Just before 1 a.m. on Feb. 8, Miami’s Metromover collided with a construction lift, sending one worker plunging to the ground and forcing another to hang on for dear life. This tragic accident serves as another reminder of the risks construction workers face, and the particular danger posed by falls and strike incidents — the two most common causes of construction worker death.
Oscar Cabrera, 43, and Luis Perez, 37, were doing routine maintenance on the light rail near NW 1st Avenue and 5th Street when their boom lift was struck by the passenger-less Metromove. Mr. Cabrera was knocked out of the lift and fell to the ground, while Mr. Perez barely managed to hold on until his fellow construction workers could lower the lift.
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Sadly, Mr. Cabrera died from his injuries at the hospital, becoming an early addition to the hundreds of construction workers that will likely die this year in falls and strike accidents.
Falls and “struck by” incidents combined to account for nearly half of the 937 construction workers killed in 2015, and were also two of the four most common causes of fatal construction accidents dubbed by OSHA as the “fatal four.”
Eliminating the fatal four could save the lives of as many as 602 construction workers every year, according to OSHA. However, if it were possible to eliminate just falls and strike accidents, two-thirds of all construction related deaths would immediately disappear. This suggests that an increased focus on safety practices for those accidents alone could make being a construction worker much safer.
The Fatal Two
While the phrase “fatal four” sounds catchier, the reality for construction workers is that falling and being struck by something are by far the greatest dangers they face. The other accidents that make up the fatal four are electrocutions and accidents in which they get caught in or between things. Together, those accidents killed 148 workers in 2015, according to OSHA.
By comparison, falls and strike accidents accounted for 437 deaths, or 48.4 percent of all construction workers that died in 2015.
While these two types of accidents do account for a disproportionate number of all construction worker deaths, their prevalence makes sense considering the challenges of a construction site.
The construction of every building requires someone to climb to dangerous heights. Even building a two-floor home will place a construction worker 20 plus feet above the ground, meaning any sort of fall will likely result in a serious injury, and possibly much worse. This is a risk nearly all construction workers face.
Similarly, construction sites are very busy, with many people and a lot of machinery at work. With so much going on at one time it’s easy to see how a worker can get struck by something. For example, a worker on the top level of scaffolding may accidentally knock a bucket off that then falls 20 feet and hits another worker, or a crane operator may accidentally push a lever the wrong way and accidentally hit a nearby worker.
In the accident in Miami, one would think the train wouldn’t run on a track where workers are actively doing maintenance, but miscommunications can happen, and people can be struck as a result. Miscommunication and minor mistakes are risks at every construction site, and so every construction worker is at risk of being struck by an object.
On the other hand, being electrocuted is not a danger every construction worker is exposed to. Electricians have a very specific job, installing the electric, and so there are far fewer of them on a work site. As a result, getting electrocuted is not a risk all construction workers are exposed to.
Likewise, getting caught in between or crushed by something is also not a threat all construction workers face. Although there is always a risk that the structure being built collapses or a worker gets pinned between a wall and construction vehicle, the numbers suggest these risks are nowhere near as large as the constant threats of falling from heights and being unexpectedly struck by something.
How Can Miami Construction Workers Avoid Falls and Strike Accidents?
While the accident in Miami was just that, an accident, some workplace falls and strike accidents can be avoided if OSHA safety requirements are followed. The company the two workers involved in the accident in Miami worked for has not been cited by OSHA in the last 10 years, according to the Miami Herald report on the accident. However, many employers are not as compliant with OSHA safety standards.
This is evident from the top safety violations OSHA handed out fines and penalties for in 2015. That year, fall protection was the number one cited safety violation by OSHA, and scaffolding requirement violations were number three. Construction workers should know what their employers are required to do to keep them safe, because they end up paying the price if proper safety precautions are not taken.
To protect against falls, OSHA recommends construction workers always wear and use personal fall arrest equipment when working in elevated spaces, and use strong, sturdy scaffolding that has a barrier near the edges. Also, any holes should be securely covered and if they are not, they should be clearly marked.
To avoid being struck by something, OSHA stresses the importance of awareness and communication. Strike accidents often occur in a momentary lapse of awareness or because of miscommunication, and can be avoided with hyper vigilance. Wearing bright clothing can also be helpful, OSHA says, so workers can be easily seen by anyone who may be approaching.
What Happens If an Accident Does Occur?
Construction accidents in Miami happen, but if they were the result of someone else’s negligence there is, fortunately, legal recourse. At Morgan & Morgan, our construction accident attorney have been helping people in Florida for decades, and they may be able to help you hold the responsible parties accountable for your injuries sustained on the job site.