If you’re familiar with the construction industry in New York, you probably have a strong opinion about the state’s scaffold law. More formally known as New York’s Labor Law 240, the scaffold law holds contractors, property owners and developers 100 percent liable for gravity-related accidents and injuries. This absolute liability holds even when the injured workers was primarily responsible for the accident.

Although the law is designed to protect the safety and rights of injured workers, some argue that it does more harm than good. In fact, a 2013 study from the Nelson A. Rockefeller Institute of Government found that the law leads to high costs – all while making construction sites less safe.   

New Legislative Developments

Given the high costs and debated effectiveness of the scaffold law, there’s a been a push to change the law. Congressman John Faso is in the forefront of the effort.

In 2017, Faso introduced H.R. 3808, the Infrastructure Expansion Act of 2017. The legislation would make it so that projects using federal dollars would not be subject to the absolute liability rules of the scaffold law. Because New York is the only state with a scaffold law of this kind, this would put New York on more equal footing with other states.

In February 2018, a House committee approved the bill, moving it one step closer to becoming law.

According to Faso, “With infrastructure legislation on the agenda, now is the time to fix this antiquated rule which unnecessarily increases costs and doesn’t contribute to workplace safety in our state. This legislation means that every dollar of federal funding goes to build roads, bridges, and other needed projects and is not wasted on unnecessary liability insurance premiums. We need to stop wasting taxpayer dollars and join the 49 other states utilizing a comparative negligence standard. This will lower costs in New York State and allow us to build more projects by making federal dollars go further.”

Support for Reform

On May 15, individuals gathered in Albany to advocate for reform of the scaffold law. According to Habitat, approximately 75 organizations were represented, including Habitat for Humanity and the Association for Affordable Housing. You can see the list of organizations that have joined the Scaffold Law Reform Coalition here.

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