Is Injury Prevention A Concern On Public Construction Projects?
I read a disturbing article in the Insurance Journal last week. The title says it all:
$2B Orlando Highway Construction Project Halted After 5th Worker Death
Five separate workplace deaths on one project! One fatal work-related accident is INEXCUSABLE. Five? It’s hard to comprehend. How could one site be so deadly? How could the contractor allow this to happen? Worker deaths from safety issues are ALWAYS inexcusable.
The public project at issue — a downtown highway project. Road work safety requires planning. In addition to construction safety planning, you also have potential traffic safety issues. Through the years, we’ve represented a number of workers struck by cars on highway projects. But, traffic safety is not my topic today.
My concern today is construction site safety and injury prevention on public projects. By public, I mean those projects funded by the government. Roads. Bridges. Schools. Public buildings. No project, public or private, should ever suffer five separate fatal workplace accidents.
Is safety a concern on public construction projects? Several years ago, I represented a worker severely injured in a workplace fall at a public project in Huntsville. The worker was required to work from an extended scissors lift on the site. The project manager utilized multiple, moving extended scissors lifts to erect a large structure. Not the safest method of construction. But, it was the fastest. The manager undertook NO safety planning related to the specific equipment or work. The workers were unprotected, far above the ground.
In my case, I fought to obtain all the project-related documents. Eventually, I obtained almost 10,000 pages of materials. What I read was shocking. Almost all the documents discussed the general contractor’s concerns with payment and production. That’s it. Stay on schedule. Get paid. The contractor spent far more time monitoring the daily weather to prevent any delays than it did on actual worker safety. Out of all the documents, we found one page that discussed site-specific safety. And, that one page did not mention scissors lifts at all!
At trial, an executive of the general contractor bragged to the jury about the company’s many safety awards. The problem – they were fake awards. We learned the truth during our investigation and were hoping for an opportunity to discuss the issue at trial. By bragging, he gave us that opportunity. These bogus safety awards only considered the safety of top-level managers and not the actual workers performing all the tasks. Across the US, several of the company’s workers had been seriously injured or killed in workplace accidents. Worker safety was not important. Yet, this contractor routinely won bids for huge public projects.
In Huntsville and nearby communities, we are rapidly growing. That means lots of public construction for roads and public buildings. How can we promote safety on public construction projects? Here are several ways:
Require Public Agencies To Consider Safety When Awarding Contracts. Many agencies fail to consider safety issues when awarding public contracts. Public agencies should consider the bidder’s past safety performance and safety policies as part of the qualification process.
Prohibit Noncompliant Companies From Receiving Public Contracts. Companies with chronic safety issues, repeat safety violations or repeat safety conditions resulting in accidents, should be barred from continuing to profit off public contracts. Public agencies could adopt standards to prevent the worst offenders from continuing to obtain contracts.
Monitor Companies For Compliance With Site-Specific Safety Planning. On each project, the contractor should develop a site-specific plan which considers the work, the processes, the equipment and the hazards. Companies profiting from public contracts should comply with basic safety planning. Public agencies should monitor and enforce these requirements.
When it comes to public projects or public spending, the safety of workers should be a top priority. We must hold companies profiting from public money accountable for safety. Safety starts with a few simple steps.
At the Blackwell Law Firm, we have helped injured workers across Alabama for many years. We believe in workplace safety. If you have questions or concerns, let us know. Consultations are always free and confidential.