Federal Laws and Regulations Underutilized to Protect Workers’ Safety at Construction Sites

The weakness of current federal laws dedicated to protecting workers safety has been criticized twice in less than a month on the op-ed page of The New York Times in the aftermath of crane collapses that occurred in Manhattan on March 15 and May 30, 2008. On May 27, 2008, David M. Uhlmann, a law professor at the University of Michigan, wrote an article pressing for giving the Occupational Safety and Health Act, the primary federal worker-safety law in the United States, more powerful, even criminal, enforcement penalties.

On June 12, 2008, Susan Podziba, a public policy mediator, wrote in The Times that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has been sitting on crane-safety regulations that could prevent more deaths. Nationally, 72 workers in 2006, the most recent year for which federal figures are available, died in accidents similar to the crane collapses. The existing regulations on crane safety were created in 1971 and have not been significantly revised since then.

According to Ms. Podziba, from July 2003 to July 2004, representatives of labor unions, crane manufacturers, crane operators, contractors, crane rental companies, builders, crane owners, billboard installers, insurance companies, electrical power line owners and safety experts met under the Federal Advisory Committee Act to discuss virtually all hazards associated with cranes and how to prevent them. The group reached consensus on a set of revised crane standards. OSHA officials participated in the negotiations and contributed their expertise in writing enforceable regulations.

According to OSHA’s analysis, these workers safety standards would prevent 37 to 48 worker deaths per year. The draft regulations are about 120 pages long, and include important new requirements like the testing and certification of crane operators and the oversight of crane assembly and disassembly. Just days before the March crane accident in New York, representatives of the group that developed these safety regulations wrote to Labor Secretary Elaine Chao and strongly urged her to ensure this standard and its publication receive the immediate attention it requires.

From the first day of deliberations in accordance with the process, called negotiated rulemaking the parties, says Ms. Podziba, operated under this assumption: If this balanced group of stakeholders and the government could agree on a standard, then OSHA would publish it in the Federal Register as its proposed rule. After OSHA publishes a draft rule, the public has 60 days to comment before the final rule is published and becomes law.

But in May, Joshua B. Bolten, the White House chief of staff, informed administrative agencies that after June 1 no proposed rules were to be published except under extraordinary circumstances. Mr. Bolten also said that no draft rules could be made final after Nov. 1. This means the nation will not have more protective crane standards for years unless the administrator of OSHA, Edwin G. Foulke Jr., requests, and the White House approves, an extraordinary exception for publication of the proposed cranes and derricks standard, says Ms. Podziba.

Dont hold your breath. This foot-dragging is yet another example of a governmental agency under the Bush Administration protecting not those whom it is charged with protecting, or protecting workers safety, but instead protecting those from whom protection is supposed to be provided.

For example, when jets of Southwest Airlines and other airlines kept flying dozens of planes in need of inspections for fuselage cracks, an official of the Federal Aviation Authority (FAA) was quoted as saying that Southwest Airlines was viewed by inspectors as an FAA “customer” and “client.” And the head of the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) asked Congress to reject legislation that would increase the CPSCs budget, overhaul federal standards on consumer products, and provide vital whistle-blower provisions to protect employees who report consumer safety violations.

The personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit have decades of experience handling personal injury claims, including for workers injured at construction sites. For 50 years spanning 3 generations, we have obtained results for satisfied clients.

Contact the personal injury lawyers at Levine & Slavit for their help. We have offices in Manhattan and Long Island, handling cases in New York City, the Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens and surrounding areas. To learn more, watch our videos.

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