Under New York’s Scaffold Law property owners and general contractors are responsible for providing protections for their workers. The legislation, which has been in place for more than 100 years, allows construction workers who get injured or killed on the job to sue the companies that hired them.
Many non-union workers rely on this law to provide them with the compensation they deserve after an accident on the job site.
Last Monday, the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) released a report on deaths on the construction site in New York State. It analyzed 196 occupational fatalities in 2012. The report’s purpose is to make the case for the preservation of the Scaffold Law as it exists.
The study showed that construction was the most dangerous industry but the vast majority of fatalities in the state were preventable. 60% of workers killed between 2003 and 2011 were immigrants, mostly Latinos and non-unionized. In NYC, the number is even higher: 74%
Many of these deaths would not have happened if the employers had made the worksite safer, according to the report. The report also stated that OSHA could have better enforced its health and safety regulations and their fines are too small, averaging less than $13,000 in 2013. There are currently only 71 OSHA health and safety inspectors in the state, the lowest number in five years. “That’s why the Scaffold Law must be preserved as it exists, so they can be held accountable,” said Charlene Obernauer, NYCOSH’s executive director. The law has existed since the 1880s and has helped to make New York construction sites a lot safer. “New York is the sixth safest state in the country when it comes to number of injuries,” Obernauer said. Even so, two more workers died in the past month in the city at sites without state-approved training and apprenticeship programs.
Opponents of the law argue that the Scaffold Law allows workers who are responsible for their own injuries to collect from companies or contractors even if these are not at fault.