The New York lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy consistently follow the debate over the Scaffold Law, the law that protects the health and safety of the workers that shape our majestic skyline and build our beautiful buildings. We have emphasized that while this law protects all workers, it has a particularly meaningful impact on immigrant workers. Indeed, it is well settled that immigrant workers are the group that are most often injured at construction sites and by a large margin. Frequently it is as a result of being placed in unsafe working conditions without having a real voice in how the work should be performed. Now, in an editorial, respected local television personality Errol Louis chimes in.
Louis, a gifted writer, former Daily News columnist and rising star at NY1 News, concludes his article with the following: It would be unthinkably immoral to build the city on the injured backs of disabled immigrant workers. This is where opponents of the long tenured law lose sight of the how and who the law really protects.
The thrust of his piece is that New York is about to embark upon a historic building boom. In particular, he cites Hurricane Sandy impacted areas being rebuilt as well as Mayor de Blasio’s ambitious plans to build 200,000 units of affordable housing as part of the construction explosion. Louis omits the massive expansion of Manhattan’s west side and the ongoing work to expand our commuter transportation system. Thus, thousands of women and men will be engaged in the most dangerous profession in the country and they will be doing so at an unprecedented clip here in New York City. A large percentage of those folks will be immigrant workers. The industry as a whole is thrilled with the construction boom. More work is always a good thing. But, at what price?
Just this month, two male construction workers suffered fatal construction accidents while working on midtown skyscrapers. These accidents provide a chilling reminder of how dangerous the construction industry is and how a watering down of the laws that protect construction workers can impact hardworking, innocent people. Still, the debate rages on in Albany. Opponents of the law want to reduce their costs, claiming that their premiums are too high. Yet, the insurance companies refuse to allow access to their books so an independent study can be done to assess why the costs are rising. Opponents also lamely offer the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) as the best way to police unsafe construction sites. Their argument falls short because it would take OSHA more than 100 years to inspect every construction site in New York just once. So, this agency, while well meaning, is wholly unable to keep people honest when it comes to worker safety.
Louis uses some revealing statistics to further his point. For instance, he cites a national think tank study that shows an alarming 1,513 construction workers were killed on the job in the United States, 36 of them occurring in New York City. He also points to an injured worker named Walter Cabrera, examining his plight after a workplace accident. Cabrera, originally from Peru, was injured after one of his bosses told him to work on a defective scaffold at a jobsite in Manhattan. Cabrera fell, in part, because the scaffold didn’t have the legally required handrails. He was injured and has been unable to return to work, even after multiple surgeries.
Louis contrasted Cabrera living at his Jackson Heights apartment, disabled, with the owners and wealthy developers of the building Cabrera helped build to hammer home a painful reality. The owners and wealthy developer are reaping the benefits of multi-million dollar apartments being swept up by voracious Manhattan real estate buyers while Cabrera patiently waits out the legal process in his modest home. Plenty of owners and developers are making a very good living in the construction business; it is not unreasonable at all, legally, to make sure they provide a safe place to work for the workers that provide them this platform.
New York’s Scaffold Law protects construction workers because it holds the entities responsible for worksite safety accountable when a construction worker is injured or killed because they were not provided a safe place to work. The Scaffold Law only holds the owners, developers or general contractors responsible for a worksite injury when a worker is injured as a result of the law not being complied with. The theory is that the entities in the best position to make sure the worksite is safe should be the ones responsible for accidents when it is in fact unsafe. The debate is not going away and we will be sure to keep you updated when there are issues relevant to the discussion.
Block O’Toole & Murphy is a law firm that prides itself on helping injured construction workers. The lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have many courtroom victories on behalf of injured workers and have amassed more than $750,000,000 in verdicts and settlements on behalf of their injured clients. You can learn more about the firm and these committed lawyers by reviewing the firm website at www.blockotoole.com. For a free consultation, you can call them at 212,736.5300.