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When workers are hurt on the job, who's to blame?

Some people blame accidents on careless workers, while others argue that supervisors and contractors are responsible for safety.

A few weeks ago, Crain's New York published a published a photograph showing a window washer learning precariously out of a skyscraper window to perform his job. It's enough to make your head spin if you're not used to working at dizzying heights - but for the worker pictured and many like him, it's just another day on the job.

The photo was accompanied by the headline, "Window washers stretch safety rules." That headline is more than just a clever pun; it also makes a critical assumption about accountability for workplace hazards.

Legal responsibility under the Scaffold Law.

The safety rule in question is New York Labor Law 240, commonly known as the "Scaffold Law." The Crain's article prompted the director of the New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health to write a letter to the editor about responsibility for worksite injuries and the importance of safety regulations like the Scaffold Law.

"Workers do not control their worksite," she wrote. Under Labor Law 240, employers have a legal responsibility to provide proper safety training and equipment. She also reminded Crain's and their readers that a worker who causes an injury solely because of his or her own conduct is not entitled to the same protections under the labor law.

(We've covered the Scaffold Law on this blog in the past, and we agree that it is a critical safety measure for some of New York's bravest workers.)

What do you think? How should we determine who's responsible for construction accidents? Is the law fair? Sound off in the comments below.

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