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While construction sites have many potential hazards, gravity-related incidents and their resulting injuries pose some of the highest risks to workers. The dangers of gravity-related injuries, which encompass workers falling from heights and being struck by falling objects, enforce the need for the current legislation around vital safety precautions—chiefly risk mitigation, safety education, training, monitoring and proper use of protective equipment such as harnesses and scaffolding.

One such law in New York State—known as the “Scaffold Law” (Labor Law 240(1))—aims to protect workers who are exposed to gravity-related risks while engaged in the erection, demolition, repair, alteration, painting or cleaning of a building or structure during their employment. Under the law, worksite owners and general contractors are responsible for providing the proper protection and safety equipment to maintain a safe work environment and prevent tragic incidents and injuries from occurring.

The prevalence of gravity-related injuries

With more than 6.5 million people employed on construction sites throughout the country and over 2.3 million of those workers using scaffolds, the risk of gravity-related injuries is extremely high. In fact, OSHA estimates an average of 80 deaths and 4,500 injuries due to scaffold falls alone. Site owners and contractors are responsible for providing the proper equipment and gear to protect workers from falls and falling objects in order to bring these numbers down.

Falling objects are one of the most common causes of injury on construction sites. As the work naturally requires the use of a number of heavy tools, equipment and materials at high elevations, employers and supervisors must make sure objects at risk of falling are properly hoisted, braced and secured.

Tips to avoid gravity-related injuries

Employers have a legal and moral responsibility to protect their workers from gravity-related injuries, including falls, injuries due to being struck by falling objects and other associated incidents. On the basic level, employers must provide adequate fall protection for heights or drops over six feet with additional scaffolding and harnesses required at greater heights. Further, they must build and maintain all structures and scaffolding carefully to prevent collapse.

The OSHA standards also have specific rules around weight requirements with scaffolding component being capable of holding at least four times the maximum intended weight and all suspension ropes being capable of at least six times the intended weight. Employers must also assure that all working levels of scaffolding are fully and properly planked or decked, with no space wider than 1 inch between the platform and uprights without specific circumstances.

In instances when the employer cannot adhere to the regulations above due to situational restrictions, all employees must wear personal fall arrest systems to minimize the risk of injury. When it comes to reducing the chance of falling equipment or objects, employers must also make sure all surfaces are clean and dry, all parts are properly hoisted and mounted, and that workers are properly geared and trained on the associated risks of working on the site.

On the employee side, workers can help to reduce the chance of gravity-related incidents by staying alert at all times. Falling objects can sometimes occur unexpectedly, so remaining watchful and attentive to oneself and one’s surroundings—including other nearby workers—is crucial. Workers must also make sure all harnesses and personal fall protection equipment are properly secured at all times and hardhats are always worn.

What to do after a gravity-related injury

A worker who has been injured in a gravity-related incident should call 9-1-1 and immediately seek medical attention for injuries. The worker should receive an evaluation from a medical professional to document all injuries that occurred as a result of the incident. Common gravity-related injuries include broken bones, spinal cord injuries, concussions, brain injury, contusions and even death from occurrences such as falls from heights, roofs, ladders and/or scaffolding, as well as falling tools, materials, debris or other workers.

Under New York’s Scaffold Law, the worker may be able to recover damages, including loss of potential earnings, medical costs and pain and suffering, through a personal injury lawsuit against the site owner, general contractor or other third parties.

In many cases, if the worker was injured while performing workplace duties, he or she may be able to recover financial losses for medical expenses and lost wages by filing a workers’ compensation claim. While laws vary from state to state, in many jurisdictions, a worker may be able to file for workers’ compensation benefits, regardless of whether the worker or employer was at fault.

Gravity-related injuries are avoidable workplace emergencies that necessitate strong guidelines and precautions to assure that worker safety remains a top priority on the construction site and beyond. Gravity-related injuries can be tragic, but with proper fall protection, strong scaffolding and other safety precautions in place, employers and workers can reduce the number of such incidents and vitally protect workers.

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