By Anthony Grasso
Construction work nearly took my life. Now, insurance companies and corporate interests want to weaken safety laws in place to protect workers like me.
Two years ago, I was working on a commercial building in Buffalo. I stepped on what I thought was plywood, but turned out to be flimsy particleboard. I fell through it almost headfirst and went down 14 feet, hitting the stone ground floor. I was rushed to the hospital for emergency decompression surgery. Since then, I’ve gone through multiple spine surgeries, excruciating pain, and spent two months in a rehab center for spinal cord treatment.
Those few seconds have dramatically damaged my life. I am permanently paralyzed from the waist down. Rods and screws stabilize my torn spine. I was 36 years old when the accident happened, and I will never walk again.
The worst part is knowing that that this accident could have easily been prevented. Even though I was elevated, building walls and a stairwell on the second floor, I was not given a legally required harness or safety line and holes in the floor like the one where I fell were not marked and were covered with flimsy material. Having the proper safety equipment could have prevented me from being in a wheelchair for the rest of my life.
I may not be able to work for the rest of my life. But with the help of the Scaffold Law, I received a settlement that will pay for my medical bills and allow my kids to be taken care of. It hasn’t given me my old life back, but it’s ensured that my family doesn’t have to suffer even more.
Serious and preventable construction accidents happen every day. You’d think that owners and contractors would be trying to make work sites safer. But instead, they claim that the Scaffold Law is too expensive so they want to water down safety in the name of profits. This is not just unfair, it’s dangerous.
Workers who do manual labor to make a huge profit for owners and general contractors should not be put at risk, especially when they don’t control the means and methods of the work.
I would gladly trade every last cent from my settlement to make my injury go away.
As long as construction workers like me put their lives at risk to help build New York, we can’t water down or eliminate safety laws.
We may never be able to prevent every serious accident, but we can pledge to do what we can to stop senseless accidents like mine. Let’s make sure we continue to give workers the protections they deserve.
Anthony Grasso of Tonawanda is a former carpenter.