the construction industry in New York has surged over the last several years, particularly with the building boom the City has experienced.

In addition, the rise in deaths and injuries — mostly among undocumented immigrant laborers — far exceeds the rate of new construction over the same period. It is stark evidence of the view increasingly held by safety inspectors, government officials and prosecutors, that safety measures at these job sites are woefully inadequate.

If you or someone you know has been injured in any way on a construction site, contact the experienced construction attorney at the Law Office of Nicholas E. Tzaneteas immediately. We can help you get compensation for medical bills, therapy, lost wages, pain and suffering and more.

For example, when one of our clients fell off of a ladder while working at a construction site, he had multiple knee surgeries and a surgery to his lower back.  He continued to receive treatment and is permanently disabled. After a lengthy trial a jury awarded him $6.1 million. 

Another construction client also fell off a ladder while on the job. He had multiple wrist surgeries and re-injured his lower back from a prior accident which now required surgery.  He continued to receive treatment and is permanently disabled. His case settled for $2,250,000.

Let us help you get the compensation your deserve.

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