Niagara Gazette

Opinion

February 27, 2014

GLYNN: Lawmakers pushing to reform Scaffold Law

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.  

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