From Cranes to Window Washers to Trenches, Construction Accidents Roil New York City

It seems that troubling news regarding the construction industry and construction accidents in New York City are heard on a daily basis. 15 people in construction-related accidents have been killed in the city so far this year, compared with 12 in all of 2007. After the second of two recent crane collapses within 12 weeks of each other during which period the city held its 4th annual Construction Safety Week, a window into the world of New York City Buildings Department crane inspections and inspectors has been opened. Nine people, all but one of them construction workers, died in the two crane collapses.

CRANE: On June 6, 2008, James Delayo, the Buildings Department chief inspector for hoist and rigging in charge of overseeing the issuance of city licenses for crane operators, was arrested on corruption charges for allegedly taking bribes to allow cranes under his review to pass inspection, for taking money from a crane company that sought to ensure that its employees would pass the required licensing exam, and for selling copies of the crane operator test. Mr. Delayo was promoted to the post of acting chief inspector after the March 16, 2008 collapse, and now makes $74,224 a year.

Seven people were killed, six of them construction workers, in the March collapse when a 60-meter (200-foot) crane collapsed and crushed an entire residential building and damaged several other properties.

SCAFFOLD/WINDOW WASHER: On June 9, 2008, an investigator from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) announced that a device that holds a cable in place for a scaffold was installed improperly last year, three weeks before the scaffolding gave way and sent two window washers plunging 47 floors on the Upper East Side on December 7th, 2007. The investigator said that said the scaffold gave way under the weight of the two window washers as soon as they stepped onto it. The 16-foot-wide rig was hanging near the top of the building at 265 East 66th Street, near Second Avenue.

The State Labor Department, issued violations on June 9 to, among others, the company that installed the scaffold. A Labor Department spokesman said the agency’s findings centered on lack of maintenance and lack of training for the window washers.

OSHA proposed fines of $24,000 against City Wide Window Cleaning, the service that employed the Morenos, and $21,000 against Tractel, which had repaired the scaffold. OSHA issued five citations against City Wide. Three carried proposed fines of $7,000 apiece, the highest the agency can impose.

One was for lack of a system to protect against falls cables that would have left the Morenos dangling at the top of the building when the scaffold gave way. Another citation against City Wide was for failing to train employees in how to inspect the scaffold, and for not training them to wear personal protective equipment before they stepped onto the rig. A third citation had to do with crimps on the scaffold, which were supposed to anchor the wire cables and which were also the subject of one of the citations OSHA issued to Tractel. Tractel had replaced the crimps that had come with the cables when it repaired the rig three weeks before the accident.

The citation says the crimps were improperly installed. OSHA’s investigator said that had the replacements been done correctly, they would have prevented the rig from falling. OSHA issued two other citations to Tractel for the crimps failure to support the scaffold and for not inspecting the crimps.

NYC BUILDINGS COMMISSIONER: On June 11th, 2008, The New York Times reported that Mayor Bloomberg is attempting to downgrade the qualification requirements for the city’s buildings commissioner. Mr. Bloomberg hopes to drop the requirement in the City Charter that only a registered architect or licensed engineer can hold the post in order to deepen the pool and managerial talent of candidates for the job.

Critics of this proposal contend that the job of buildings commissioner requires someone with technical knowledge, and that downgrading the job requirements may threaten the public safety. But proponents of the Mayors proposal say that anyone having that technical knowledge must necessarily be too tight with those who are supposed to be regulated so that the fox will be guarding the hen house.

TRENCH: Also, on June 11th, 2008, the owner of a Brooklyn construction site where a day laborer, Lauro Ortega, died in March when earth and debris collapsed on him was charged with manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide and reckless endangerment. According to the prosecutor, the site owner, William Lattarulo, was warned by workers and by a consultant that a trench that had been dug on his East New York site was unstable. Instead of heeding those warnings, Mr. Lattarulo told Mr. Ortega to keep digging and moments later, part of a wall from the home next door collapsed and sent rubble spilling onto Mr. Ortega, killing him. A second worker was injured.

NEW LEGISLATION: On June 12th, 2008, the New York City Council approved two bills that comprise a 15-point legislative package the city is crafting in the aftermath of the May 30 crane accident. The first measure mandates the Buildings Department to report the disciplinary action it takes against professional architects and engineers or did take within the past 5 years. The second bill made it compulsory for the department to place monthly updates of deaths and injuries that were construction-related on its Website.

As of now, the Buildings Department is not required to report disciplinary proceedings to the state. Under the new laws, the reports would be sent to the state Department of Education, which can strip architects and engineers of their licenses. For the two bills to become into law, they must be signed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The second bill takes effect 90 days after signing, while the first bill would be effective after Bloomberg signs it.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims, including for workers injured at construction sites. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients.

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, watch our videos.

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