According to a recent report from the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA), the Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov private school in Brooklyn, New York, exposed construction employees to dangerous conditions at a six-story school and office building in the Williamsburg section of the city.
“The nature of and breadth of these violations are disturbing,” said Kay Gee, OSHA’s director for Brooklyn, Manhattan and Queens. OSHA proposed nearly $50,000 in penalties for the school.
Building Site Exposes Employees to Fall and Electrical Hazards
The school was cited with 21 serious violations of workplace safety standards. These were mostly concerning electrical hazards and fall hazards, though there were also impalement, struck-by, and laceration hazards.
More specifically, employees were working at unguarded building edges, and around an unguarded elevator shaft, exposed to falls from six to more than 10 feet. There were also unguarded skylights and floor holes.
Scaffolding was not properly erected, and had no safe access. Instead, employees were climbing framing and cross-bracing to get to it. They were exposed to falling objects from the unguarded elevator shaft, as well as to an unguarded grinder, and projecting steel rebar, both creating impalement and laceration hazards. Gas cylinders were uncapped and unsecured.
Finally, there were misused and damaged electrical cords throughout the site. Employees were exposed to live electrical outlets and parts throughout the building.
“Falls and electrocution are two of the four hazards that account for most injuries and death in construction work,” said Gee.
Time Pressures Lead to More Electrical Injuries
Electrical hazards have long been recognized as a serious workplace hazard, according to OSHA. Employees exposed to them include engineers, electricians, electronic technicians, power line workers, and construction workers in general.
Electrical hazards may include electric shock, electrocution, burns, fires, and explosions. Data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) showed that there were nearly 6,000 fatal electrical injuries to workers in the U.S. between 1992 and 2013. There were also over 24,000 non-fatal electrical injuries from 2003 through 2012.
While fatal electrical injuries has fallen steadily over the past 20 years, non-fatal injuries remain more consistent, with little change over the last decade. The most common cause of electrical injury is contact with the electric current of a machine, tool, appliance, or light fixture. The second leading non-fatal electrical injury was caused by contact with writing, transformers, or other electrical components.
Researchers have found that time pressures and supervisor demands “contribute to workers taking shortcuts with safety requirements,” according to a report by the Fire Protection Research Foundation. Many workers also have insufficient training for working around electrical equipment.
OSHA Requires Companies to Safeguard Employees Against Electrical Hazards
OSHA recommends that construction companies use insulation, guarding, grounding, and electrical protective devices to help increase safety of employees on the job.
In 2014, OSHA announced the final rule to improve workplace safety and health for workers performing electric power generation, transmission and distribution work. They estimated that the new update would save nearly 20 lives and prevent 118 injuries annually. The new rule revised the 40-year-old construction standard for electric power line work, and included revisions to construction and general industry requirements.
Other OSHA standards require construction companies to provide guarding—locating or enclosing electric equipment to make sure employees don’t accidently come into contact with its live parts, something Yeshiva Kehilath Yakov failed to do.
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