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Wary pedestrians take notice of construction after woman critically injured in North End

A pedestrian walked under through a Devonshire Street worksite on Friday. Many walking Boston streets are now looking at more than walk signals — they’re looking up, too.
A pedestrian walked under through a Devonshire Street worksite on Friday. Many walking Boston streets are now looking at more than walk signals — they’re looking up, too.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

In a city buzzing with construction, looking both ways before crossing the street suddenly seemed short-sighted Friday. A day after falling metal critically injured a woman walking along the waterfront in the North End, many pedestrians began looking in another direction — up.

Staring down at their cellphones suddenly didn’t seem the only option. News of the construction accident prompted wary glances and second thoughts as people made their way under tiers of scaffolding and around ripped-up sidewalks.

“Right now, I feel unsafe,” said Jackson Gomez, his eyes widening as he passed beneath a labyrinth of metal bars and wooden planks at the John W. McCormack Post Office and Courthouse. “People might know what they’re doing. They might know how to put the nail in, but . . . ”

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On the Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy Greenway, Jim Russell stood with two golden retrievers as he eyed the extensive scaffolding climbing up the Harborside Inn.

“It’s always a hazard walking under stuff; I’m cautious of everything,” said Russell, a home-construction worker who gestured toward a multistory chute covered by black netting on the inn. “I would not walk on that side of the street.”

Across from the accident site on Atlantic Avenue, many of Emilio Dambrosio’s clients at the Hairport salon were upset.

“They should have taken more precautions,” Dambrosio said of the construction crew. “It could have been anyone. I’m just thinking of that. It’s awful.”

City safety inspectors Friday ordered a Winthrop-based contractor to stop work at the five-story Commercial Wharf East Condominium building, where the accident occurred.

Corolla Contracting exceeded its permit to remove and replace a rubber roof by also removing a deck, according to the city’s Inspectional Services Department. The accident is believed to have occurred when a crane pushed a metal railing over the roof while hoisting a pallet of construction material to the work area.

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City officials said the company will be cited with operating an unsafe and dangerous work site and ordered construction halted at six other Corolla Contracting sites pending safety investigations.

Corolla Contracting has been issued eight safety violations by the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration since 2010, five of them serious ones, according to agency records.

Marc Bianco, chief operating officer for United Alliance Services Corp., a workplace safety consulting firm based in Wareham, said that following all proper safety procedures can be costly for construction companies.

Buying and maintaining safety equipment is one expense, and companies also face lost worker productivity because of the time it takes to set up the equipment and the need to move at a safe pace, he said.

The construction industry also faces a labor shortage that includes safety professionals, Bianco said.

That means “you’re not always getting the best workers out there,” and that employees are often asked to juggle numerous tasks and competing priorities, he added.

“When a boss is breathing down a guy’s neck saying, ‘Where’s the schedule? Where’s the budget,’ those things are being heard before the safety concerns are being heard,” Bianco said.

Frank Callahan Jr., president of the Massachusetts Building Trades Council, said that it spends $55 million a year on safety training for its union members.

“In the union sector, you’re not sent out to a job site without proper authorization and training,” Callahan said. Still, he added, “you could always use more inspectors.”

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A second unnerving incident happened at a construction site near North Station Thursday when steel beams dropped several stories outside the Hub on Causeway apartment tower. No one was hurt.

Scaffolding appeared in front of the building where Thursday’s incident occurred.
Scaffolding appeared in front of the building where Thursday’s incident occurred.Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

Despite the two accidents, many workers and pedestrians remained unperturbed. Marc Huffor, a security guard at the McCormack building in Post Office Square, said he felt “100 percent” safe as he leaned against a temporary railing. Huffor said he knows — and trusts — the crew who installed every inch of the construction.

“Boston is an aging landscape, and at some point or another, we have to make updates,” he said. “I don’t think the scaffolding is an issue. If people themselves are climbing on it, they want it to be stable, too.”

Paul Rymaszewski, a Poland native who had come to Boston for business, said the construction zone at McCormack seemed “a lot more unregulated” than in his home country. In Poland, entire buildings and walkways under construction are typically closed to the public, he said.

At the same time, crossing the street to avoid the building would have been a hassle.

“It’s safe enough, not scary,” he said.

Near Boston Common, most passersby walked easily beneath Emerson College buildings, their facades obscured by fencing, tarp, and rusted metal supports. Construction workers wearing safety helmets and nylon green shirts seamlessly wove between the crowds and concrete barricades to the sounds of jackhammers and saws.

Mina Chae, who has been staying downtown for the last two weeks, said the construction creates a constant source of annoyance, but not necessarily danger. If she avoids a particular area, it’s to steer clear of dripping water or blowing dirt.

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“I just hate that so much,” she said. “It just doesn’t feel good.”

But for Toni Dardeno, who owns Kolbeh Cafe in the North End, the accident seemed startlingly random and “too close for comfort.”

“You worry about safety,’’ Dardeno said. “You’re just minding your own business walking down the street and then something falls on you.”

Karen Gould, who lives in the condominium building where the accident happened, said she hopes for stronger safety standards and enforcement.

“It underlines the importance of being careful and scrutinizing all our contractors and subcontractors who work in the city,” said Gould, who has lived at the condominium since 1973. “Accidents happen, but those in management, our leadership, are responsible for protecting us.”

Pedestrians walked under a scaffold in front of a Beacon Street building under construction.
Pedestrians walked under a scaffold in front of a Beacon Street building under construction. Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/Globe staff

Matt Rocheleau of the Globe staff and Globe correspondent Sarah Wu contributed to this report. Brian MacQuarrie can be reached at brian.macquarrie@globe.com; Alison Kuznitz at alison.kuznitz@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter at @AlisonKuznitz.