April 14, 2014
By Stephanie West
Albany, NY – A diverse group of workers, advocates and organizations committed to protecting construction workers in New York State have joined together to create a unified front in the fight to defend New York’s Scaffold Safety Law from industry-backed efforts to gut the law. The coalition will push for increased enforcement of New York’s construction safety standards and launched a new website, http://www.scaffoldsafetylaw.org, to aggregate information about the Scaffold Safety Law.
“Construction in New York City can be dangerous work, particularly when done at heights, without owners and contractors providing adequate safety protections. We believe the Scaffold Safety Law is an important contributor to having these protections in place and to holding those who control projects accountable for accidents and injuries that occur when they fail to provide such protections. We do agree that a problem exists in the general liability insurance market for construction projects. Too few insurers are writing policies, the policies they are writing offer less coverage and, on top of that, premiums are increasing – in an industry where all indications are that safety is improving. To which we say let’s open the data from insurers that will allow us to transparently analyze this situation and point us in the direction of solutions to reduce costs while continuing to improve safety. Legislation introduced in the Assembly and Senate, the Construction Insurance Transparency Act of 2014, will allow for this rational process to occur. We urge public and private owners and contractors in our industry to join us in supporting it,” said Gary LaBarbera, president of the 100,000 member Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.
The Scaffold Safety Law requires safety equipment and training for construction workers, making New York construction sites among the safest in the country. Under the law, property owners and general contractors, who control the worksite and are in the best position to oversee safety, are responsible for providing protections for their workers. An owner or contractor is not held liable for such accidents unless their failure to provide proper safety equipment caused a worker’s injury. Liability can be avoided simply by having the proper safety equipment in place. Despite these basic requirements, developers and contractors are trying to avoid responsibility, jeopardizing the safety of their workers.
“Tens of thousands of hard-working men and women, many of them immigrants, risk their lives building and repairing our city. Cleaning windows or working on a scaffold is dangerous,” said Hector Figueroa, President of SEIU 32BJ. “Why would our elected officials want to make it even more dangerous by removing key protections like the Scaffold Safety Law?”
“Just because a law is old doesn’t mean it’s outdated,” said Peter Ward, President of the New York Hotel Trades Council. “Unscrupulous contractors and insurance companies want to make it a worker’s responsibility to keep a worksite safe. The Scaffold Safety Law puts responsibility where it belongs: on the people who should make sure that every worker has appropriate safety equipment.”
Construction remains one of the nation’s most hazardous occupations, according to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, and falls from an elevation account for one-third of construction fatalities. Too many contractors, especially in the “underground” construction industry, still take safety shortcuts – usually smaller contractors whose job sites often lack required guardrails, safety harnesses and properly anchored scaffolds. Many rely heavily on minority and immigrant workers—who are often disproportionately injured or killed in construction falls. OSHA is not keeping construction sites safe. OSHA acknowledges that it can inspect only about one construction site per day in the entire New York metro area. The New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH) has reported that OSHA’s fines are insufficient deterrents. Studies have shown that at approximately one in three OSHA construction sites in New York, inspectors found serious violations of safety standards. Employers violated these standards in 80% of the accidents where a worker fell and was killed.
"The common sense provisions of the Scaffold Safety Law help to protect the workers who perform some of our city's most dangerous jobs," said Vincent Alvarez, President of the New York City Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. "This law is a win for workers, and a win for the responsible contractors who believe in providing the tools necessary to keep workers safe on the job. As we move forward in supporting the workers around the city who are standing up for their rights, it is imperative that the labor movement and good employers continue to support measures to help ensure the safety of all of New York City's working men and women."