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

Lawmakers in Albany are once again hearing from the construction industry about New York's Labor Law 240, the state's notorious "Scaffold Law." A new study suggests that, rather than reducing the number of construction site accidents, the law is responsible for the number of accidents being as high as it is. The study argues as well that the law costs the city $785 million every year for insurance and litigation -- $785 million that that could be put to better use.

The Scaffold Law imposes strict liability on contractors and property owners for "gravity-related" accidents at construction sites. The law went into effect in the 1880s, when buildings were not as tall and unions were just taking hold. It applies only to commercial property and requires that owners and contractors provide or construct scaffolding, slings, ladders and so on -- the list is a long one -- in order to protect the workers from harm. An injury resulting from a violation is the fault of the property owner or contractor, not the worker, not the engineer, not the manufacturer of the equipment.

Proponents of the law say that holding the people in charge responsible for workers' safety has saved lives and helped the state maintain a better construction safety record than the national average. Unions and advocates for non-union workers alike believe that repeal or reform is unnecessary and, perhaps, irresponsible.

Opponents have long countered that the law increases construction costs in the state and that higher costs make the state less attractive to businesses considering relocation to or expansion within New York. So, in addition to direct costs, there is an added opportunity cost as well.

The survey, a project of the New York Civil Justice Institute, backs up opponents' claims. The researchers reviewed case files and public filings to quantify the losses attributable to the law. As far as actual injuries are concerned, the researchers concluded that the Scaffold Law was responsible for an additional 677 construction site accidents every year.

We'll continue this in our next post.

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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