According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), approximately 2.3 million construction workers—or 65 percent of those in the construction industry—work on scaffolds. In a recent year, falls from height represented more than one-third of construction worker deaths. From 2003 to 2011, the Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) investigated 136 falls from an elevation that killed New York construction workers.
Because they represent a significant workplace hazard, scaffolds are closely regulated by OSHA. However, New York Labor Law Section 240, commonly known as the “scaffold law,” provides New York construction workers protection that far exceeds federal laws.
Liability Under the New York Scaffold Law
The scaffold law has been on the books since 1885. The spirit of the law is to protect workers from the grave hazards of working at heights. It requires all contractors and owners in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building to provide “scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices…as to give proper protection to a person so employed.”
A violation of the scaffold law imposes absolute liability on contractors and owners. In other words, the comparative fault of the injured construction worker plays no role in lawsuits filed under the scaffold law (typically, the plaintiff in a personal injury lawsuit can have an award reduced in proportion to the plaintiff’s own fault, a concept known as comparative negligence).
The courts have been very consistent in upholding the absolute liability of contractors and property owners under the scaffold law. To take one example from past court decisions, the comparative negligence of a construction worker who failed to lock the wheels of a rolling scaffold was deemed inadmissible.
How a Scaffold Law Claim Works
The scaffold law applies not only to a falling worker, but also to objects that fall due to inadequate safety devices, such as a falling platform hoist.
A successful claim under the scaffold law must show that there was a violation of the law’s standards and that the violation caused the injury in question.
If you fell from a scaffold on a construction site in New York City, you may be able to pursue compensation from an owner or contractor under the scaffold law in addition to a workers’ compensation claim through your employer.
- The Center for Popular Democracy – Industry Attacks on ‘Scaffold Law’ Put Construction Workers on Shaky Ground
- The New York Times – Contractors and Workers at Odds Over Scaffold Law
- Occupational Safety & Health Administration – Scaffolding