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News headlines across the country have highlighted a recent spate of New York construction worker falls and have helped shine a light on one of the most dangerous industries in the world: construction.
New York’s towering skyline was built by hard-working construction laborers who literally risked life and limb for their jobs. State law recognized the inherent dangers of building construction way back in 1885 when it passed the state’s first scaffold law. That law is designed to protect workers whose jobs place them in tenuous positions high aboveground by holding employers accountable for fall injuries sustained by workers in the course of their employment. The law still exists today, the last remaining state scaffold law in the country.
Federal regulations set forth by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) followed in the 1970s, and they provide additional fiduciary and administrative penalties aimed at ensuring employer compliance with safety standards.
Some companies find themselves repeatedly in the proverbial sights of OSHA and New York state safety regulators by having repeated worker injuries on their job sites. Such was the case in the December fall that nearly took the life of a masonry contractor on a Brooklyn construction site.
The unfortunate man fell a whopping 80 feet – the equivalent of an eight-story building – from the top level of a 118-foot-high scaffold system. Upon investigation of the accident, it was determined that the scaffold contractor had failed to take several basic safety measures that could possibly have prevented the accident. A worksite inspection following the fall found that the scaffold in question was not fully planked, had no guardrails, had an unsecured access platform, had unsecured laborers working upon it and allowed workers to climb up outside of the scaffold to reach their work stations instead of taking the safer route via an access platform. Since the company has been cited for prior safety violations, they now face tens of thousands of dollars in potential OSHA-levied fines resulting from the December incident.
Tragically, even more high-profile New York construction worker fall cases have made the news recently. A SoHo construction site was recently the site of a fatal fall involving a young construction worker slipping from atop a high scaffold platform. He fell approximately 30 feet to his death. The accident is too new for an extensive investigation to have occurred, but it is possible that his death was the result of improper or inadequate safety procedures.
Another fall claimed the life of a painting contractor working on the rehabilitation project underway for the Throgs Street bridge spanning the East River between the Bronx and Queens. Preliminary reports reveal that the man fell while attempting to adjust his safety harness when the platform he was standing upon collapsed under his weight. The general contractor on the Throgs Street site has also been the recipient of OSHA citations in the past for workplace safety violations.
Ironically, there are legislative efforts underway to weaken the state’s scaffold laws while the number of New York fall injury accidents remains high. State Senator Patrick Gallivan (R-Erma) has introduced legislation that would take some of the legal and financial burden away from employers whose workers are injured in falls from scaffolding, ladders and walls while on the job. This legislation is supported by influential industry groups like the Home Builders & Remodelers of Central New York and the Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, but it is decried by victim advocacy groups and plaintiff’s attorneys around the state.
This attempt to reform the scaffold law is not the first legislation aimed at changing the controversial law, and it likely won’t be the last attempt. However, for now, the statutes of New York offer unique protections to construction workers injured in falls at their workplace. If you or a loved one has been injured in a fall from a scaffold, wall, ladder or other elevated construction-related site, speak with a skilled construction accident injury attorney today to learn more about your legal rights and options you may have to recover compensation for your injuries.