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New York City Construction Accidents on the Rise, Safety Measures Lacking

Statistics show that accidents on construction job sites have increased dramatically over the past two years. 2011 saw 119 reported construction accidents, while 157 such accidents were reported by the end of October 2012. The increase is explained by owners and general contractors failing to ensure worker safety against falls from heights and falling objects among other well known hazards.

New York Labor Law 240 and OSHA safety standards require that construction trade workers, union and non union, such as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, plasterers, excavators, operating engineers, roofers and laborers be protected against falls from elevations and the ever present risk of falling objects on construction sites. The safety equipment that provides this necessary protection is readily available – properly functioning ladders, scaffolds equipt with guard rails, safety harnesses, lifelines, guard wires for perimeter protection on rooftops and ongoing new constructions, just to name a few such items.

Despite the fact that property owners and general contractors, or GC’s, are familiar with the safety standards and laws, the necessary safety equipment is too often not provided to workers. The result is often serious and permanent injuries suffered when workers fall from a height or are struck by an object falling due to a faulty hoist system or a lack of protective netting on site. Sadly, the very people legally responsible for protecting workers on the job are often the same people dissuading the workers from doing the job the right way. Why? Because it’s faster and cheaper.

Too many building or property owners and the GC’s and construction managers they hire place far more emphasis on completing a project quickly than they do on taking the time to see that the work is done safely. This cutting of corners often leads to job site accidents ranging from falls off of poorly braced ladders to catastrophic building collapses. To make matters worse, when these accidents do occur the guilty parties are prone to playing “blame the victim” by trying to argue that the worker should have known better.

The truth is the owner and general contractor / construction manager are responsible for making the job site safe because they are best equipt to do so. While many union workers do have OSHA training, most people who earn their living in the trades, union or non union, are all too familiar with this unwritten rule – do what the boss tells me or I won’t have a job tomorrow. Job site superintendents and foremen demand that workers stay on schedule or make up for being behind schedule and that often means one man working on an unsecured ladder, where there should be two; a new construction where cement is being poured on floors w/o perimeter fall safety; scaffold platforms that are not equipt with guardrails – all simple safety measures that slow down work completion, even as they save lives.

Workers on New York City construction sites are entitled to the protections of the law, whether or not they are in trade unions and irrespective of their immigration status. Any worker injured on a construction site due to insufficient safety equipment has the right to pursue legal action and may ultimately be entitled to compensation for injuries, pain and suffering, and lost wages.

Source: World Socialist Web Site, “Notes on the social crisis in America,” Naomi Spencer, Oct. 25, 2012