Members of the press should direct all inquiries for the Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York to Robert Barletta of The Marino Organization.
Telephone: (212) 889-0808 Email: email@example.com
Be Our Guest: Keep New York's scaffold law
The scaffold law stipulates that if the owner or contractor of a construction site fails to provide adequate safety, workers can be financially compensated for on-the-job injuries
Wednesday, January 8, 2014, 5:48 PM
Alex Kaplan Photography
Gary La Barbera
Construction in New York City isn’t like anywhere else in the U.S. No other city in the nation has as many tall buildings, bridges and other structures with as many workers building and renovating them.
Although it’s statistically among the safest places to work, particularly given how much more complicated and dangerous construction in New York City can be, there are still too many accidents where workers are killed, disabled and injured because of failures to provide adequate safety for work at heights.
In New York, what’s known as the scaffold law makes it clear that protection from falls on work at heights is the responsibility of those controlling the projects. This law is intended to prevent accidents. But it also assures that if an owner or contractor fails in its responsibilities, workers can be financially compensated for what can be catastrophic injuries.
Businesses involved in construction suffer from a Stockholm syndrome of sorts where they believe insurers holding them hostage with absurdly high premiums are their allies. Instead of taking their fight to the insurers, these businesses have joined them in a campaign against the scaffold law which talks about everything but the fundamentals that drive insurance costs. What they do talk about is completely inaccurate.
Opponents of the scaffold law say it lets workers who cause their own injuries collect a windfall at the expense of business. Not true. The law and a decision from the highest court in New York make it clear that an injured worker only has a case if safety protections weren’t in place. They also make it clear that a worker who ignores safety protections and causes his or her own injuries has no case.
Opponents of the scaffold law go on to say it’s the only law of its kind in the country, putting New York at a competitive disadvantage. They specifically point to Illinois, which repealed a similar law in 1995, saying it has outpaced New York in construction activity since then.
An April 2013 article in the New York Law Journal, however, reveals that at least seven other states have similar laws. Some have even broader protections than New York. So the myth about New York being alone in having this kind of law is easily disproven.
As for Illinois, it has lost 35,000 construction jobs since it repealed its scaffold law while New York has gained 60,000. During the same time, New York has trounced Illinois in its rate of construction job growth each of the last 15 years and New York’s peak construction job growth rate was 18% higher.
The propaganda opposing the scaffold law is therefore blatantly wrong on the law and economic facts.
The bottom line is that if projects don’t have safety deficiencies on work at heights, those responsible for projects won’t have cases brought against them. The obvious answer is to improve safety and prevent accidents, but the campaign against the scaffold law isn’t saying anything about this, which speaks volumes about what's really going on.
Since the debate on this issue is supposed to be about costs, this is where the long overdue analysis ought to start. The shameful rhetoric that amounts to blaming victims of accidents for their injuries should stop. Insurers should have to open their books — something they’ve said for many years they’d do but haven’t. When this happens, we can have an honest review of the cost of insurance for building. What we have now is far from that.
Gary La Barbera is president of the 100,000 member Building and Construction Trades Council of Greater New York.