Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Bad Day In New York: Two Workers Die In Falls

Two workers were killed in fatal falls yesterday in New York City. I was about to write that it seems like every day you read about a worker being killed in a fall. Actually, however, every day in the United States more than two workers die from falls. Fatal falls were the second leading cause of death in the workplace in 2005, with 767 workers killed. That was down from 822 in 2004, but up from 696 in 2003.
Two construction workers plunged to their deaths yesterday in separate scaffolding accidents - one on the Queensboro Bridge, the other at an upper East Side high-rise.

The U.S. Labor Department was investigating both fatal falls in which the workers were not wearing their safety harnesses.

The first incident came just before 11:30 a.m. when a painting foreman fell to his death as he tried to fix a jammed scaffold on the Queensboro Bridge.

The employee with Alpha Painting & Construction Co. of Baltimore, identified by co-workers as Manno Oh, 45, went to help two workers lower a stalled scaffold, authorities said.

But the scaffold dipped, and Oh, without a safety harness to catch him, fell more than 100 feet to his death.

Oh's wife came to the scene where her husband died, wailing over her loss. The couple had recently moved from Clinton, Md., to New York because of Oh's job, fellow workers said.

Tae-Kyong Lee, 41, who worked at Alpha with Oh for 13 years, said Oh and his wife had been married for only two years.

"He had just begun to enjoy his life after struggling for so long, and now this happens," Lee said. "It's a bolt out of the blue. He was alive in the morning, and now he's gone."

Alpha is a subcontractor of L & L Painting Co. of Hicksville, L.I., which has a $167 million, five-year contract to strip the Queensboro Bridge of lead paint and repaint it.

Meanwhile, about 1:15 p.m., a 63-year-old employee of Basonas Construction Corp. plummeted 65 feet to his death from a luxury high-rise at 880 Fifth Ave. on the upper East Side.

The worker, whose name was not immediately released, was working on a scaffold when he was knocked off by a gust of wind that hit him while removing his harness to switch to another one, police said.
Meanwhile, somone has to stand up and fight against the outrageously high costs of killing workers..
Like many construction business executives in New York State, Jeff Valone and Frank DeCarlo oppose the state's "Scaffold Law."

They contend the law, which involves responsibility for gravity-related accidents on work sites, drives up costs and has led some businesses to lay off workers or even close.

Critics for years have lobbied state legislators to change it. Valone, president of Try-Lock Roofing in the Town of Tonawanda, and Frank DeCarlo, president of Paragon Restoration in Depew, decided to lead a new approach: a lawsuit that seeks to repeal the Scaffold Law.


The detractors claim it wrongly imposes "strict liability" on property owners and contractors in accidents in which workers fall on job sites or are struck by falling objects. They contend the law exposes owners and contractors to potentially large judgments, and forces them to pay high insurance premiums that they say have led to layoffs or closings.
Hmm. Large judgements and high insurance costs for killing people. So, what's your point?

Andrew Friedman of the Drum Major Institute in New York described the importance of New York's scaffold law:
In New York, it's not supposed to be this way. The city has a scaffold law that requires building owners and general contractors to provide workers with proper scaffolds, hoists, harnesses and other safety equipment. The law works: New York's construction industry fatality rate is one of the lowest in the nation.

But a recent increase in scaffolding accidents is alarming. And so is the fact that a lot of building owners, developers and contractors are seeking to destroy the scaffold law. They are pressuring legislators to amend it to shift ultimate responsibility for work-site safety onto workers instead of employers.

Immigrant workers, especially Latinos, would be the most likely to pay the price for contractors' negligence if the law is changed. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, construction is one of the most dangerous industries, accounting for 20.8% of all workplace deaths in 2001. Latinos account for a fast-growing share of the construction workforce. In 2001, they held 17.4% of construction jobs nationally, up from 10.2% in 1993. Their share of New York City construction jobs is substantially higher.

It is often immigrant construction workers who take on the most dangerous jobs at the riskiest construction sites and who get injured the most. Seven of the 25 workers who were killed by accidents at New York City construction sites between October 2001 and September 2003 were classified as day laborers, according to the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration. Almost every major scaffolding accident in the past 12 months has involved immigrants.