Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Steel Worker Falls 25 Feet From Building


Just one day after thousands of workers gathered to mourn the loss of the 13 people killed in construction accidents in New York City this year, a steel worker was critically injured on Tuesday when he fell 25 feet from a building under construction on East 29th Street in Manhattan.

The authorities said the worker, Christopher Gunn, 28, was trying to maneuver a 20-foot steel I-beam being hoisted into place by a crane about 8:30 a.m. when he slipped and fell from the second story of the building, which is under construction between First Avenue and Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive.

What caused him to fall was unclear, but workers said that an early morning drizzle might have made the steel slippery, and that Mr. Gunn was seen grabbing for the I-beam to steady himself.

Mr. Gunn fell to a concrete slab, fracturing his safety helmet and losing consciousness, according to witnesses.

He underwent three hours of surgery at Bellevue Hospital Center, where he was in critical condition late Tuesday afternoon, said Minerva Joubert, a spokeswoman for the hospital.

The accident occurred during Construction Safety Week and the day after the ceremony at St. Patrick’s Cathedral honoring those killed in construction accidents this year. It is unclear how many were killed at building sites during the first three months of 2007, but the total of 13 so far this year is one more than died in all of 2007.

The city and the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration are looking into the cause of several fatal accidents. The most recent occurred April 14, when Kevin Kelly, a 25-year-old worker who was installing windows at a condominium under construction on East 67th Street, fell to his death from the 23rd floor, apparently because a strap failed.

The series of construction accidents has caused an upheaval at the Department of Buildings, which has oversight over building safety and code violations. Patricia J. Lancaster resigned as buildings commissioner last week amid city and state hearings on construction safety.

Robert D. LiMandri, the acting buildings commissioner, who visited the 29th Street construction site less than an hour after Mr. Gunn was taken to Bellevue, said the department would take a hard line if violations of building codes or work rules were found to be a factor in his fall.

“We are going to get to the bottom of it,” he said. “Development must not take place at the expense of the workers building our city.”

The city issued a stop-work order at the site, temporarily halting the operations of steel workers. It also issued several building code violations against the general contractor, Turner Construction, but none appeared to be directly related to Mr. Gunn’s fall.

Chris McFadden, a spokesman for Turner, said Tuesday evening that Mr. Gunn was “in full compliance with safety regulations” set by the federal government, and that the company was “continuing to cooperate with the New York City Department of Buildings and their ongoing investigation.”

Mr. Gunn was working for a subcontractor, Falcon Steel Company, a unit of Helmark Steel Inc. of Wilmington, Del. Helmark officials did not respond to a telephone inquiry.

City buildings inspectors said that Mr. Gunn was wearing a safety harness, as required under federal safety rules, but that the harness was not tied to a steel girder or any other object that would have stopped him from falling. The Buildings Department said it was investigating whether “this particular step in the steel operation required the worker’s safety harness to be tied off.”

John Chavez, a spokesman for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said Mr. Gunn would not have been required to be secured by a safety strap if he was working no higher than 30 feet.

Carlos Nazario, 38, another worker, said Mr. Gunn was standing on a sheet of corrugated steel that had been installed as temporary flooring on the second story of the building’s framework. Mr. Gunn “was trying to hold the beam, and he slipped sideways,” Mr. Nazario said.

“They weren’t doing anything wrong,” Mr. Nazario said. He said that since workers moving around the framework of a project in its early stages of construction needed to move frequently, they would be constrained or even tripped up if they were tied to safety straps.

The East 29th Street building is to be 15 stories high and is part of a complex known as the East River Science Park. The project has received financial backing from the Partnership for New York City, a business group, and is intended to attract research operations from the pharmaceutical and medical industries.

In another serious construction accident on Monday, a 48-year-old worker was critically injured when he was run over by a front-end loader as he was working on a sewer pipe project on Staten Island, the authorities said. The man, whose identity was not disclosed, was in critical condition late Tuesday at Richmond University Medical Center.

The project is being carried out by the city’s Department of Design and Construction, and the worker was employed by Halcyon Construction Corporation of Pleasantville, N.Y. Officials of both the city department and Halcyon said the cause remained under investigation and declined to comment further.


  1. As a construction safety professional with over 20 years in the business, I understand that this ironworker was most likely in compliance with Subpart R. But, if you want to stop the accidents and deaths from occurring, the DOB and union members should stand united and demand 100% fall protection for fall distances greater than 6 feet. It may not be the macho thing to do, but you'll see your family and friends at the end of the day.

    The engineering designs and equipment for fall protection are readily available, worth every dollar spent, and there are designs specifically for this application. Several large CMs in NYC have a 6-foot fall protection requirement spelled out in their contracts with all subcontractors. As a subcontractor, why fight the language in the contract? The added cost is minimal, and the benefits are real. It's written to save lives.

  2. Great Point Given, Alot of Lives Lost in NYC Due to Ignorence !

    Check Out the Latest YouTube Video Pages on Fall Protection.

    Copy Paste the Link or In the Search TYPE: Fall Protection.

  3. I see that this article is now 2 years old. What the update on this project?

    makati condominiums

  4. Construction workers either need to abide by all of the construction site safety regulations or find a different job. There are way too many preventable work-related injuries, many of them tragic.


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