Report questions effectiveness of New York scaffold law

February 28, 2014

Albany, NY – A New York state scaffolding law intended to improve worker safety may actually result in higher rates of injuries and deaths and cost society billions of dollars per year, suggests a new report from Cornell University and the State University of New York’s University at Albany.

Labor Law 240 – commonly known as the Scaffold Law – has been interpreted to impose absolute liability on employers for workplace injuries at heights. All similar laws in other states have been repealed, according to the report, which was funded by the nonprofit New York Civil Justice Institute.

Researchers compared New York’s fatal and nonfatal construction injury rates with those of Illinois, which repealed its scaffold law in 1995. Data showed that before its law was repealed, Illinois had a higher rate of injuries and fatal falls than New York. However, after the law was taken off the books, Illinois’ rates became lower than New York’s.

The researchers concluded that the New York law’s strict liability drives up construction costs and diverts millions of dollars of public money to lawsuits, legal costs and insurance. Combined with other costs, such as workers’ compensation payments and medical costs, the law is estimated to cost the state as much as $3 billion annually, the report states.