When we think of dangerous careers, certain occupations come to mind – coal miners, gas rig workers, and steel plant employees. We don’t tend to think of construction workers. Sure, they face some risk of injury—that’s why they wear hard hats—but compared to a lot of manual workers, we think, their risk is relatively low. Actually, this is not the case. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, construction workers face a higher fatal injury rate than any other occupation in the country. From falls to scaffold collapse to repetitive motion injury, construction site workers are at risk for a seemingly endless array of dangers and potential injuries.
Five Tragic Incidents Support the Data
If the government’s statistics don’t convince you, check out this list of five American construction accidents. Even those who are most skeptical of government-backed data may be convinced of construction dangers.
1. Chicago Crib – In 1909, while a water intake tunnel was being built in Chicago, the workers’ dormitory caught fire. 60 men died in the fire, 29 were seriously burned or later died of the burns, and 46 men who jumped into the surrounding water drowned or died of pneumonia. According to some historians, the fire was caused by the use of gasoline to ward off bed bugs.
2. Hawk’s Nest Tunnel – In 1927, construction began on this tunnel near Gauley Bridge, WV. The tunnel was to divert water from the New River to provide power for Union Carbide’s Kanawha and New River Power Company. During construction, silica was discovered, and the workers were told to mine it to use in steel manufacturing. Despite the fact that it was common practice for silica miners to follow certain safety precautions, none of the workers at Hawk’s Nest were provided with safety masks. A large portion of them developed silicosis, a serious lung disease, and many of them died within a year of beginning mining. The West Virginia historical marker at the site puts the death toll at 109, but a Congressional hearing reported 476 fatalities.
3. Willow Island – Tragedy seems to plague West Virginia construction sites. On April 27, 1978, a 166-foot high cooling tower that was being built at a power plant in Willow Island, WV collapsed, killing 51 workers. A variety of factors were responsible, and investigators found that the concrete underneath the tower had not fully hardened, bolts were missing, a hoisting system was not properly engineered, and the entire construction process was rushed and unsafe.
4. Hoover Dam – No one major disaster befell the Hoover Dam, but historians estimate that a total of 112 workers died during the course of its construction. The first death was J.G. Tierny, who drowned while finding the location for the dam. The last recorded death was Tierny’s son Patrick, who fell from the dam during construction.
5. 51st Street – In March 2008, a crane collapsed at a construction site at 51st street in New York City. The incident left seven dead and even more injured. The 19-story crane was to be extended (eventually to 44 stories) when a piece of steel came off and knocked off one the ties holding the crane to the building. Stephen Kaplan, owner or Reliance Construction Group, called it an “absolute freak accident.”
These tragic incidents not only verify OSHA’s claim of the dangers of construction sites, they also act as a wake-up call to construction companies. Though many of these accidents occurred years ago, construction companies still have a long way to go, as evidenced by the 51st Street incident. It is completely unacceptable that workers who spend their lives working on high-budget projects should be left so exposed to tragedy.
Chicago Construction Accident Lawyer - Donald W. Jaburek of Pope & Jaburek, P.C. in Chicago, Illinois is a personal injury attorney with decades of experience. Mr. Jaburek focuses his practice on motor vehicle accidents, workplace injuries, slip and fall, medical malpractice, wrongful death, and most other types of injury cases.
Five Worst Construction Accidents in American History