Construction Industry needs Scaffold Law

Changes to the Scaffold Law have been at the crux of recent discussions in the construction industry. In New York, 2016 and 2015 were statistically the deadliest years for construction workers-dozens of articles recording deaths due to improper equipment were published. In late 2017, two workers fell to their deaths during the same day on separate projects in the city.

Many businesses are citing unnecessary regulations on businesses, higher insurance costs for businesses, and higher taxes as reasons not to proceed with the updates to the Scaffold Law. However, an article recently published stated that this was one of a number of myths surrounding the Scaffold Law. One of the most damning points listed is that most people don’t actually know what construction insurance premiums look like. In the article linked above, Harry Bronson from the New York State Assembly simply puts:

“Third, the facts about insurance premiums. We don’t have them because insurers won’t disclose them. Insurance companies are in the business of risk analysis based on data. Policy decisions should be made based on data. It is disturbing that insurance carriers refuse to disclose the truth about construction liability insurance premiums. Indeed, if the Scaffold Safety Law were legitimately a financial burden, then one would think that insurers would be eager to validate their position and put the information forward.”

While some are squabbling about red tape, costs, and taxes, NYCOSH published a report called The Deadly Skyline. The report appropriately starts with an in Memoriam section for those who were killed due to falls at sites, listing names, ages and locations. The youngest on the list was 19. One would think even those opposing the bill can agree, worker safety is priceless. The precursor to this was when a number of NYCOSH reports related construction injuries and fatalities to union or non-union work sites. These NYCOSH reports showed a greater likelihood to get injured on a non-union project, and that Latino workers’ had a greater likelihood for wage theft and of dying on a work site.

NYCOSH puts forth a number of suggestions as additions to the Scaffold Law in the report:

“In response to the health and safety crisis facing New York’s construction workers, NYCOSH has a series of recommendations. NYCOSH continues its call to protect the Scaffold Safety Law, which grants injured construction workers who fall on the job the right to sue an employer who puts their life in danger. NYCOSH is also calling for new legislation to increase penalties for companies that willingly violate the law and cause a worker fatality, and to revoke the licenses of criminal contractors who were convicted of felonies in the case of a worker death. Finally, NYCOSH recommends increased training for workers, like apprenticeship programs on large construction projects, OSHA 10s on all construction sites, and licensing for elevator construction workers.”

There is no report that could be made that would invalidate the need to not only uphold the Scaffold Law, but to also add NYCOSH’s suggestions to the legislation. When the safety and lives of workers are at risk, businesses should do what they can to protect them. This includes longer training, safer work sites, and generally better employer practices amongst the construction industry.

Links

Letter: NY Scaffold Law protects construction workers

OUR VIEW: Scaffold Law hurts businesses in New York

Misinformation muddies discussion about Scaffold Safety Law

Deadly Skyline: An Annual Report on Construction Fatalities in New York State

City Council can protect NYC workers from construction accidents by mandating better training

NYC official urges city to classify construction site accidents as union or nonunion

EXCLUSIVE: NYC urged to release info on construction accidents to show whether union jobs are safer

New York Times Expose Reveals Construction Site Safety Violations Linked to Completely Avoidable Deaths and Injuries in New York City

A recent New York Times expose has shed light on the rise of injuries and fatalities in New York City’s construction industry over the last two years.  The investigation found that although construction is increasing throughout the City, the rate of accidents is disproportionate to the new construction.  While the rate of new construction projects increased by 11% in the last fiscal year, the rate of accidents increased by 52%.

Additionally, the investigation uncovered that the same safety violations kept arising on many of the same sites despite safety reports and lawsuits.  After investigating construction accidents for two years, the New York Times concurred with the findings of a federal investigation and determined that many of these fatalities and injuries were “completely avoidable.”

Most of the deaths and injuries that occurred on construction sites affected undocumented immigrants who may be fearful to speak out against safety violations on construction sites due to their legal status. The Times cited one recent tragedy in which an immigrant had fallen 140 feet to his death because he was not wearing a safety harness.  Additionally, guardrails had not been installed at the site, and the elevated platform did not meet the wall as required.  Investigators found that the worker had fake certification for safety training.  The safety administration fined the construction company $42,000 for these and additional violations.

While the accidents that occurred in midtown were widely publicized, they accounted for only a quarter of the accidents throughout the city.  Most of the accidents that occurred took place on smaller sites that used non-union and poorly trained workers.

Other incidents that had occurred in the last two years that the Times referred in the expose included:

  • An immigrant worker falling 14 feet to his death due to lack of guard rails and supervision
  • An Ecuadorian immigrant who fell from a ladder because the construction company demanded jobs be done quickly and without safety training
  • A worker who fell through a floor opening due to slippery conditions that went ignored
  • A worker who was not wearing a safety harness fell two stories on a site that did not provide extension ladders and repair unsafe scaffolding

According to a report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health, many construction companies that repeatedly violate safety regulations disregard OSHA citations due to the low number of both OSHA inspectors and monetary penalties.  However, various agencies have begun cracking down on penalizing companies that disregard safety regulations.  For example, although criminality in construction accident cases has often been difficult to prove, the Manhattan DA’s Office filed manslaughter and other charges against two construction companies and managers last August.  The charges were filed after a worker was crushed to death as a result of willfully ignored safety regulations.  Additionally, the de Blasio administration is planning on implementing 100 additional building inspectors as well as new data tools and a code of conduct for the construction industry.  New York City’s investigation department also continues to conduct random inspections that it began in 2012 in an effort to deter the corruption that is so prevalent in the industry.

If you are a construction worker who has been injured on the job, you may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation.  Additionally, if you were injured due to an elevation related accident, you may be able to sue your employer and third parties under New York’s strict liability “Scaffold Law.”  Contact an experienced Workers’ Compensation attorney to discuss your claim. The Law Offices of McIntyre, Donohue, Accardi, Salmonson, & Riordan, LLP handles Workers’ Compensation claims throughout the five boroughs of New York City including Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, the Bronx, and Staten Island in addition to both Nassau and Suffolk counties on Long Island.  Call (866)557-7500 for a consultation.

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Heightened Risk of Danger for Construction Workers on Scaffolds

The New York Committee of Occupational Safety and Health recently issued an alarming report regarding their findings of the hazardous conditions construction workers face in New York. While construction workers make up 4% of New York’s workforce, the occupation also accounts for 20% of New York’s worker fatalities. The Committee found that workers who work at elevated heights are at increased risk for accident and most OSHA violations occur in this category. 65% of construction workers are working at elevated heights on scaffolds, therefore, most construction workers are adversely affected by the risks associated with working at elevated heights. The Committee reported that two-thirds of construction sites visited were issued citations for serious violations. Additionally, most of the scaffold violations were found to occur at non-union sites, which are responsible for 79% of fatal construction accidents, according to OSHA.

Many tragic deaths could have been prevented by implementing basic safety protocol. In one case, a worker fell from a ladder simply because no one was available to hold it. The employer was only charged a $4,000 fine. In another case, a worker in his early twenties fell to his death because his harness was not attached to an independent anchorage. The New York City Department of Building inspectors have also cited instances of preventable tragedies due to unsecured planks, lack of protection systems on balconies, failure to install guardrails, failure to erect a scaffold properly, and cross braces missing. Due to the low number of OSHA inspectors, many violations go unnoticed.

The report also found a disproportionate number of Latino/immigrant deaths resulting from falls. OSHA has launched a bilingual campaign to educate workers who many not speak English about fall hazards and safety measures.

Construction company owners are rarely criminally prosecuted for these violations. Over the course of 35 years, only 84 cases have been prosecuted. A landmark case occurred recently in Staten Island when a construction company owner was charged with criminally negligent homicide as a result of the death of one of his workers. For a conviction of criminally negligent homicide, a class E felony, an offender can receive up to 1 ½ -4 years jail time in New York. OSHA violations resulting in loss of human life may be prosecuted, resulting in up to a 6 month prison sentence or fine of $250,000-$500,000. However, more commonly issued for the violations are basic monetary penalties which are not paid 30% of the time.

If you have been injured in a work accident, you may qualify for Worker’s Compensation. Additionally, if you were injured due to an elevation related accident, you may be able to sue your employer and third parties under New York’s strict liability “Scaffold Law.” Contact an attorney who is experienced with construction accidents who will fight for your rights. Call the attorneys at McIntyre, Donohue, Accardi, Salmonson & Riordan, LLP at (866)557-7500.

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