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A Call To Oppose Scaffolding Law Reform In Albany: Construction Workers Need More Protection, Not Less

New York City construction sites remain unsafe, even under the worker safety laws that presently exist. But incredibly, efforts are still being made to weaken the current safety laws, with unproven claims that less legal protection for workers will yield more profits for businesses and developers. In an excellent column for AM New York, Liza Featherstone highlights the need for more construction worker protection and the dangers of the proposed legal reform (AMNY.com).

That construction work involves inherent dangers is hardly debatable: high elevations, small spaces, heavy equipment, powerful machinery, cutting, hoisting and blasting, among other things, can lead to serious injury. Recognizing the dangers, current New York law, including Labor Law Section 240(1), requires that construction site owners and contractors take measures to ensure the workplace and processes are safe. They must properly train and supervise workers, and must provide reasonable safety devices, such as proper scaffolds, and make them available at the jobsite. Owners and contractors who do not comply are simply liable for any resulting injuries they caused.

But despite the safety provisions of the current law, nearly half of construction sites in New York City were found to be unsafe, according to a recent Department of Buildings report. The safety provisions, they say, are poorly enforced. And devastating accidents continue to happen far too often. In fact, 46 construction workers died on the job in New York City between 2009 and 2011, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. So the question must be asked: Is now really the time to weaken safety laws? We say no.

Proposals to change the law by big business interests would give owners and general contractors far less responsibility for safety and more avenues to avoid responsibility, and therefore significantly limit the ability of many injured workers to recover compensation. The proposed bills would greatly reduce owners' and contractors' incentives to ensure safety on their sites, putting the onus on the workers in many cases to provide their own safety equipment, which is both unrealistic and unfair. Lobbyists and supporters of these bills, not surprisingly, include construction industry trade groups, insurance companies, Chambers of Commerce throughout the City and State, and the Real Estate Board of New York and the Business Council of New York State. Ms. Featherstone keenly cautions that the legislative process in Albany could permit passage of such a bill with little to no public debate.

In the face of these dangerous proposals, our trial lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy, LLP are also heavily involved in the fight in Albany to defeat these proposed anti-safety bills and maintain the current laws that protect New York's workers from harm. Of course, our firm always fights to protect the rights of our clients who have been injured, or tragically killed, in construction related accidents. You can learn more about our construction injury practice, and review our over $500,000,000 history of multi-million dollar verdicts and settlements.

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