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November 14, 2006

Scaffold safety taskforce convenes

New York City's newly-formed Scaffold Worker Safety Task Force met for the first time at City Hall yesterday.

The committee was struck in response to the recent surge in scaffold-related injuries and deaths in New York. The precipitating tragedy was the death of Raymond Jara, who fell 15 stories to his death from a building on 5th Avenue.

The committee will consider ways to make scaffold work safer for non-English-speaking workers like Jara who may not know their rights.

In other scaffold news, two construction bosses are facing criminal charges in connection with a fatal scaffold accident in June.

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I'll endanger my liberal credentials by saying this, but - Having an official national language that all citizens can speak (and which is required of new immigrants and guest workers) makes a lot of sense. Safety is part of the reason, but it's also helps to ensure that citizens can at least talk to each other.

Declaring English to be the official language of the US wouldn't make a practical difference. American legislatures debate in English, our laws are written in English, and our courts issue opinions in English. How much more official can you get?

There is pizza parlor in Jackson, New Jersey, where I grew up, which is run by an Italian family. An old man, I think the father, makes most of the pizzas. His children take the orders. They take the orders in English, and then turn to him and explain the order in Italian to him. There are many such pizza parlors in America. If we had some law saying only English can be used in the workplace, such men as that pizza maker would likely be retired by the law. I feel sure that America would be culturally poorer for it. America would certainly be culturally more homogenized by such a law, and do we really need to be any more homogenized than we already are?

I do a lot of premises liability work and I will say that at least 50% of the injuries that occur that I deal with are due to a lack of communication on the part of the employees. Does this mean that making English an official workplace language will solve the problem? No.

The problems are based more on the lack of experience of the workers hired. Employers hire these immigrant workers (latinos, polish, other assorted Eastern Euros) because they are cheap labor. A lot of times, these workers, for some reason or another, are the ones getting injured. Language barriers are one factor, but not the main cause. These workers generally lack the knowledge of the safety regulations on a job site and the employers do nothing to educate them.

I am for a national language requirement for other reasons which I will not get into here. But there would be not major decrease in workplace accidents if everyone was required to speak english.

Not to be totally cyncial or anything, but isn't it transparently obvious that the only reason an "official language" idea is even out there in the public discourse is because this Administration can't function without creating and manipulating fear? Talk about a solution in search of a problem...

Anyhoo, the real question here is what's the deal with your minute attention to scaffolding-safety-related issues? :-) You are super on top it - did you used to do that type of work or something?

A couple weeks ago, a guy died in a scaffold fall at the building where I was working. It turned out that the scaffold owners broke the law by not getting a license for the special scaffold they were using, not giving Jara the specialized training he needed to work on the scaffold, and not having a foreman on the job on the day Jara died.

I've always been interested in health and safety issues. I used to write computer-based training modules on topics like fall prevention and confined space entry.

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