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Public Citizen to Governor Cuomo: Hands Off New York's Scaffold Law

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As the nation celebrates our all-important workforce and mourns the loss of its workers today on on Workers Memorial Day, Governor Cuomo should permanently scrap his plan to repeal New York's Scaffold Law, which requires safety equipment and training for construction workers who work building scaffolds.

Last Friday, Governor Cuomo announced that he is throwing in the towel for this year on repealing the scaffold law, succumbing to robust construction worker and advocate demand.

One of the issues that these advocates brought to Cuomo's attention amid the debate over New York's Scaffold Law is that the people we rely on to build buildings and infrastructure are falling victim to fatal injuries at an alarming rate.

For example, in New York City, where construction work is the most dangerous occupation, workers' lives are being claimed by slips, trips and falls from scaffolds, and also by being struck or crushed by an object or equipment.

In 2012, there were 20 workplace deaths among city construction workers, according to figures provided by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (2013 data is not yet available). These fatal injuries were classified as:

• 11 deaths from slips, trips and falls;
• 4 from contact with an object or equipment;
• 3 exposure to harmful environment; and
• 2 classified as other.

The 20 construction fatalities in New York City accounted for 27 percent of the city's 75 combined fatal work injuries in 2012. An additional 18 construction workers died outside of the city limits, in New York State. Falls from a height remain the number one killer of all New York construction workers.

A report issued today by the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health (NYCOSH) says many construction deaths and nonfatal injuries could have been prevented had proper safety precautions been taken.

The NYCOSH report also recommends that lawmakers protect New York's Scaffold Safety Law and urges elected officials to recognize that construction work in New York State is made safer by this law, which holds employers accountable when they cut corners on the safety of people working at heights and put workers lives at risk.

We could not agree more.

But although this provision is safe for now, the Governor and some lawmakers in Albany are considering watering it down next year. Perhaps the enlightened group should join their constituents on top of a scaffold for a debate over the law?

If anything, this Worker's Memorial Day, Governor Cuomo should be thinking about strengthening the Scaffold Law and requiring additional on-the-job safety training that has been proven to reduce construction industry injuries and fatalities. When Governor Cuomo makes decisions about the permanence of this law next year, the horrific stories of construction worker fatality could all change if he takes a progressive approach to worker safety and health by strengthening worker protections, not repealing them.

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This piece was written by Public Citizen's Congress Watch Worker Health and Safety Advocate Keith Wrightson and Director Lisa Gilbert