New York Scaffold Law Is Under Attack

June 11, 2013

Many jobs require workers to use ladders and scaffolds to work at heights. Whether constructing a skyscraper, washing windows on a tall building, or installing windows on a small apartment building, the risk of falling from heights is great. The owners of the buildings, and the general contractors they hire to do the work, have the ability to determine the types of equipement necessary to keep workers safe and to purchase insurance in the event an accident occurs. It is out of this obligation and duty that the New York Labor Law provides these workers extra protection.

Labor Law Section 240 provides that owners and general contractors of commercial buildings or apartment buildings housing three families or more are strictly liable for accidents that occur when a worker is injured because they do not provide adequate safety devices. Whether the issue is appropriateness of the device being use, such as using the wrong type of ladder, scaffold or hoisting device, or that device is defective, the owners and general contractors are presumed to be liable for the injuries. This does not apply in situations where the worker is the “sole proximate cause” of the accident. For example, if the worker was using alcoholic beverages and fell off the scaffold, or the worker refused to use a safety device that was provided.

It’s only fair. The typical worker is not equipped to bring his own safety equipment to the job site. That’s up to the people who plan the jobs and mobilize the equipment necessary to do it. The equipment must be tested before it is mobilized to make sure it can withstand the use required by that job. The worker has to be able to assume that the equipment provided is not defective and is capable of doing the job requested.

There is an unfortunate push by insurance companies and large contractors to take away the provisions of the labor law which protect workers. Such a backwards move will only serve to endanger workers. The threat of a potential lawsuit is often the only protection a worker may have. Taking away the worker’s ability to sue for injuries that could have been avoided by the use of proper equipment will not benefit anybody but the pockets of the insurance companies and building owners trying to make more profits off the backs of the worker.

Hopefully our state legislators will resist the calls from these monied interests and continue to protect the workers in New York. Contact your state senator or assemblyman and let him or her know that you support the protection of workers and that they should not change Labor Law 240.