Dangerous Jobs: Construction

6:45 PM, Nov 24, 2010   |    comments
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BANGOR, Maine (NEWS CENTER) -- With 40 fatalities between 1992 and 2008, construction ranks near the top of the list of the state's most dangerous jobs, only behind forestry, fishing, manufacturing, and transportation.

Many of those who survive construction accidents are left with injuries so serious that it changes their lives forever.  Such is the case with Lenny Lavioe.

"It shattered the left hip, it crushed the left knee and crushed the left ankle, the left shoulder pretty much evidently exploded," Lavoie said.

In one split second, Lavioe's entire life flashed before his eyes. Thousands of pounds of wet concrete, iron rebar, and wood framing, collapsed on top of him.

"I can remember feeling the weight and it getting heavier and heavier and heavier and finally the shoulder went and that's the last I remember."

Lavoie, who was a selectman in Sweden and a self-employed carpenter was overseeing a construction project at the town office to pour a cement ceiling on a vault.  He went into the vault room for the concrete contractor to check if any of poured concrete was leaking onto the floor. That's when he says one of the wooden supports snapped.

"Oh that knocked me over i've never been hit that hard in my life never."

That accident happened in 2005. Lavoie says he'll walk with a cane and be on pain medication for the rest of his life. His story is not unique.

Dr. Parke Oldenberg, a trauma surgeon at Eastern Maine Medical Center, says job site accidents, especially falls, are an almost weekly occurence.

"Our goal obviously is to get people back to their pre-injury level but with that said some of these injuries are crippling and result in chronic disability," said Oldenberg

The Occupational Health and Safety Adminstration or OSHA  enforces federal workplace safety laws. One of those laws requires any work site with a fall hazard 6 feet or greater have fall protection, such as guard rails on staging platforms and safety harnesses for workers.

OSHA area director William Coffin says falls are the number one cause of injuries and fatalities.

"I had somebody fall 8 feet and died," Coffin said.  "I had somebody who fell 12 feet and did not die but he fell straight down on sandy soil, not onto pavement and he'll never work in construction again. He completely destroyed his knee and his ankle and his leg."

Electrocution is another major cause of fatalities.  It's what killed a construction worker in Hermon in 2007. The crane he was standing near came into contact with overhead power lines.  

Safety is something that earthwork company, Sargent Corporation says it takes seriously. Before beggining any job, superintendent Steve Raymond says he goes through a checklist with his crew called a safety task assessment.

At one of Sargent's current jobs it is ripping up concrete at the Bangor Air National Guard Base.  Prior to starting the job, Raymond and his crew make sure radios and back up alarms on their vehicles are working.

"There's a lot of safety issues involved and good communication amongst the equipment is important and making sure everybody knows where all the pieces are and making sure foot traffic is limited on the job site around that kind of equipment," Raymond said, adding that a safe job site actually saves time and money and, improves morale.

Coffin agrees, saying poor morale can make or break a company.

"If they have a fatality, not because of what OSHA does to them, not because of penalties, not because of insurance costs, just because of workplace morale,  I've seen a lot of these companies not survive three years, they will go out of business."

And workers like Lavoie who end up with long term injuries struggle with their own morale. He says it's humbling to live on a fixed income and depend on his wife to work full time to pay the bills. And he says years fighting with lawyers and insurance companies have taken an emotional toll. His advice to anyone who works in construction is to think carefully before doing anything.  He does feel the concrete contractor did properly shore up the ceiling and that the support should have held, but it doesn't change the fact that he wishes he never walked into that room.

"It could cost you your life in a heartbeat.  It's quick,  it happens quick and it's something after it happens you have to live with the rest of your life, and it's not a good feeling."




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