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Workplace Fall and Death on Massachusetts Construction Site

Recently the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited a Massachusetts construction company long after a 51-year-old roofing employee fell 17 feet and died while doing work at a condominium. OSHA issued the citation because the construction company had failed to offer fall protection and guard rails that would have prevented the fall. OSHA’s area director found this was a needless loss of a worker’s life. Though there were guardrails present at the site, they were not in use.

The four scaffolds that the construction company’s employees worked did not have guardrails and that roofers, like the decedent, were working without a fall arrest system. Moreover, there were no guardrails for the walkboards that workers used to get from one scaffold to another. The construction company had also failed to train workers about how to spot hazards and work with less risk on scaffolds. Because of these conditions, OSHA cited the construction company with 2 willful violations for not having fall protection and 5 serious violations for the remaining hazards.

What is a “willful violation”? It’s occurs when somebody shows knowledgeable and voluntary disregard or indifference for what the law requires him or her to do with respect to worker safety and health. Serious violations occur when there is very likely that death or a serious physical injury will happen because of a danger that an employer knew or should have known about.

The construction company was given 15 business days from receipt of citations and proposed penalties to comply or meet informally with OSHA’s area director or contest findings. It faces $119,350 in fines. Additionally, it was placed in a Severe Violator Enforcement Program that mandated targeted follow-up inspections to make sure the law was complied with. The program was initiated in March 2011 and it focuses on employers who endanger workers by willfully or repeatedly committing violations or who fail to abate violations.

The worker’s death was one of 7 falls at a construction site in 2012. As noted previously on this blog, falls are a leading cause of death in construction work, but are also among the types of hazards that are the most easily identified and eliminated. Not offering fall protection for workers is 1 of 10 most frequently cited OSHA violations.

This June, there will be a National Safety Stand-Down to prevent falls in construction at which companies will talk to their workers about fall hazards and reinforce how important it is to have fall prevention. OSHA wants both workers and employers to participate. Although it seems self-evident that fall protection is necessary, many employers and workers are not aware of fall hazards or how to maximize their use of safety equipment.

OSHA mandates fall protection at different minimum heights depending on the industry. For construction, it is 6 feet. OSHA requires fall protection be provided when working over dangerous equipment and machinery regardless of fall distance. To prevent workers from being hurt in falls, employers are required to guard floor holes with railing and toe-board or a cover, offer a guard rail and toe-board around all elevated open-sided runway, floor or platform, and provide other means of fall protection like safety and harness and line, hand rails, stair railings, and safety nets.

If you are hurt at work, you may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits. An experienced Massachusetts workers’ compensation attorney can evaluate whether you have a sound claim and fight to make sure that your employer and its insurer follow the rules or give you guidance if there is no insurance available. Contact us by calling 800-367-0871 or using our online contact form.

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