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Northeast lawmakers criminalizing violations (11/20)

In the wake of the April 2006 collapse of a scaffold in downtown Boston, Mass., lawmakers are proposing jail time for companies that dismiss monetary sanctions for worksite safety violations. Meanwhile, the New York City Council has given its Department of Buildings the ability to criminally prosecute rogue developers for ignoring work orders and permits.

The Boston disaster, which killed two construction workers and a passing motorist, wrought $119,000 in OSHA fines, but under the new rules, managers of the company involved, Boston Masonry, would have faced up to 2-1/2 years in prison. Committee Chair State Senator Jarrett T. Barrios told the Boston Globe that construction firms view OSHA fines as part of the cost of doing business. "But criminal prosecutions will get their attention where monetary fines can't," Barrios told the paper.

In New York, the City Council passed two measures Wednesday to crack down on contractors who violate stop-work orders and who tear down homes without demolition permits. The legislation criminalizes both infractions – any violator can now be charged with a misdemeanor and serve a maximum of six months in jail. Penalties and fines for both also will be raised sharply.

Builders who shun a stop-work order will face a maximum fine of $15,000 and civil penalties that begin at $2,000 for the first penalty, $5,000 for the second and $10,000 for the third. Previously, the companies faced a $500 civil penalty and fines of a few hundred dollars. "Both of these will be very important tools to protect workers on the job and also to allow neighborhood residents and community organizations the extra tools they need to protect and preserve their neighborhoods,” said City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan). Industry groups, however, expressed concern that stop-orders can be issued too liberally, and that harsh penalties would make more sense if the criteria for issuing one were more rigorous.

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