Thursday, April 10, 2008

New Hope for Construction Safety: HB 2094

Cross-posted from Illinois Deserves the Truth

For 88 years, Illinois had in place a law to protect the safety of construction trade workers and the public and to minimize the scope of the dangers accompanying such work. On February 14, 1995, the Illinois General Assembly repealed this law, the Structural Work Act. The repeal eliminated essential safety standards, legal protections for injured workers, and effective incentives for construction owners and contractors to ensure safe working conditions.

Now, we have a chance to correct that mistake with HB2094.

Construction work is a dangerous job. Each year in Illinois significantly more construction workers die or get injured than policemen, firemen and other public safety employees combined. Between 2005 and 2006 there were 66 construction workers deaths in Illinois compared to nine deaths of police and fire department personnel.

Construction worker safety is further exacerbated by the lack of oversight by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Notoriously understaffed and without enough resources, OSHA is utterly unable to stop even egregious violations. If OSHA were to inspect all of the Illinois construction sites at current inspection levels it would take them 121 years to complete. This statistic has not improved under the current administration as funding continues to be cut in areas like worker safety and health training and education programs.

Moreover, the Illinois public is at risk. In 2002, there was a horrible tragedy where scaffolding fell from the 42nd floor of the John Hancock building killing three women pedestrians and injuring another seven.

Many of the dangers can be reduced and accidents prevented with stronger state laws. Finally there is new hope offered by Rep. John Fritchy (D-11th). He has proposed an amendment to HB 2094 which will bring back much needed construction safety standards to Illinois. The legislation, entitled The Construction Safety Act of 2008, will help correct the legislative mistake made in 1995 and protect construction workers and pedestrians once again, by:

  • Inspections: Granting Department of Labor officials the authority to immediately and fully inspect any construction site thought to be dangerous.
  • Safety Standards: Requiring that scaffolds, cranes, and ladders be safely erected and secured.
  • Building Plans: Requiring that architects and draftsmen follow these standards in their designs.
  • Accountability: Giving injured workers and their families the power to hold accountable anyone involved with keeping a worksite safe, from owners and contractors to architects and foremen.
  • Incentives: Holding everyone responsible for preventable accidents by giving all parties incentives to make worksites accident-proof.

This legislation would make things it safer not only for workers but also for all Illinoisans.

Critics say that this type of legislation could hurt Illinois' economy, but this is untrue and we have the lesson of history to prove it. For example, building contracts both before and after the repeal of the safety act in 1995 (from 1980 to 2003), showed a steady increase in numbers of contracts, as well as, the overall dollar value of these contracts, a significant sign of the good financial health of the Illinois' construction industry. This occurred both while the earlier law was in effect and after. Additionally, during the 5-year period immediately preceding the repeal (1991- 1995), housing starts, in the form of new permits for private construction in Illinois, had increased substantially – by 30.8 percent. Thus, the safety act had little or no impact on this industry.

Illinois has a chance again to protect its citizens by enacting better safety standards. With the rise of construction in Illinois, we owe it to ourselves to Support HB 2094.

To read more about Illinois construction safety and how the 1995 repeal of the Structural Safety Act hurt Illinois, please read The Center for Justice & Democracy - Illinois' report, which can be found here.

Disclaimer: Illinois Deserves the Truth is a project of the Center for Justice & Democracy - IL

2 comments:

Eric 8:08 AM  

Architects and engineers are only required, under the state's Architecture Practice Act (through which we are licensed) to design safe buildings, not safe work sites. Means and methods are specifically up to the contractor. Any act that places job site safety responsibilities on the architect simply does not make since. We can/do get sued anyways, as does everyone involved, but we shouldn't be legally tied to the jobsite safety conditions. Designing scaffolding, ladder locations, etc. should stay the responsibility of the contractor(s) performing the work!

Anonymous,  11:23 AM  

This is absolute BS legislation with the sole purpose of putting more money in attorney's pockets at the cost of third parties who do not demonstrate negligance.

"Between 2005 and 2006 there were 66 construction workers deaths in Illinois..." Without checking a reference (which wasn't provided), we can assume that is a fact. Does that make the passing of this bill necessary? Is this a high or low number? Have accidents increased since the repeal of the law in 1995. There's little, if any' statistical evidence to indicate there is a need for this law.

The Illinois Trail Lawyers Association is backing this measure. Their President, Bruce Kohen, has a brief bio here (http://pview.findlaw.com/view/2064371_1?noconfirm=0/) which reeks of squeezing millions of dollars out of anyone he can to collect.

This legislation written by lawyers to help lawyers make more money off of innocent parties. it is NOT in the intrest of the people of Illinois..awful!

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