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Will New York’s Labor Law 240 Soon Pull a 180?

Skyscraper Under Construction, Upper West Side, Manhattan, NycContractors and construction workers all know New York’s Scaffold Law, officially known as Labor Law 240: irrespective of workplace safety training and equipment, any workers injured by elevation-related injuries in construction, repair, or demolition work cannot be held liable for their own injuries even if they were personally negligent, such as failing to use available safety equipment. Since payout on a workplace injury is thus virtually assured, a major problem of the 100+ year-old law is the extremely high cost of liability insurance premiums that building groups have to pay. This insurance liability cost was long ago replaced by workers’ compensation insurance systems in other states, with only New York retaining such an outdated policy. One consequence has been to make New York’s construction industry less competitive.

The law frustrates employers and dissuades investors, turning potential projects into bureaucratic nightmares in the process. “I refer to the NY labor law 240 all the time in my expert witness cases. It really strains companies and makes xxx lawyers I consult with a lot of money. I would think twice about running a construction company in New York because of their labor laws,” says William Mizel,CSP, President of CSR, L.P.

A recent study, shed new light on the impact of the Scaffold Law. Research showed that New York has, on average, 677 workplace accidents more per year attributable to this law. These 677 additional incidents cost the public $785 million dollars in lawsuits, legal fees and insurance costs, money which industry experts argue could be used instead to pay for 12,000 new jobs or be used to fund New York schools and other vital services. These findings have led the researchers to one conclusion on Labor Law 240: reform is needed for New York’s Scaffold Law.

Whether the law is reformed or not, employers would be wise to reemphasize occupational health and safety training for all workers, such as OSHA 10 construction safety training and OSHA 30 construction safety training courses, that cover scaffolding, ladder safety and other OSHA standards, including those related to working in a highrise work environment.

In work environments with a strong culture of employee safety training, employers and employees share the knowledge necessary to recognize, report and remediate workplace safety hazards before accidents occur so that worker health and safety are enhanced, and laws such as New York’s archaic Scaffold Law become unnecessary.