The scaffolding that broke last Friday (12/7/07), causing a pair of brother window washers to plunge 47 stories (550 feet) on Manhattan’s upper East Side, had been cited for 10 violations in June, including four that were repeat violations, state records show. Inspection records from the New York State Labor Department show that the scaffolding had been inspected twice in the past two years – and 10 violations were issued, but they were not severe enough to warrant a stop-work order.
Why one brother died and the other survived is a mystery. Speculation is that while they tried to ride their platform to the ground, as one window washer said he had been trained to do in such an accident, one of the brothers, Edgar Moreno, may have been thrown off of the platform before it hit the ground. His brother, Alcides Moreno, though seriously injured, was conscious and sitting up soon after firefighters arrived. Alcides Moreno’s injuries include collapsed lungs, damaged kidneys, a broken nose, a blood clot to his brain and a gash above one eye.
The brothers reportedly had complained about safety issues at the building, but were told that the scaffolding was safe. Preliminary reports indicate the swing scaffold – the permanent portion of the scaffolding built on the building’s roof to facilitate window washing – failed. That caused the metal platform to give way when the Morenos stepped on it, the Buildings Department said. Riding the platform to the ground relies on the physics principle that the platform generates some small amount of wind resistance, slowing the fall.
Window washers are taught that if a scaffold gives way, they should lie down flat on the platform, on their stomach because it gives them the best chance of survival should the scaffold catch on something on the way down. Lying on the platform, however, is contrary to one’s first instinct, which is to jump, usually out of fear. But jumping is almost certain to result in death.
The brothers were employed by City Wide Window Cleaning and were working at the Solow Tower, at 265 East 66th Street, at Second Avenue, when the scaffold gave way. It was not clear how much training the Morenos had received. Neither was apparently wearing a safety harness.
The city requires people who work on a suspended scaffold to have a certificate showing they have completed a safety course. The city also requires each contractor to have a licensed master or special rigger, who can designate a foreman to oversee a job.
In 2006, 43 construction workers died on the job in New York, according to data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics. The death toll was up 87 percent from 2005, when 23 people died. Scaffolds cover the facades of thousands of buildings in New York City, mostly at construction sites.
The Labor Law of New York State provides special protection for workers who are exposed to and injured by elevation risks during construction and demolition of buildings (section 240(1)) and also explicitly for window washers (section 202 – “Protection of the public and of persons engaged at window cleaning and cleaning of exterior surfaces of buildings.”). Experienced personal injury lawyers can help workers who are injured on-the-job recover compensation to the fullest extent the law permits.