Sunday, July 20, 2008

Improving Construction Safety in Illinois

The Illinois building industry is up in arms over proposed legislation that would allow construction workers who are injured during falls from scaffolding, ladders and other heights to sue other contractors on the job site for not doing anything to prevent their injuries.

Rep. John Fritchey has proposed an amendment to House Bill 2094 that would create the Construction Safety Act. If passed, the legislation would essentially reinstate the Structural Work Act (SWA), which held construction companies and contractors responsible for creating safe working environments on their job sites.

The SWA allowed injured construction workers to file suit “against each party involved in the project, including owners, suppliers, contractors, subcontractors and designers” and to recover damages for those injuries if they could prove that those other parties should have known dangerous or unsafe working conditions existed.

Speaking out against the proposed legislation, the Alliance to Help Employment and Development (AHEAD) has argued the Construction Safety Act is rife with problems. Among them:

  • Threatens Illinois jobs: Reinstating SWA will increase construction costs, including insurance rates, and stifle private investment and public works projects, costing the state tax revenue, jobs and economic growth.
  • Costs to consumers: According to a study prepared by the Watson-Wyatt Group in 1998, it was conservatively estimated that SWA cost Illinois employers approximately $170 million a year in insurance costs and the legal fees alone related to defending third-party suits. These costs are passed on to Illinois consumers.
  • Workers’ right to sue already exists: Injured workers under current law have adequate remedies to pursue through Illinois’ workers’ compensation system, a no-fault remedy for workplace injuries and through common law in which workers may sue contractors for negligence.
  • No increase in worker safety: The passage of the Occupational Safety and Health Act by Congress in 1970 ushered in a new era of jobsite safety, with detailed standards and effective methods of enforcement. According to the Illinois Workers’ Compensation Commission, Illinois’ overall worker-injury rate decreased 53 percent between 1991 and 2003. The state maintains the 10th-lowest injury rate in the country.

Illinois Deserves the Truth tells another side of the story:

  • 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.

It is important to note that injured construction workers in Illinois are still eligible to collect workers’ compensation benefits when they’re hurt on the job, regardless of what happens with the proposed Construction Safety Act. Their right to sue third parties who had some fault in their injury also is protected, even if the Act doesn’t pass.

For more information on how the repeal of the Structural Work Act has impacted construction safety in Illinois, check out the Center for Justice & Democracy study on the issue.

Building Illinois has more information on the other side of the argument – that the Construction Safety Act is a bad idea.

1 comment:

Jannah Delfin said...

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