Investigating the Cause of an Accident Requires an Examination of Site Safety Management.
According to the chain-of-events theory of construction accident causation, accidents are not simple occurrences but the result of a series of events which are linked together. Construction Safety Management and Engineering, American Society of Safety Engineers pg. 52 (ASSE 2004) (2004). Since this is the case, to properly investigate the cause of a construction site accident, attorneys have to focus on more than an injured worker’s actions just before an accident. General contractors and other individuals responsible for safety on a commercial construction sites influence conditions and behavior through activities which take place over a significant period of time. Therefore, it is important to examine whether accepted standards of construction site safety were implemented, monitored and enforced on a job site and whether a failure to follow such standards contributed to an accident outcome.
When accidents are investigated on a construction site, accepted standards of construction site safety management require a root cause analysis to be performed. A root cause analysis looks at a particular hazard or dangerous condition as a symptom of a larger problem and seeks to determine what other factors contributed to causing a worker injury.
Frequently, when accident reports are filled out by general contractors, the focus of the description of the accident is exclusively on what an injured worker did to contribute to the accident. For example, in a recent case that we tried in Morris County, New Jersey, an injured ironworker fell on ice that was in a mud puddle located on the concrete slab that he was working on. The general contractor's accident report indicated that the cause of the accident was the injured worker's failure to watch where he was walking.
During discovery that took place during the litigation, however, we learned the following pertinent facts:
- The general contractor and subcontractors were required to perform daily and weekly site safety inspections and record the results of those inspections in writing.
- The general contractor was contractually responsible for making sure that the area where ironworkers were engaging in steel erection was well-drained and free from ice.
- Daily site safety inspections performed by the foremen of the ironworkers revealed that water accumulation was significant problem on the concrete slab where the ironworkers were erecting steel, and that as the weather got colder, the water accumulation problem became an ice accumulation problem.
- All of the daily and weekly site inspection reports of the general contractor "disappeared" and could no longer be located.
- Several times in the weeks leading up to the accident the steelworkers complained of water accumulation on the concrete slab, and nothing was done about this.
- Several times before and after the ironworker's accident the foremen of steelworkers requested that the general contractor come out and clear ice from the concrete slab.
By examining the contract between the general contractor and the subcontractor, the general contractor's health and safety policy manual, the site specific safety plans of the general contractor and the subcontractors, the daily and weekly site inspection reports, the weekly safety meeting minutes, and the daily log entries of both the subcontractor's foremen and the general contractor's site superintendent, we were able to demonstrate that for several months the general contractor on the job site failed to meet its contractual and safety obligation to address a water and ice accumulation problem on the jobs ite. This, in combination with the disappearance of critical evidence previously in possession of the general contractor enabled us to secure a substantial settlement on behalf of our client after a two week trial.