Scaffold Law or NY State Labor Law § 240/241
The “Scaffold Law,” or New York State Labor Law § 240, is a state law that mandates contractors to provide their employees with proper safety equipment while doing work at elevations above ground level.
The Scaffold Law was enacted in 1885 when structures were beginning to be built several stories higher than they had in the past with construction workers working at much higher elevations. At the time there were very few, if any, labor protections. There was no workers’ compensation, and the Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA) would not be passed for another 85 years.
As these job sites were dangerous environments, lawmakers decided the job site owners and the contractors overseeing the site were the parties best suited to make them safer. The Scaffold Law was passed in an effort to compel employers to give proper protection in all kinds of construction, repair, renovation and demolition projects.
In the case of Saint v. Syracuse Supply Co., the court held that the Scaffold Law “imposes on owners or general contractors and their agents a non-delegable duty, and absolute liability for injuries proximately caused by the failure to provide appropriate safety devices to workers who are subject to elevated-related risks.” Subsequent rulings have held that the Scaffold Law should be construed as liberally as possible to include the prevention of all gravity-related incidents, applying not only to workers falling but injuries involving falling objects as well.
The Scaffold Law can help workers who have been seriously injured receive adequate recovery for damages and medical costs
The Scaffold Law is unique in that it is the only absolute liability law in the country for gravity-related construction injuries. A defendant’s liability for damages is imposed regardless of whether or not the job was performed by an independent contractor or other entity over which it had no supervision or control.
Opponents of the law argue that it is responsible for increased construction and insurance costs. However, many proponents believe the law and its strictness is necessary to ensure a safe work environment. Also, the Scaffold Law can help workers who have been seriously injured receive an adequate recovery for damages and medical costs for which workers’ compensation would be inadequate or would not cover at all. While seemingly strict toward defendants, it is still the plaintiff’s duty to show that a violation of the law’s standards occurred and that the violation caused the injury in order to make a claim.