A report issued by the New York Committee for Occupational Health and Safety found that 71 workers died in construction related accidents in 2016, up from 55 in 2015. Worker safety organizations are pointing to reductions in funding for site inspections statewide as a cause, along with the reluctance of workers in the country from other countries being scared to report safety violations due to the current climate surrounding immigration. Construction company advocates say that the increase in deaths is an indication that it is time to change the laws, to allow judges and juries to properly apportion liability.
The law in New York State currently says that liability for workers injured or killed on site is to be borne equally by the property owner and the construction company. Assuming a plaintiff is successful with their claim related to the injury or death, the damages are payable due to a violation of the labor law and/or the industrial code by the construction company, and by the property owner, regardless of fault.
“Supporters of changes to liability for the construction industry are, following this report, arguing the law should be changed to allow the courts to assign fault to the injured worker, including total liability, if the evidence supports such an assignment,” said Joseph Miklos, a construction injury attorney with Silberstein, Awad, & Miklos, P.C. “These supporters are taking the position that by giving construction companies peace of mind that they will not be automatically responsible for accidents occasioned by workers negligence, the companies would be more inclined to do a better job with site and employee safety. “
Miklos went on to say that proposed changes to the current “scaffold law” to eliminate absolute liability would not encourage a construction company to provide a safe working environment. “Employers have a duty to provide proper safety training, to develop proper safety procedures, to provide proper safety equipment, and to encourage reporting of unsafe work environments. Failure to do so is negligence.”
Miklos hopes that raising awareness of the increase in deaths will encourage better reporting by employees of unsafe working conditions. “The law is there to encourage compliance, but also to allow people and companies to be held accountable. Changing the law will not reduce danger to workers – that is up to the companies and the government agencies.”