Niagara Gazette

February 27, 2014

GLYNN: Lawmakers pushing to reform Scaffold Law

By DON GLYNN
Niagara Gazette

Niagara Gazette — Known as the Scaffold Law, it’s drawing a lot of attention these days in Albany.

First enacted in 1885, it basically had mandated employers at building sites to assure the safety of laborers, especially those working above ground (e.g. high-rise hotel or an office complex.)

The issue has been brought into sharper dimension when state Sen. Patrick Gallivan, R-Elma, and Assemblyman Joseph Morelle, D-Irondequoit, sponsored a bill that calls for reforming the law. Earlier, Gallivan said lawmakers are seeking changes in the “absolute liability” clause that makes contractors and business owners solely responsible for any injury which happens on the job, even if it is the injured worker’s fault. Gallivan added that “comparative negligence” should be applied “when it occurs during the commission of a crime, when the worker is under the influence of drugs or alcohol, when the injured fails to use the safety devices that are provided or ignores to follow the instructions that the employer has given.

Gallivan cites these effects: “This absolute standard results in sky-high insurance premium for builders, it raises the cost of every single construction project in the state, small and large, public and private. It increases public project costs for taxpayers and exposes business owners and private contractors to frivolous law suits with no protection from egregious judgments.”

Supporters of the proposed legislation emphasize it would not prevent an injured worker from filing a lawsuit for injuries. And the injured worker would still be eligible to worker’s compensation. 

Brian Sampson, executive director of Unshackle Upstate, an advocacy group, notes that besides being simply unfair because injured workers are not held responsible for their own negligence, the law now adds significant expenses to every private and public construction project in the state. Since the present Scaffold Law is driving up insurance costs there are few insurers that want to get involved. And, it is noted, the more money in insurance costs, the less there is for new construction, as much as $1 billion statewide for this year, according to Sampson.  

Sampson contends that reform of the outdated law is long overdue.

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ON THE MOVE: A London, Ont.,-based promoter and motor coach tour operator who once played a key role in the success of A Festival of Lights in Niagara Falls, N.Y., is still searching for a venue.

Robert van Kleek, president of Pathway Tours, ended his business ties to Niagara Falls, N.Y., in 2000 when the light festival folded. For nearly 20 years, Van Kleek brought scores of chartered buses to the opening weekend at the former Convention and Civic Center (now the Seneca Niagara Casino). 

Subsequently, he looked to develop a similar link with the Ontario Power Generation Winter Festival of Lights at the Scotiabank Convention Centre that opened nearly three years ago in Niagara Falls, Ont. For various reasons, that plan to stage concerts there has not come to fruition so Van Kleek was forced to seek other potential sites. At present, he has plans to sponsor events in early December at the new Meridan Center in St. Catharines. The multipurpose facility, set to open by September, will have a capacity of 6,000 spectators for concerts and 4,500 for hockey games.

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HELPING HANDS DEPT.: Plans are under way for the “Walk for Niagara,” an event to raise awareness and funds for the Community Missions’ Crisis Services programs. Participants will assemble at 10:30 a.m. May 3 at Whirlpool State Park. Proceeds also will benefit the Community Soup Kitchen, Food Pantry and Emergency Housing Shelter. The Mission’s facilities last year provided more than 75,000 meals and more than 10,000 shelter nights to those in need. Support services and residential assistance also was made available to spme 1,000 individuals with mental illness.

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BACK ON SCHEDULE: The Local History Department at the Niagara Falls Public Library will restore its normal operating hours, starting in March.

Library Director Michelle Petrazzoulo said the department will be open again from 5 to 8 p.m. on Monday; 2 to 5 p.m. on Tuesday and Thursday. Due to recent budget cuts and the retirement of a staffer, the department had been open only on Tuesdays.

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TRIVIA QUIZ: Who was the first entertainer to perform at the Niagara Falls Convention and Civic Center when the building opened in 1974? (Answer Sunday)

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.

Contact Reporter Don Glynn at 282-2311, ext. 2246.