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Construction Accidents that Changed the Industry

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Many construction accidents are minor – a slip and fall leading to cuts and bruises, back pain from heavy lifting – but it’s easy for negligence on a work site to lead to devastating accidents. The heavy construction equipment, working at high heights, malfunctioning tools and the carelessness of an employee or employer can cause serious, life-changing injuries and even wrongful death.

Our country is no stranger to major construction accidents, and though things have become a lot safer since the Industrial Revolution, every few years we see a construction disaster that reshapes the way that the industry looks at safety. Here are a few of the country’s worst construction disasters.


  1. Willow Island, West Virginia, 1978. Dozens of workers working on a nuclear cooling tower fell from a collapsed scaffolding. In all, 51 died. Investigations by OSHA found that the scaffold collapsed due to a series of errors, shortcuts and accidents. Contractors pushed for quick completion of the project. The scaffolding was attached to the tower in concrete that had no time to cure, bolts were missing and those that were present were of bad quality. After the accident, the nuclear construction industry reformed with a new focus on worker safety.
  2. East 51st Street, New York City, 2008. During construction of an apartment building, a crane collapsed into the street. Seven people died in the accident. An investigation of the work site found several safety citations, which the contractor disregarded as routine up until that point. To date, construction on the apartment building has not continued.
  3. Hawk’s Nest Tunnel, West Virginia, 1927. When people think of construction injuries, the first thought that comes to mind is not usually occupational disease. In 1927, construction began on the Hawk’s Nest Tunnel. During construction, workers discovered deposits of silica, and the owners asked the workers to begin mining the material (used to make glass products). The workers were not given proper breathing equipment and over 1,000 died as a result of exposure to the fine silica particles lodging in their lungs. As a result, silicosis and occupational lung disease awareness came into prominence, and laws were passed to protect miners from these conditions.
  4. Deepwater Horizon, Gulf of Mexico, 2010. You know this one as the BP oil spill. On April 20, 2010, a series of egregious safety violations caused the oil rig Deepwater Horizon to explode. The explosion killed 11 people and caused one of the worst environmental disasters in history. Insufficient safety systems and defective cement in the walls of the well led to the blowout. Ever since, the oil industry continues to place more emphasis on safety to avoid another devastating accident.

1 Peter 4:8, “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins.”

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