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7 Things Every NY Construction Worker Needs to Know

Though most people know just how dangerous working in the construction industry is, especially the workers themselves and their families, many people are unaware of exactly how dangerous, even deadly, this industry can be. Unfortunately, recent data from the U.S. Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) proves just how dangerous this industry is: 775 of the 3,945 deaths that occurred in private industries in 2012 occurred in the construction industry, accounting for 20% of the total deaths. Because of the higher than normal risk that construction workers face of being seriously injured or even killed, it is critical that every construction worker in New York know the top seven facts regarding their safety and legal rights.

7. The most common construction accidents are falls.

In the statistics recorded by OSHA during 2012, falls accounted for 36%, or over a third, of the deaths in the construction industry. Known as one of the “fatal four” by OSHA, which also includes being struck by an object, electrocutions, and being caught in/between something, falls occur fairly frequently on construction sites. This is largely due to the fact that construction workers often have to work on ladders, scaffolds, raised platforms, unstable surfaces, and large vehicles, such as cranes. Because of the danger that falls pose to construction workers, contractors and property owners are required to provide the appropriate safety gear for employees working on raised surfaces.

6. You have 2 – 3 years to file a legal claim, depending on the claim.

Every state has a set of time limits, known as statutes of limitations, that are placed on lawsuits. Essentially, this means that a person who wants to file a lawsuit against another party for issues such as contract violations, wrongful death, or personal injury, must do so within a strict time period before their claim is no longer valid. Under New York’s laws, a construction worker who has been injured on a worksite and is eligible to file a claim has three years after the day on which the injury occurs to file his or her lawsuit. Should a worker die as a result of a construction accident, his or her family or other appointed trustees of their estate must file a wrongful death claim within two years.

There are some exceptions to these strict limitations, including the rule of discovery. The rule of discovery simply means that if a person suffers an injury or illness months or years after the accident and he or she could not have reasonably been expected to know about the injury or illness, a lawsuit can be filed within three years of that discovery of the injury, rather than when it happened.

5. Your employer must provide safety training., according to Labor Law 241(6)

Working on a construction site can be extremely dangerous, due to the precarious nature of the site itself, the large vehicles and machines used on site, and other factors. As a result of the hazardous nature of these sites, and the often dangerous and delicate work a construction worker must perform, it is essential that construction workers are provided with the necessary and up-to-date safety training they need to safely perform their jobs. In fact, New York labor law section 241(6) legally requires contractors and property owners to provide this safety training.

From teaching a construction worker how to properly handle a machine to securing themselves in a harness while on scaffolding to teaching workers about new safety laws and requirements, general contractors and property owners must ensure their workers receive comprehensive safety training, or they can be held legally accountable for any harm a worker sustains due to not having the safety information they needed. Unfortunately, many construction workers do not know when they have not been provided with adequate safety training and, thus, have been put at risk. Therefore, though it is a contractor or property owner’s duty to provide this training, it is not a bad idea for construction workers to ask their employers about safety training and to look into this issue themselves.

4. You can seek financial compensation from the employer or property owner rather than filing a workers’ comp claim under 214(6)

Whenever an employee is injured on the job or while completing job related duties, he or she will typically seek compensation through workers’ compensation insurance. This insurance is paid for by the worker’s company and is in place to compensate an employee for injury- and illness-related expenses, including medical bills, lost wages, and more. Additionally, when an injured employee seeks workers’ compensation insurance, he or she is prevented from filing a personal injury claim against the company for negligence. In most states and industries, a worker must prove that an employer had clearly acted negligently in order for the worker to pursue a personal injury claim. However, New York labor law makes it slightly easier for injured construction workers to seek compensation from their employers and property owners when they are injured on the job.

Rather than filing a workers’ compensation claim, an injured construction worker in New York should consider filing a personal injury claim, also known as a civil claim. In many cases, such as when the work environment was unsafe or the contractor or property owner did not provide proper training or equipment, the construction worker and/or his or her family can get financial compensation from the person deemed responsible for the accident. And, in other cases, such as when a worker falls from an elevated platform or surface, such as scaffolding, he or she does not even have to prove beyond a doubt that the contractor or property owner was negligent to get this often much-needed compensation.

3. General contractors must provide safe construction sites, adequate safety equipment, and safe tools and appliances. 241(6)

In an effort to make sure that construction workers have every protection possible in place while they are working, legislators created section 241(6) in the New York labor law. This section provides a critical protection for construction workers in that it requires general contractors and property owners, or those parties in charge of a construction project and site, to ensure that the construction site is safe for workers, the workers have the adequate safety equipment needed to protect them while on the job, and that all tools, machines, and appliances used on the construction site function properly and are not likely to be defective or malfunction.

Unfortunately, many contractors or property owners fail to provide a safe environment, safe tools and appliances, or the proper safety gear, resulting in an unsuspecting construction worker being injured or, in the most tragic of circumstances, killed. One tragic illustration of this is a construction site in Seattle in which one man suffered serious facial injuries due to a grinder incident, and on the same site, another man was killed when he fell 50 feet from scaffolding. Both these incidents took place in the same week of January 2014.

2. Contractors and property owners do not have to be proven to be negligent or at fault for falls from scaffolding, ladders, or other elevated platforms/devices to be held financially responsible.

A major component of filing a legal claim against any party for causing unexpected harm to another party is proving that the party responsible for the injury or illness was negligent or reckless when they allowed or caused the harm to occur. In many cases, trying to prove this can be very difficult for the injured party and may result in him or her losing out on much-needed financial compensation.

However, when it comes to injuries or deaths that are the result of a fall from scaffolding, ladders, and other elevated platforms, construction workers are not required to prove this negligence. Due to the severe nature of these incidents and in an effort to provide construction workers who have been the victims of such a fall, New York labor law, section 240, allows general contractors and property owners to be held financially responsible for the harm and losses a construction worker and/or their family suffers.

An incident in which the property owner or contractor could likely have been held strictly liable (at fault without proof of negligence) was the November 2013 death of a construction worker in Greenwich Village. The man was working on a NYU building when he fell about four floors onto the roof of another building. According to OSHA officials investigating the accident, he had slipped on the scaffolding and was not wearing a harness.

1. Property owners or general contractors can be considered at-fault for injuries and accidents that happen when an accident is the result of an unsafe condition.

Although construction sites may be unfinished and naturally more precarious than finished buildings and other infrastructure, it is, according to New York labor law section 200, the duty of general contractors and property owners to ensure that these construction sites are as safe as possible for workers. This means that these parties must do what is necessary to keep unstable structures from collapsing and place warning signs of open holes, live wires, or other unsafe areas, in addition to taking other precautions. While the labor law does not allow construction workers to seek legal action when the hazard was clearly present or blatantly obvious, the reality is that many unsafe work environments on construction sites are not clearly hazardous.

A wide range of different construction site conditions can be considered unsafe, making this, perhaps, the broadest category of liability for contractors and property owners.  Additionally, this could make it very confusing for a construction worker to know when they have been injured as a result of an unsafe work site. While there are certain professionals a construction worker can consult with to determine whether a work site was unsafe, such as a lawyer, it can also be helpful to know some examples of situations in which another worker filed a lawsuit for an unsafe work site.

One such example is the lawsuit of James McDonough, which was filed by McDonough against 10 defendants, including several contractors, the city of New York, state Dormitory Authority,  and the state Office of Court Administration. McDonough filed the lawsuit against these parties, alleging they were responsible for an unsafe work site that allowed him to fall one to two stories down an elevator shaft while he was working on a new courthouse in St. George.

New York labor laws are in place to keep workers as safe as possible, to try to prevent injurious accidents from occurring, and to give construction workers the opportunity to get the justice and financial support they need after being hurt in an accident on a construction site. Regrettably, these labor laws can sometimes be confusing or difficult for anyone who is not a lawyer to understand, which can deter someone from seeking the help they need and often deserve after a construction accident. Fortunately, however, by knowing these important safety issues and legal rights, you can rest assured that you are more prepared should you ever be affected by a construction accident. Though no one should ever be injured in an accident due to a property owner or contractor’s carelessness, the reality is that these accidents do happen, and with far too much regularity, making it essential that everyone working in the New York construction industry know their rights.

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