Outdated Laws Do Not Protect Injured Construction Workers
By Gerri Elder
Recently construction crane accidents in New York City and Miami that happened within a few weeks of each other brought questionable construction practices into the spotlight. While these two accidents made news headlines across the country, there have been many other under-reported construction accidents involving cranes in which workers have been injured and killed.
Many say that these construction injuries and accidental deaths are entirely preventable and are a product of unsafe working conditions and laws that do not adequately protect construction workers and those who live in the areas in which construction takes place.
On March 15, 2008, a 200-foot construction crane broke apart and collapsed at a multi-story residential building in Manhattan, killing six New York City construction workers and a tourist who was in one of the buildings. Seventeen others were injured in the collapse. One of the buildings that was under construction had been previously cited for 13 safety violations and was crushed by the crane during the accident. Other properties nearby were also damaged in the accident, according to the New York Times.
As the news of the construction site injuries and deaths in the New York City crane accident unfolded, a similar crane accident happened in Miami. On March 25, 2008, a 20-foot piece of a construction crane broke off at a construction site of a high-rise condominium and fell 30 feet. Two workers were killed in the accident and five others suffered injuries. The broken part of the crane smashed through the roof of a home that the contractor had used for storage, according to a report by the Associated Press.
Little more than a month later on April 30, 2008, a construction worker in Maryland was killed when he was crushed between two sections of a crane while working 200-feet above a residential construction site. Most recently, a railroad in western Iowa had to be shut down due to a crane accident in an Interstate 80 bridge that killed one construction worker when the crane fell through a hole in the bridge deck and onto the train tracks, according to a Fox News report.
Sadly and certainly, injuries and deaths related to construction crane accidents are not unusual. In a recent PR Web news release, New York City construction accident lawyer David Perecman explains that construction laws in New York can be complicated as construction workers usually have to rely on two statues, Labor Law 240 or 241.
In some cases the first statute does not apply and the second one required that the injured worker or family of the deceased worker prove that a violation of a specific type of regulation of New York's "Industrial Code" (NYCRR rule 23) contributed to the injury or death. Perecman points out that although technology has changed drastically over the last 30 years, the Industrial Code has not been updated or revised.
Additionally, even as outdated as it is, many contractors are not in compliance with the New York Industrial Code at all. Many only comply with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) rules, if there is any compliance with safety rules at all.
Under New York labor laws, injured workers and the families of workers who are killed in construction accidents are not allowed to sue owners or contractors for OSHA violations. This leaves many injured workers without income and no legal recourse for the accident that caused the injury.
Outdated laws do little or nothing to protect workers from avoidable workplace injuries or accidental deaths, and instead protect contractors and employers from personal injury lawsuits and give no incentives or motivation for improved safety and working conditions.
The New York Times reports that construction injuries are on the rise, as are building code violations. Yet it comes as no surprise that we see no move by legislators to stand up for the rights of workers to have a safe workplace and receive compensation in personal injury lawsuits when injuries and accidental deaths occur. Perhaps it is the case that safety is not a popular option because it would not be profitable for contractors to update equipment and operations to a standard that would keep workers safe.