Get the Facts

Setting the Record Straight About the Scaffold Safety Law

The lobbyists behind the campaign to weaken New York’s Scaffold Safety Law will say just about anything to attack this commonsense law that protects workers.  Here are the real facts:

  1. Safety. Failure to provide proper safety equipment for gravity-related hazards on worksites can cause severe injury or death. Falls from heights account for roughly 39% of all construction deaths (OSHA), yet OSHA has so few safety inspectors in New York that it would take about 150 years to inspect each workplace just once (AFL-CIO, Death on the Job, 2017). Opponents’ absurd claim that the law makes workers less safe comes from a debunked report that an anti-safety group reportedly paid a researcher $82,800 to produce and selectively edit before release. The researcher’s academic institute reportedly backed away from its section on safety. His contention, that workers purposefully risk death or severe injury for a claim, is undocumented nonsense. Compliance with the Scaffold Safety Law means that proper safety equipment is in place to prevent falls – and compliance promotes safety.

  1. Fairness. Multiple defenses to scaffold law claims are available. First, if a worker is directed not to do an act but does it anyway and thus is injured, that “recalcitrant worker” cannot successfully bring a claim. Second, if a contractor/owner obeys the law by providing the safety equipment as required, and the worker’s actions alone caused the accident, then that worker cannot successfully bring a claim as s/he is the “sole proximate cause” of the injury. Finally, even where the safety equipment is not provided as required, no scaffold law claim will exist if the lack of such equipment has nothing to do with causing an accident. The statute is fair: If contractors/owners follow the law and provide the safety devices as required, then workers must use them as instructed. If those steps are carried out, the safety aims of the law will be realized and all workers will go home to their families at the end of the day, injury-free.

  1. Jobs. Job-generating construction is booming in New York. Construction employment rose 48% in New York from 1995-2016, 21 percentage points higher than the national average (Bureau of Labor Statistics).

  1. Other States. New York is far from alone in legislating worker protections against gravity risks in construction. At least 12 other states have special statutes, using various approaches for enforcement. Three states even go so far as to impose criminal sanctions. Beyond gravity-related worker protection laws, New York common law is actually more narrowly focused than in many other states. In New York, many construction-related accident claims are not allowed to be brought in Court, while many other states hold owners/contractors accountable for harm caused at worksites across a broad spectrum of circumstances.

  1. Insurance. Opponents of the Scaffold Safety Law have argued for years that it drives up insurance costs, but without objective proof. Insurance carriers have resisted disclosing the data that would allow all interested parties to review the numbers, determine whether any problem exists and, if so, work toward a solution that continues to protect workers while reducing costs. The legislature can fix this problem by passing the Construction Insurance Transparency Act, a “sunshine” law that would disclose what factors really affect construction insurance rates. New York should not water down safety in the name of insurer profits. We don’t put profits over people.