I was worried about Matt up there. I was worried about all the incredible iron workers bolting in that spire. I was worried about those of us below. (We’re just a few blocks away.)
But then I remembered that when it comes to the safety of scaffolding, ladders, elevators, etc., New York has among THE safest laws in the nation thanks to New York’s Labor Law, §§240-241. This law places an absolute duty upon owners and contractors to make scaffolding, ladders and other equipment, as well as flooring and elevators, safe for construction workers. I felt better just thinking about this law, as should have Matt Lauer, those iron workers, and the other 8 million people who live here - not to mention the 40 million who visit.
Notwithstanding the sound legal and policy reasons for making the owner and contractor exclusively responsible for safety at construction sites, business lobbyists have, for years, tried to eliminate that absolute duty and significantly weaken the owners’ and contractors’ obligations to ensure a safe work site. This would be a terrible idea! No offense to our Texas friends, but if that state is any guide, aspiring to the lowest common denominator when it comes to public health and safety is not in anyone's best interest.
The New York Times has a disturbing front page story about Texas’ reaction to the horrific April 17 West Fertilizer plant explosion that killed at least 14 and injured about 200 (and was insured for only $1 million dollars thanks to incredibly poor insurance regulation in that state. ThePopTort is better insured than that.)
In Texas, lawmakers like Governor Rick Perry and even the town’s mayor see no need for any improved safety laws. None. Not even fire codes, which are often banned in Texas! Writes the Times,
Texas … is the only state that does not require companies to contribute to workers’ compensation coverage. It boasts the largest city in the country, Houston, with no zoning laws. It does not have a state fire code, and it prohibits smaller counties from having such codes. Some Texas counties even cite the lack of local fire codes as a reason for companies to move there.
But Texas has also had the nation’s highest number of workplace fatalities — more than 400 annually — for much of the past decade. Fires and explosions at Texas’ more than 1,300 chemical and industrial plants have cost as much in property damage as those in all the other states combined for the five years ending in May 2012. …
“The Wild West approach to protecting public health and safety is what you get when you give companies too much economic freedom and not enough responsibility and accountability,” said Thomas O. McGarity, a professor at the University of Texas at Austin School of Law and an expert on regulation.…
[F]ederal officials and fire safety experts contend that fire codes and other requirements would probably have made a difference. A fire code would have required frequent inspections by fire marshals who might have prohibited the plant’s owner from storing the fertilizer just hundreds of feet from a school, a hospital, a railroad and other public buildings, they say. A fire code also would probably have mandated sprinklers and forbidden the storage of ammonium nitrate near combustible materials. (Investigators say the fertilizer was stored in a largely wooden building near piles of seed, one possible factor in the fire.)
“It’s tough to overstate the importance fire codes would have made,” said Scott Harris, a former emergency management coordinator in Texas for the Environmental Protection Agency, who is now with UL Workplace Health and Safety, a safety science company. “Texas just hasn’t wrapped its brain around this fact yet.” …
Not that some aren’t trying to help.
Since the accident, some state lawmakers began calling for increased workplace safety inspections to be paid for by businesses. Fire officials are pressing for stricter zoning rules to keep residences farther away from dangerous industrial sites. But those efforts face strong resistance. …
Resistance from, say, the Texas Public Policy Foundation, “a conservative study group, [who] said that the wrong response to the explosion would be for the state to hire more 'battalions of government regulators who are deployed into industry and presume to know more about running the factory than the people who own the factory and work there every day.'"
Yes, I bet some of the dead knew exactly how to run that plant. Unfortunately, they’re now dead.