New York State’s “Scaffold Law,” a unique statute passed over 100 years ago, is drawing increasing fire from critics who say it is partially responsible for the high cost of construction in New York.
What is the ‘Scaffold Law’?
The “Scaffold Law,” also known as Labor Law Sections 240 and 241, requires that building owners and general contractors provide workers with proper scaffolds, hoists, harnesses and other appropriate job-related safety equipment. And, if a construction worker is injured because the owner or general contractor failed to provide safety equipment, they can be held responsible.
It was enacted in 1885 to protect workers who were facing increasing dangers working on taller and taller projects. It was passed in response to widespread accounts of death and injuries in the construction trades.
Why is it Driving up Construction Costs?
The “Scaffold Law” has long been controversial, because of its second provision. It makes construction companies 100 percent liable for work site injuries, even if an employee is under the influence.
This “absolute liability” is a unique standard not found in the laws of any other state in the nation.
New York’s law gives an injured worker the opportunity to sue and imposes absolute liability on the property owner and the construction employer. One Court of Appeals judge said that it “imposes liability even on contractors and owners who had nothing to do with the plaintiff’s accident.”
Law may Make New York a Less Attractive Place to Build
As a result, the law can create an insurance burden that increases the cost of doing business in New York. Today, New York’s general liability insurance costs are the highest in the nation for construction.
3 Examples of How the Law Costs Contractors
- It has been estimated that this law alone could add up to $300 million to the cost of the $18 billion Gateway project, a tunnel underneath the Hudson River.
- The website Scaffold Law Reform says that the law adds as much as $10,000 to cost of the construction of a home.
- One study even found that the law costs private businesses that work on public projects nearly $1.5 billion a year.
With increasing competition in the construction industry, some fear that the “Scaffold Law” makes New York less attractive to builders and developers. To date, more than half the county legislatures in New York State have passed resolutions asking the state government to reform Labor Law Sections 240 and 241. Despite the changes in construction over the last century, the law remains on the books exactly as it was written in 1885.