W.T.C. worker’s fall was waiting to happen

Construction workers take their lunch break on a recent weekday outside the 4 W.T.C. site, where a worker was badly injured from a fall late last month. Downtown Express photo by Sam Spokony

BY SAM SPOKONY  |  On Tues., June 26, a construction worker at 4 World Trade Center fell from a height of about six feet and was hospitalized for his injuries. While the worker has since been released from the hospital and the incident hasn’t appeared to disrupt construction, the Downtown Express has gained access to federal records revealing that a lack of safeguards has resulted in major safety hazards at the W.T.C. in recent years.

According to documents from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (O.S.H.A.), an agency of the U.S. Department of Labor (D.O.L.), four different contractors on the W.T.C. site have been slammed with violations resulting from inadequate fall protection since October 2010.

Three of the four violations were categorized as “serious.”

According to O.S.H.A. regulations, a serious citation is given when death or physical harm is likely to result from a safety hazard uncovered by inspectors.

The most recent of the four violations was issued in June 2011 to the Laquila Group, a contractor at the time for 3 W.T.C. The situation, deemed serious, was described by O.S.H.A. safety inspectors as one in which a construction worker “stood on top of uncapped rebar up to six feet high, exposing himself to a fall to the cement foundation below.”

In the 4 W.T.C. incident, which took place on June 26, the worker injured himself on a piece of rebar, according to a statement released by John Gallagher, a spokesperson for Tishman Construction, construction manager for Towers 1, 3 and 4.

A spokesperson for Laquila said that his company no longer has workers at the W.T.C. site. Tishman declined a request for comment.

Two O.S.H.A. violations were issued in February 2011 — to two different contractors — for inadequate fall protection at 4 W.T.C. Both were categorized as serious, and one was a repeat violation, the records reveal.

According to one of those citations, which was handed down to D.C.M. Erectors, O.S.H.A. safety inspectors saw a construction worker “walking on a steel beam approximately 27 feet high [with] no fall protection of any kind.”

This was D.C.M.’s second violation resulting from that type of hazard, the first of which was issued in August 2008. The O.S.H.A. documents didn’t specify whether the 2008 violation took place on the W.T.C. site or on another property.

The second citation, issued in February 2011, was given to Solera/D.C.M. J.V. According to the document, safety inspectors observed employees working in a controlled decking zone without proper safety gear. A controlled decking zone is an area in which metal decking is installed at any height between 15 to 30 feet above a lower level.

Neither D.C.M. nor Solera responded to requests for comment.

The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, the site’s landlord, countered that the bi-state agency is proud of its “remarkable” safety record at one of the world’s most complex construction projects.

“The Port Authority’s safety team proactively monitors and learns from the experiences at other construction sites in New York, as well as nationally, to utilize best practices to ensure the safety of every worker on our site,” according to Port Authority spokesperson Steve Coleman.

Dara McQuillan, a spokesperson for Silverstein Properties, developer of Towers 2, 3 and 4, echoed that Silverstein works constantly with W.T.C. contractors, unions, outside consultants and the government to ensure best safety practices.

“The ongoing safety and security of our workers and the Downtown community is of paramount importance to the Silverstein organization,” said McQuillan.

The fourth O.S.H.A. violation was issued in October 2010, at 1 W.T.C., to Collavino Construction Company. There, safety inspectors saw a worker who was “exposed to falling approximately 30 feet to the ground below while installing steel scaffold ties,” adding that, while fall protection gear was appropriate, it wasn’t provided by the employer.

Collavino didn’t respond to requests for comment.

The four violations resulted in a total of more than $22,000 in fines between the four contractors, all of which have been paid in full, according to D.O.L. spokesperson Mike Wald.

Kay Gee, a director at O.S.H.A.’s Manhattan office, said that it’s been difficult to track any positive or negative progress of fall prevention at the W.T.C. site over the past two years, because of the large number of contractors at work there. But of the 28 safety inspections at the site in 2011, more than a third have been tied to potential accidents, she noted.

“We’ve always placed a great emphasis on fall protection, but [the lack of it] is still the number one violation we cite,” said Gee. “It’s even harder to deal with [the W.T.C. site] from an educational standpoint, because it’s difficult to keep all the contractors adequately trained.”

O.S.H.A. is currently investigating the June 26 incident. Gee wouldn’t comment on the inspection, since it’s ongoing.

Construction worker Jay Kinsman, who has worked at 1 W.T.C. for about a year, said he believes that fall protection training and enforcement on the site are extremely strict, but that rules can only go so far.

“If things were 100 percent safe all the time, nothing would actually get done,” said Kinsman, adding that he has never been injured on the site.

Kinsman also noted that, in his experience, responsibility for falls lies as much with the individual worker as with the contractor or site supervisor. According to Kinsman, rumors were floating around the site after a worker fell at 1 W.T.C. several weeks ago — rumors that placed the blame squarely on the shoulders of the worker.

“I heard that he’d had a few drinks during his lunch break,” said Kinsman.

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