There is no doubt that construction can be a dangerous line of work. According to a 2016 report released by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 21 New York residents employed in the private construction industry died from on-the-job injuries that year. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), a federal organization that mandates safety initiatives and studies worker deaths on a national level, reported that 38 percent of construction worker fatalities in 2016 occurred due to a fall.
While these statistics can be disheartening, construction workers in New York have greater protection to sue property owners for injuries they sustained on the job than they do in many other states. This is true even for those who work as independent contractors. We encourage all construction workers to familiarize themselves with New York Labor Law Section 240, also known as the Scaffolding Law, as well as 200 and 241. As the state with one of the most robust construction industries in the country, the laws came about after a hard fight by labor rights activists.
The state of New York provides special protection to construction workers injured while involved in the demolition, alteration, repair, or preparation of commercial buildings. If a worker sustains an injury described in section 200, 240, or 241 of state law, speaking to an attorney familiar with construction laws in New York is a good first step. Here is an overview of each section of the New York state statute:
Also known as Common Law Negligence, this section of state law mandates that construction company owners and contractors exercise reasonable precautions to provide a safe working environment. Specifically, this means that all equipment, machinery, and other devices must be operated as well as placed and guarded in a safe manner to allow reasonable protection for construction workers. The law also provides protection for visitors to the job site and requires such things as adequate lighting and guardrails.
Nicknamed the Scaffolding Law, Section 240 protects the rights of workers injured in a fall or due to a falling object striking them. The work must take place on a structure, legally defined as a building but can also include boats, bridges, garages, subway tunnels, and water towers. Additionally, it only covers specific types of construction work. The construction firm must provide protective equipment and enforce the use of such equipment for everyone on the construction site.
This section refers specifically to demolition, excavation, and safety equipment. Like the previous section, 241 requires employers and contractors to provide reasonable and adequate safety precautions for construction workers. It goes beyond covering only those working from an elevated surface to cover workers injured in other types of activities such as demolition and excavation. It describes how the overseers of a site must arrange equipment to promote the maximum safety of workers and visitors.
While 200 and 241 provide a more general overview of safety laws, New York Labor Law 240 is quite specific in its rules and applications. Although it imposes absolute liability against the owner of the property and any of his or her agents, many courts use a strict interpretation of the law. This is because the Scaffolding Law creates an additional right of recovery for injured workers beyond what they would find in common law or workers’ compensation.
For example, one and two-family homeowners are not held to the same standard of absolute liability under this statute if that person didn’t direct the activities of the construction worker. However, the homeowner can be held liable for injuries if he or she assumes the role of the project director or supervisor. The law automatically applies to owners of apartment buildings, three-family homes, and any commercial building.
To meet the eligibility requirements of Labor Law 240, the injured construction worker must have been engaged in one of the following activities:
The person completing the work must be engaged in actual construction and not performing maintenance or any type of decorative work. This statute also excludes the performance of any type of manufacturing. Some examples of work that would not be covered under this section of the law include cleaning by a maid, an inspection of a construction job site, and salvage operations.
Some people misinterpret the requirement of worker elevation when determining whether their injuries qualify under this statute. The simple fact of elevation doesn’t prove a claim if the same type of injury could have occurred while the construction worker was on the ground. He or she must have fallen from an elevated surface or received an injury due to a falling item.
In the case of a falling item, the accident must have occurred due to an elevation device such as a scaffold or elevator not working as it should. The Scaffolding Law doesn’t cover pedestrians or motorists injured by a falling object nor does it pertain to careless acts by a co-worker that caused an injury.
Some injured workers feel hesitant to pursue an injury claim under the Scaffolding Law or the other two statutes because they fear they would then be ineligible for workers’ compensation. However, receiving one type of financial compensation has no bearing on the other type.
Injured workers who feel that the negligence of their employer or the property owner caused or contributed to their injuries have the right to pursue compensation under these sections of state law. If they pursue that right, it should not come as a surprise that the legal counsel for the other party will aggressively fight against it in court. It can be difficult to interpret due to the many exceptions and standards of the labor laws, which is why obtaining a construction accident lawyer is in the injured worker’s best interest.