New York Personal Injury Law Blog » Labor Law


December 7th, 2015

Watching Danger in Real Time

LaborLaw Violations

Photo by Sarah Nir, Dec. 7, 2015. Painters on The Wave in Brooklyn

As I prepared to go to lunch a few minutes ago, I checked Twitter and saw this photograph from New York Times correspondent Sarah Nir. She knew instantly there was danger afoot:

Painters on The Wave in Wburg paint tethered just to a slim balcony rail. I’m sick.

And she said something. The response was in a follow-up tweet:

I told the man here that they were improperly rigged and needed to be safer, and he responded “I just need a job

This is life for many people. And this is the reason we need tough laws that hold contractors responsible for putting workers in danger. The workers — often poor, immigrants, and sometimes undocumented — often have little choice. They can do the job or they can go home and never come back. And when you need to eat, that is a tough decision.

Then, if  something awful happens, it will be the contractor that will control the construction site and the other employees (witnesses). Who will risk their job to testify that the injured worker was told “Do it or go home?”

It was just this morning that I wrote a piece responding to complaints about our scaffold law, which holds contractors strictly liable for injuries if they fail to provide safety equipment and the accident is height-related. Insurance companies complain to the Legislature that we should instead have comparative fault, and that the contractors should get a chance to lower their liability by blaming the worker (who likely had no choice) and having jury awards reduced by the proportionate share.

But this is living proof why that doesn’t work. You do the job or you go home. And it is the contractor that controls the job site.

Despite the fact the man appears he might be tied to the railing (which is being worked on by a co-worker), it is clear that this would be insufficient to arrest a fall, and doesn’t even come close to OSHA guidelines.

Of course, not all contractors risk the lives of their workers this way. But those that provide proper safety equipment don’t have to worry quite as much about injuries and death, do they?


3 thoughts on “Watching Danger in Real Time

  1. Nice article but according to the picture you posted it seems the window washer wears a harness that is tied to top and bottom railing, as a window washer myself I can tell you this is indeed safe and per osha’s guidelines.

    • the window washer wears a harness that is tied to top and bottom railing

      The harness does not appear to be anchored properly. If something is tied to a railing, and the railing itself is not competent to arrest a fall, then it is meaningless. The OSHA regs are linked in the posting.

  2. Strict liability only in the case where PPE is not provided is still insufficient. Employers need to be fully liable for any injury that happens in the workplace, full stop. The presence of PPE and the existence of procedures and permit-to-work paperwork is not evidence that the employer has trained his labor properly and allowed sufficient time and manpower to perform the task safely. The absence of accidents is evidence that the employer is properly managing the work site. Indeed it is the only acceptable evidence.

    The employer controls the work site, that makes everything that happens on it the employer’s fault. Even in the case where an employee does something that is genuinely unprovoked idiocy, it is still the employer’s fault (for hiring an idiot and putting him in a position to act on his idiocy).

    – Jake