It is no surprise that fires are a regular occurrence on construction sites. Cutting tools, flammable materials, and even lit cigarettes cause thousands of accidental fires on work sites every year, resulting in significant property damage and life-threatening injuries to workers.
Why Fires Continue to Happen on New York City Construction Sites
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates an average of 36 fire and explosion deaths per year across the entire construction industry, along with hundreds of injuries ranging from burns and scarring to asphyxiation and blindness. A recent report from the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) discovered that fires in structures undergoing major renovation between 2010 and 2014 resulted in over $100M in direct property damage as well as 65 injuries and four recorded deaths.
The most common causes of fires on construction sites include:
- Sparks and high heat. Sparks from welding, cutting, and grinding work may easily fly into clothing or barrels of scrap wood. Portable heating equipment is often used to dry floors, paint, or drywall, which can easily lead to a blaze when in operation too long. Lit cigarettes also pose a threat, with many fires sparked by workers smoking too near flammable materials.
- Failure to follow safety standards. Any tool that uses high heat or open flame should be used only by trained professionals according to all safety codes. Operation of blowtorches, arc welders, and other hot work must have all the proper permits and be performed by an employee who is licensed to do the work.
- Electrical errors. Electrical malfunctions range from short-circuited wiring to improper use of explosives, most of which are entirely preventable. Employees should be trained to replace items with frayed cords immediately; while employers are responsible for ensuring that areas have adequate ground fault protection and that the correct number of fire extinguishers are readily available to workers.
- Open fuel sources. Construction work involves a variety of combustible materials—including propane, gas lines, and acetylene. Explosions often occur when flammable objects gases or liquids accidentally come into contact with heat sources, such as when gas pipes are not properly sealed off from hot work areas.
- Defective equipment. Cooking equipment, heating equipment, faulty wiring, and malfunctioning tools have all been known to cause fires in newly constructed or renovated structures.
- Lack of fire suppression and response. While building codes require fire-suppression systems, these are typically not installed until the final phase of construction. As a result, most fires during construction occur without the intervention of sprinklers and fire walls, and many lack proper site access roads for fire department vehicles.
- Poor housekeeping practices. Allowing flammable materials to pile up in work areas only gives more fuel to a potential fire. Workers should adhere to proper daily cleanup practices, including prompt debris removal, disposal of oily rags into sealed containers, and never burning near the job site.
Who Is Liable for a Fire on a Construction Site?
OSHA regulations require employers to provide a safe workplace to all employees, including making construction sites reasonably safe from fires. The administration requires employers to:
- Develop a fire protection program to be followed throughout construction and demolition work.
- Use only approved containers (such as portable tanks) for storage and handling of flammable liquids.
- Place temporary heating devices at least 10 feet from combustible coverings, such as tarpaulins, canvas, or other flammable materials.
- Allow only authorized and qualified persons to handle and use explosives or perform blasting activities.
- Make workers aware of potential fire hazards at a job site, encourage the prompt reporting of fire hazards, and perform training on fire response procedures (such as safe job site evacuation and operation of a fire extinguisher).
If you were injured in a fire or explosion on a construction site, you are entitled to workers’ compensation benefits no matter who was at fault. However, you may also be eligible to file a lawsuit against a negligent person who caused your injury. A third party (someone other than your employer) who caused your injury could be held liable for your lost wages, medical costs, and future inability to work.
At Hofmann & Schweitzer, we perform thorough investigations into the direct causes of construction accident and injuries, getting clients the compensation they deserve for their suffering. Our New York injury lawyers can explain your options at no cost to you. Please contact us online or call us directly at 212.465.8840 to schedule your free initial consultation.