National Consumers League

Workplace safety standards highlighted in Labor Day accident

Why is it important to enforce workplace safety standards ? This weekend – ironically, when we were all celebrating Labor Day – a young immigrant from Ecuador named Fernando Vanegas was killed when the retaining wall designed to hold back soil on the base of a building collapsed on him. He was only 19 years old and had previously told his mother about many dangerous conditions at his workplace. “He would always tell me about how he had close calls,” she recounted.

There’s been a surge of fatal workplace incidents in New York City this year, according to the New York Times. The inspectors who investigated the fatality said that basic safety protections were not implemented, including providing adequate building support, compromising the whole structure. Several complaints about this worksite had landed at city offices and the cases were closed once the builder provided paperwork saying problems were being addressed. Inspectors had also cited the building in May and again in July for violations, but apparently the fines and penalties didn’t deter this contractor from exposing workers to dangerous conditions. Clearly the enforcement system isn’t working very well.

When enforcement is lax, employers and builders cut corners. This is the oldest story in the book, and this young man’s parents are mourning the loss of their son, whose only goal was to contribute to the family finances. Going to work shouldn’t mean taking your life into your hands. City inspectors across the country need to shut down construction sites that continually violate the law. It’s so sad for Mr. Vanegas and his family that he had to pay the price with his life.