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'Scaffold Law' study may push New York lawmakers toward reform p3

Every year, it seems, lawmakers in Albany try to get New York's "Scaffold Law" off the books. Supporters of the law say its strict liability rule has kept property owners and the construction industry in line: The threat of being held responsible for a worker's on-the-job injuries has been a powerful incentive for the industry not to take shortcuts, not to cut corners where safety is concerned.

Opponents, however, say that the antiquated law only adds to the cost of construction and is a drag on the state's economy. Companies looking to relocate their headquarters, for example, would rather build in a neighboring state just to avoid our high construction costs.

In our last two posts, we were discussing a study about the costs associated with the Scaffold Law. The state loses between $2.92 billion and $3.01 billion annually. What's worse, that investment does not reduce the number of accidents; the researchers found, in fact, that the Scaffold Law increased the number of worksite accidents.

Still, according to an opinion piece by a Cornell University professor specializing in labor issues, the survey is seriously flawed. He takes issue with the technical aspects of the research -- the data set and comparison criteria -- and, perhaps more importantly, with the researchers' underlying hypothesis.

The researchers were asking whether the Scaffold Law with its strict liability provision "blunts employer incentives to invest in worker safety." Wait, the writer says, take that thought to its logical conclusion. An employer will be liable for all damages associated with a workplace accident. An employer that skimps on workplace safety increases the risk of an accident and the associated costs. An employer that invests in safety will probably avoid a number of accidents, saving itself the costs. So, didn't Benjamin Franklin have it right? An ounce of prevention really is worth a pound of cure?

These are the types of arguments that legislators have struggled with and will continue to struggle with. At some point, the issue may be addressed to everyone's satisfaction.

Sources: 

Carrier Management, "N.Y.'s 'Scaffold' Law Increases Injuries, Costs $3B a Year: Study," Young Ha, March 3, 2014

Insurance Journal, "Opinion: Study Suggesting N.Y. Scaffold Law Causes Injuries Misuses Statistical Techniques," Richard Hurd, March 15, 2014  

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