What is New York’s Scaffold Law?

If you’re naming some of the most dangerous areas of work, then construction work is usually near the top of the list. Even when acting with extreme caution and using appropriate safety measures, there’s always potential for an accident that can cause injuries or even fatalities. Fortunately, there are laws in place that help to protect construction workers and give them certain rights. Specifically, in New York there is New York Labor Law 200, which includes the “Scaffold Law.” Section 240 of the New York State Labor Law (also known as The Scaffold Law) applies to construction workers who have experienced a fall or have been hit by a falling object. 

Strict Liability

New York’s Scaffold Law is the only law of this kind in the country that holds construction site owners and general contractors absolutely liable for scaffold accidents which result in injuries to construction workers. This means that when the owner/contractor doesn’t give the worker all the necessary safety equipment that they’re entitled to and the worker gets injured as a result, then their employer is held completely responsible. This also means that the construction site owner can’t transfer blame for the accident to a foreman or to the worker.  

Generally, this means that the mere act of failing to provide the scaffolding and the other safety equipment that meets the standards of the Labor Laws is typically enough for a worker to be compensated for their damages. 

What Type of Work is Covered?

The owners and contractors must give proper protection to workers who do specific work that is named in the statue. Many types of employees and independent contractors deal with scaffolds daily in their work, including window washers, painters, welders, carpenters, bricklayers, electricians, to name just a few. However, Section 240 only covers certain types of scaffold work including the following:

  • Altering
  • Cleaning
  • Demolitions
  • Erecting buildings and erections of safety measures (braces, hoists, ladders, and pulleys)
  • Pointing
  • Repairs

If the worker was engaged in these specific activities, then the law applies to them, but it may also apply to a worker if they weren’t engaged in one of the activities at the time of the accident. In this case, the worker needs to be engaged in work that was in “furtherance of a project” that is one of the activities covered by the statute. 

Some of the specific provisions that the owners must comply with that are intended to protect workers include the following: 

  • A scaffolding which is positioned 20 feet or more above the ground or the floor must be equipped with a safety railing that rises a minimum of 34 inches, which is nearly 3 feet;
  • The railing must be securely fastened to the scaffold to prevent swaying;
  • The safety rail must enclose the full-length and both ends of the scaffold; and
  • The scaffolding must be able to hold 4x its maximum weight. 

Criticism of the Scaffold Law

The unique feature of “absolute liability” that the statute places on site owners and contractors who break the law makes Section 240 controversial. Many opponents have called for reforms because no other state has an equivalent law; they also believe that it raises construction costs for New York. 

Talk to a New York Personal Injury Attorney

If you’ve experienced an accident while working at an elevated height and you think that the scaffold law may apply to your situation, then you should not delay talking to an experienced personal injury attorney. They can help you sort out the complexities of the law. If you’re covered, a MOWK personal injury lawyer can help you get the compensation that you’re entitled to receive.