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Scaffold Law: "If You've Never Worked 700 Feet in the Air, Then You Have No Idea What It's Like"

The attorneys at Block O'Toole & Murphy represent injured workers, which is no surprise to any of our followers. Too often during the heated discussions concerning New York's scaffold law, the rhetoric loses sight of the actual workers.

In a recent article that appeared in the Labor Press, the vantage point of the worker was properly captured. The quotes came from Jack Kittle, a well-known and blunt-speaking leader with District Council 9 of the International Union of Painters and Allied Trades. Kittle spent a good portion of his professional life painting bridges, so you can be sure he appreciates the perils associated with working at a height. Kittle's comments are illuminating and appropriately focus the issue squarely where it belongs - - on construction worker safety.

"I don't know where the lines cross between economics and human safety. Maybe there are some who don't care about who gets killed. I would love for one of these people to come with me to the top of the Brooklyn Bridge and talk about the issue there. If you've never worked 700 feet in the air, then you have no idea what it's like. It's simple to sit in an office and talk about gravity related accidents. But when you're on top of a bridge, it's a very different discussion that you're going to have."

Kittle nails it, outlining how too often this discussion has been highjacked by people in office buildings who sit behind desks. He suggests that these folks fail to take into account who the laws are intended to protect. This has to always be about worker safety and protecting the hard-working men and women that built this great state.

Another advocate for preserving the scaffold law is Assemblyman Francisco Moya. He argues that the construction industry has a disproportionate number of minority workers that are seriously injured or killed on the job. Moya cites statistics to support his argument. "When you look at the statistics where 40 percent of the construction industry are Latinos and immigrant workers, and then you see the statistics of fatal falls in the state of New York, which show that Latinos and immigrant workers make up over 74 percent, what does that say to us?" the assemblyman questions. "This is the one law in New York state that saves lives," Moya later added.

The thrust of Moya's argument is that any changes in this law will have a severe impact on minority workers. They are already being given the more dangerous assignments and exposed to the most serious accidents based on the numbers. Changing the law will also weaken one of the few safeguards that the immigrant worker has in the workplace.

To illustrate this point, does anyone think without strong rules in place that the non-English speaking day laborer stands a chance?

Although Moya uses numbers to make his case, he is not getting the same level of cooperation from the insurance industry. Moya and politicians and media throughout New York have heard the bald claims of insurance fat cats and wealthy property developers that the scaffold law is destroying business in New York. Insurance premiums have risen considerably over the last few years and critics suggest it is solely the result of the Scaffold Law. This is puzzling since New York remains the number one state when it comes to construction activity yet still stands as the fifth safest state in the entire country. One should ask why premiums continue to rise? Why are businesses paying more when there is less risk for insurance companies? Why are insurance companies bemoaning this worker safety law in the face of record profits for insurance companies and lucrative CEO payouts?

Moya has forcefully advocated for an Insurance Transparency bill that will allow New York State financial experts to inspect the books of insurance companies handling construction claims and analyze the data that is leading to increases in premiums. This will permit a collective approach to solving an insurance problem.

Not surprisingly, the insurance industry has fiercely opposed any such legislation. What is surprising is the opposition voiced by contractors' groups in New York. Wouldn't they be interested in seeing what is driving their premiums up? An odd stance, indeed,

The Labor Press characterizes New York's scaffold law as a mechanism that maintains needed safety rules while also acting as a lifeline for workers who suffer a wide range of catastrophic accidents. The law protects workers who show up for work every day and helps workers and their families after they endure serious accidents and have to stare down their worst fears.

Block O'Toole & Murphy prides itself on fighting for construction workers and preserving the laws that keep them safe. You can learn more about the trial lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy by reviewing the firm website at For a free consultation, you may contact them at 212.736.5300.

Solurce: Labor Press