New York’s Labor Law 240 — also called the Scaffold Law — has created a lot of difficulty for many contractors across the state. The law holds property owners and contractors responsible for damages that arise from accidents related to high altitude. This responsibility even extends to situations where workers have blatantly ignored safety rules on job sites.
As a result of claims based on this law, insurance rates have skyrocketed and created serious expense for construction firms. This has made it more important than ever to strictly enforce safety guidelines on the job site.
The Scaffold Law
The idea behind the scaffold law is to protect construction workers who work at high elevations. It mandates the use of personal protective equipment (PPE) and shifts responsibility for the use of this equipment to the site owner. New York is the first state to make this employer liability absolute.
Applicability of the law depends on three factors:
- The injured worker must have been injured from falling, being struck by a falling object or other gravity-related dangers.
- The owner or general contractor must be listed as a liable entity under the labor law
- The owner must have violated this law and this violation is the direct or indirect cause of injuries sustained.
Because contractors and employers are assumed to have an “absolute duty” for providing a safe workplace, they are held completely liable for injuries under the law.
This law has rocked the liability markets in New York to their foundations. With insurers seriously reconsidering their ability to underwrite profitable businesses in New York City, premiums and attachment points have skyrocketed. Where deductibles may once have floated around $1 million, they now are running as high as $5 million in some cases.
In 2012, judgments were levied ranging from $11 million to almost $20 million in lawsuits related to the Scaffold Law. When the time comes to defend against one of these claims, there are several important steps to take. A few of these include:
- Create a claims-administrator position. This position will be responsible for informing the contractor or owner of potential claims. In addition, they will be responsible for thorough investigations of every incident including photographs and statements from witnesses.
- Secure all evidence that may be important to the investigation, from scaffolds to personal protective equipment offered on site.
- Consider engaging defense attorneys as soon as a potential incident occurs.
- Thoroughly review every incident and keep detailed records, regardless of whether a claim results.
Thorough Investigations and Safety Procedures
How you handle investigating incidents is crucial to protecting yourself against labor law claims. Every incident should be addressed immediately and with strong attention to detail. The sooner and more thorough you are in investigating these issues, the less likely you are to face liability issues under the Scaffold Law.
In addition, be sure that you maintain strong safety policies and procedures. Employees should be thoroughly trained and all policies followed to the letter.
Do you have any stories or concerns about the Scaffold Law? We would be interested to hear them. Leave a comment below!