The Many Dangers of Structural Collapses
December 21, 2020
Structural collapses happen when load bearing structural elements fail and as a result, the building (or structure) collapses into itself. Collapses can happen for several different reasons like earthquakes, fires, construction activities including construction, demolition and trenching, and negligent work practices that lead to catastrophic safety failures. Structural collapses not only endanger construction workers but also first responders who arrive on scene to provide lifesaving services as well as unsuspecting pedestrians and motorists.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works to insure the safety and health of American workers by setting and enforcing standards and providing training, outreach, and educational programs to improve the safety and health of workplaces across the country. OSHA also investigates workplace accidents, injuries, and deaths. In the last five years, the agency has investigated several industrial structural collapses, far too many of which resulted in severe injuries and fatalities. Here are just a few examples of the incidents OSHA examined:
- The collapse of a mast climbing scaffold system. Construction workers were disassembling materials on a 12-story steel framed building when one of the work platforms they were working on collapsed. Four workers fell nine floors. Three workers died and the fourth suffered extreme injuries.
- A gin pole collapse. Three workers were installing a new TV antenna atop a nearly 1,000 foot tall antenna tower. The gin pole disengaged from the tower structure, falling hundreds of feet to the ground and taking the three employees with it. All three workers died from their injuries.
- Trench collapse. Workers were repairing a drainage pipe when the trench’s concrete barrier collapsed. At the time of the incident, employees were hand-digging the trench alongside the concrete barrier. Two workers were fatally injured in the incident.
- Pedestrian bridge collapse. A pedestrian bridge weighing 930 tons was under construction when it collapsed. At the time of the collapse, several motorists were waiting at a traffic light underneath the bridge. Five motorists and one worker died. Another worker was permanently disabled from the incident.
Factors Behind Structural Collapses
As you can see, structural collapses do not only involve buildings – they also involve excavation sites, bridges, and even industrial structures and equipment like scaffolding and cranes. Some collapses result from unpreventable structural failures during construction, but many others occur due to workplace safety and health failures and other kinds of violations. For example, common building materials like concrete require a certain amount of time to set and dry before they are structurally sound. Employers and supervisors must be aware of how long various materials require before they achieve their maximum design strength, but in some cases an employer rushes a job and throws the safety of his or her workers to the wayside. In 1978, one of the deadliest collapses in American history happened for this very reason. 51 construction workers lost their lives when they prematurely loaded concrete on a power plant cooling tower because the concrete had not fully set yet.
Some other examples of negligent work practices that can result in dangerous accidents include excessive construction loading, or when materials are unsafely stockpiled and exceed load-bearing limits and improper sequencing. Sequencing in construction simply refers to the order of operations for a job, such as marking, excavating, concreting, brick laying, etc. In other words, workers must complete certain tasks in a certain order. When workers perform sequences or tasks out of order, it can cause major repercussions. Structural building and equipment collapses can also be an avoidable consequence of defective or unreasonably unsafe machinery or worksite materials.
If You Were Injured
Employers are obligated to provide a safe and healthful workplace just like machine and industrial material manufacturers are legally responsible for manufacturing and distributing safe products to consumers. Sadly, all too often employers and manufacturers skirt their legal duties and put workers – as well as the general public – directly in harm’s way. Injured individuals have a right to secure full and just compensation for their preventable injuries. Our team of experienced attorneys at Galfand Berger is dedicated to fighting for the rights of injured victims. If you were injured in a workplace accident and would like to learn more about filing a legal claim, someone at our firm can help. Contact a representative online now.
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