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Seeking Workers Comp for First Responders

As a nation, we may often feel divided from one another (politically, culturally, and socially), but in moments of tragedy we stand united. December 14th will forever after be, in these United States, a day of national mourning. On that day in 2012, 20-year-old Adam Lanza walked into Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut and opened fire, resulting in the deaths of 20 children and six staff members.

It has been almost a year and a half since then, and the shooting has sparked a debate over the right to bear arms. While the left and the right are in grid-lock over the issue (and with no end in sight), the Connecticut General Assembly has proposed legislation that most Americans will support.

The new bill is being referred to as S.B. 56, and offers workers comp for first responders who witness traumatic events and now suffer from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Typically, we picture PTSD being triggered by loud noises or crowded spaces, but for the first responders at Sandy Hook, a TV show or a child’s laughter can bring them to tears as they relive the horrifying experience. According to current Connecticut workers comp law, mental health claims are not covered if they do not have a corresponding physical injury.

S.B. 56 would create workers comp benefits for first responders with PTSD after, “visually witnessing the immediate aftermath of such death or maiming, of one or more human beings.” According to the Connecticut General Assembly. Immediate aftermath being defined as within six hours of a scene being secured by law enforcement officers. While the legislation is widely supported, there are currently a few detractors.

The primary opposition to the bill comes from municipal employers who are worried that the bill would dramatically increase their workers comp costs. They believe the bill is too vague and that any on-duty (or off-duty) first responder would just have to go to the scene several hours after it had been secured and they would get full workers comp benefits.

Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of Connecticut AFL-CIO stated, “Workers who have experienced PTSD as a result of work are no different than workers who have torn ACLs as a result of work, except that the injury is to the whole body, inside and out.” First responders deserve fair treatment under the law because when things go badly, they are the first people on the scene, and despite horrific circumstances (like Sandyhook) they do their duty, and do it as quickly as possible. They should expect the same from their elected officials.

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NY Labor Law 240 Costs Contractors Billions

NY Labor Law 240 has been infamous for its radical costs in the circles of contractors and insurance providers. The law, in the eyes of contractors, requires that, “a construction contractor or developer who holds the construction insurance policy for a job be solely responsible for any injuries suffered by workers on that project.” Opponents of NY Labor Law 240 and New York state legislators are currently fighting over whether the law does more harm than good.

According to a study conducted by the Cornell University Department of Policy Analysis and Management and SUNY’s Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government the bill has resulted in 667 more construction incidents per year and has resulted in nearly $3 billion a year in unnecessary costs. While $3 billion represents a considerable sum (and must also put quite a lot of strain on the construction and real estate industries) the more concerning figure is that over 500 construction workers are injured in scaffolding accidents.

Paul Fernandes, the chief of staff of the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater NY, believes that this study will disappear just like many similar reports in the past. He claims that it is, “Yet another in the long line of anti-worker research that purports to advocate for worker safety by weakening business’ responsibility for workplace safety and health.” This may be true but the bill and the financial and human repercussions seem to bring about a discussion on whether or not the chicken or the egg came first.

The existing bill costs the contractors a lot of money because of all the workers comp claims and, due to those high number of claims, insurance providers have either stopped offering coverage for scaffolding accidents or have driven their costs way up. The supply of insurance companies that offer the plan has become very small while the demand has only escalated which has led to extremely expensive insurance plans. With no bill in place the cost of insurance would go down as more insurance providers began to offer the policy again and offered some competition. The removal of the law could also leave employees at fault for mistakes that result in injury which could lead to some very trying circumstances for construction workers and builders. However, without the law in place the construction industry could save almost $3 billion which may result in more jobs or higher salaries and end up spurring more economic growth. It will be interesting to see which side the legislators end up joining forces with.