A general contractor in New York City was fined a substantial amount of money by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, according to Construction Dive. The general contractor challenged the fines, arguing the corporate executives from the company cited had not been aware of the problems on the worksite. In spite of this, the fines were upheld. This incident is part of a trend towards increased accountability for New York work injuries.
A building boom in New York City has resulted in many more workers getting hurt on construction sites. Something needs to be done about the rising number of people being injured or killed. New efforts to hold general contractors accountable for problems would be a step in the right direction. Workers also need to make sure they understand their rights so they can pursue an appropriate workers' compensation benefits claim if they are harmed while on a worksite.
The recent case in which the general contractor was fined arose from problems with scaffolding. Workers had put scaffolding up on a 23-story hotel project in Manhattan. There was inadequate fall protection provided at this scaffolding area. Employees who were doing work without the right fall protection equipment were in danger of falling as much as 26 feet.
Because of the significant dangers presented by the lack of fall protection, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration levied a substantial fine against the contractor. The company was fined $249,900 for willful and serious safety violations.
OSHA fined the general contractor in 2013, but the company appealed. In the appeal, two arguments were made: the company claimed they had attempted to correct the unsafe conditions and also claimed their executives didn't know about what was going on.
The judge rejected these arguments and upheld the fines. The judge indicated the general contractor was aware of the absence of fall protection on the dangerous scaffolding and indicated the general contractors were in a position where they could (and should) have ordered subcontractors to ensure the worksite was safe. The general contractor was the "controlling employer" and was expected to take responsibility for what was going on.
The regional administrator for OSHA in New York expressed approval of the judge's decision, commentating the decision reiterated an important fact: "Employers cannot ignore their legal responsibility to safeguard their employees and adhere to workplace safety standards."
OSHA has increasingly been holding general contractors accountable. For example, in one recent case, five different contractors received fines of $115,200 because of a myriad of safety hazards on worksites for which the contractors were considered controlling employers.
A New York City general contractor was also found guilty last year of manslaughter, criminally negligent homicide, and reckless endangerment. Although general contractors aren't present every day on worksites, they will need to know what is being done on the sites they are in charge of developing. A local district attorney commented: "managing a project from afar does not insulate a corporation or general contractor from criminal liability." This is an important rule for NYC contractors to keep in mind.