A construction site is a hazardous place not just for workers, but also for pedestrians and the general public.
Every year, thousands of people suffer serious injuries, including broken bones, paralysis and even death, because of negligently maintained construction sites. There is no way to prevent accidents from happening; however, by being aware of the most common premises liability claims, contractors can take steps to educate workers and implement strategies and protocols to limit injuries to the public.
FALLING DEBRIS AND EQUIPMENT
Falling objects can cause serious injuries even when the object that falls is relatively small in size. Obviously, large cranes and scaffolding that may fall from a building can have devastating effects on the general public. Contractors are generally very conscientious about securing large equipment and stressing the importance heavy equipment safety to workers. However, most injuries to the public are the result of small falling objects like tools, debris and waste materials. In fact, people have been killed by small tools, such as a tape measure, which fell from a height at worksite.
In order to prevent these injuries, contractors should utilize nets, chutes and other protective devices to protect pedestrians. A discussion about properly securing small tools also should be included during any onsite safety meetings.
TRIP AND FALL CONDITIONS
Another common cause of injury to the public is the creation of trip and fall hazards. Often plywood or similar materials are used to cover sidewalk areas. Any materials placed on the sidewalk should be inspected regularly. Weather conditions and pedestrian traffic can cause these material to warp, split or move, creating a tripping hazard.
Aside from materials covering sidewalks, all pedestrian paths and walkways should be clear of any debris or other potentially dangerous conditions. Contractors should place cones and barricades to direct pedestrians away from more dangerous areas. Walkways also should have adequate lighting so pedestrians can clearly see the area at night. Just because there are no workers at the site doesn’t mean that the worksite is not dangerous.
In most states, negligence can be established if the plaintiff can show that the contractor “knew or should have known” about a defective condition on the jobsite. Regular inspections of the site, including all walkways and ground coverings, are the best way to limit pedestrian liability.
ACCESS TO THE WORKSITE
It is important that contractors establish protocols for onsite deliveries and access to others who may need to visit the site. For example, delivery people have been injured on jobsites when there was no clear delivery check-in point. In one case, a deli employee was delivering food to a jobsite and could not locate the office. He saw an open fence that led into the construction zone and he decided to enter. Because he was not familiar with the site, he stepped on a large piece of wood that, unbeknownst to him, was placed over a large hole in the ground. The wood broke and the deli employee fell into the hole and fractured his ankle in multiple places, which required three surgeries to repair.
Access to the site is an issue that needs to be addressed at the beginning of the project. There should be signs placed around the site that provide clear direction for delivery people, messengers and others. Having clear signage throughout the site can serve to establish a defense to a negligence claim. If signs are in place and a delivery person ignores them, enters the worksite and gets injured, the contractor can argue that no duty of care was breached and thus, any injuries sustained by the delivery person was the result of his own negligence.
It is important to make sure that attractive nuisances are kept to a minimum and adequate safety measures are put in place to prevent injuries. An attractive nuisance is a condition on the jobsite that draws or “attracts” trespassers, especially children. Contractors can be held liable for injuries sustained by children who were drawn to the site by an attractive nuisance. Conditions that tend to draw children to a worksite can include holes in fencing, unsecured gates, man-made holes or ditches, heavy equipment and unstable walls.
While proper signage can prevent liability from adult trespassers, smaller children often don’t see or cannot read the warnings. Contractors have a duty to prevent injuries to children by eliminating or securing equipment or conditions that might attract them. Site entrances should be closed and locked, tools and smaller equipment should be secured in lockers, and the site should be well lit. Daily inspections also should take place to ensure that all reasonable measures to prevent children from playing on or around the site are in place.
In general, contractors have a duty to the public to keep the worksite safe and secure. If contractors fail to act reasonably and someone is injured, they can be liable for all related injuries, or in worst-case scenarios, for wrongful death claims. Proper planning, instruction and regular site inspections can help limit premises liability.