As home to many of the world’s tallest skyscrapers, New York has had a remarkably low injury and mortality rate among construction workers during its history when compared to other cities in the United States. A big reason for this is New York’s Scaffold Law, created in 1885, which has saved countless lives during the past 120 years. An important excerpt from the Scaffold Law reads as follows:
“A person employing or directing another to perform labor of any kind in the erection, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes and other mechanical contrivances which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed or directed…” (1921 amendment)
What the Scaffold Law essentially does is require contractors and owners of construction sites to provide harnesses and other safety equipment to construction workers laboring at high elevations, and to enforce the use of this equipment among site workers. When falls from high elevations result in injury or death to a construction worker, and it is found that the contractor and/or owner failed to provide the necessary safety equipment, or did not enforce its use, then the contractor and/or owner is legally liable for the injuries or deaths caused in such falls.
Despite the obvious safety benefits that the Scaffold Law creates for New York’s construction sites, large construction companies and contractors have financed several attempts to overturn it over the years, usually arguing that the law is antiquated and has no place in the modern construction landscape. Today more than ever, contractors and construction companies believe the Scaffold Law should be removed, and that construction workers laboring hundreds of feet off the ground should do so at their own risk.
At RGLZ, we couldn’t disagree more. The Scaffold Law is as important today as it has ever been. Many of New York’s construction workers are day laborers and immigrants from Latin America or Asia, with little to no understanding of English, let alone the laws that protect them. Construction companies hire them because they work hard and do dangerous tasks, often for far less money than they deserve. Construction companies also know that they don’t question authority, and that taking away one of the few rights they have for their safety will meet little resistance from these hard working men and women.
It is up to concerned attorneys knowledgeable about the many hazards of construction work to help preserve the rights to safer working conditions for construction workers. RGLZ Personal Injury Law counts itself among these attorneys.