N.Y. Group: Scaffold Law Will Consume Billions From Public Projects Spending

The Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York (LRANY) said New York’s “Scaffold Law” continues to drive up the cost of construction in the state and 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.

The Albany-based LRANY pointed out that New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in his State of the State address this month, 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 in New York. While the full $100 billion in projects has not been clarified, LRANY estimated specific costs on several of the governor’s initiatives, including:

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

Keeping Workers Safe

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 scaffold 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.