New York’s Scaffold Law Under Scrutiny

February 8, 2016

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) said New York’s Labor Law 240, better known as the Scaffold Law, continues to drive up the cost of construction in the state. LRANY warned that the law would consume billions of dollars from the newly proposed infrastructure projects spending.

New York’s Scaffold Law, first adopted in 1885, makes property owners and contractors liable for most “gravity-related” injuries to workers on construction sites.

Supported by labor unions and trial lawyers, the law is the only one of its kind in the nation. It requires another layer of general liability insurance for contractors.

The Albany-based LRANY pointed out that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address in January, proposed an ambitious $100 billion, multi-year plan to rebuild and modernize the state’s roads, bridges, broadband networks, public buildings, and other critical infrastructure.

LRANY argued that the existing Scaffold Law would consume at least $5 billion of the infrastructure spending proposed by the Cuomo administration.

“It’s a staggering figure,” said Tom Stebbins, executive director of LRANY. “Statewide, the financial burden of the Scaffold Law is greater than the entire cost of the Tappan Zee bridge project.”

The group said it used actuarial, public, and academic data to create the cost estimate, including data from the Port Authority and Metropolitan Transit Authority.

After reviewing these sources, LRANY said it found that the Scaffold Law adds at least 5-7 percent to the cost of public projects. While the full $100 billion in projects has not been clarified, LRANY estimated specific costs on several of the governor’s initiatives, including: $1.1-1.54 billion in additional costs to upstate transportation; $150-210 million in additional costs to Penn Station upgrades; $10-14 million in additional costs to upstate airport reconstruction; $50-70 million in additional costs to the Javits Center project; $50-70 million in additional costs to the Long Island Rail Road project; and $415-580 million in additional costs to the MTA Capital Plan.

“No other state is burdened with these costs,” said Stebbins. “How can the governor expect New York to compete?”

However, New York Committee for Occupational Safety & Health (NYCOSH), a labor advocacy group in New York City, said the current law is needed to keep New York construction workers safe.

“We know there has been a lot of pushback against the law from various business interest groups,” said Charlene Obernauer, executive director at NYCOSH. “What’s important is, how can we make sure that workers are protected on the job? This scaffold safety law is a critical way of keeping workers safe in New York State.”

Obernauer said the law will remain on the books because it’s a common-sense construction safety law that keeps workers safe. In addition, both sides of the aisle in Albany continue to support the law, she said.

“From our perspective, we really need to be concerned about how to increase workers’ safety, and not try to cut back on important regulations that have been keeping workers safe,” she said.

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