In New York State, special laws protect construction workers when an injury occurs from a fall or from being struck by a falling object.
In each case, the force of gravity injured a worker, and if proper safety equipment had been used, the injury would have been prevented. Working at heights on a construction site entails a significant risk of injury or death if a fall occurs. When scaffolding fails to do its job, it could be improperly set up, or it is not sufficient for the job. For example, scaffolding that lacks safety rails will not protect a worker from falling. Many years ago, in recognizing the dangers construction workers face, New York passed a statute, Labor Law 240, which has become known as New York’s Scaffold Law.
The Scaffold Law imposes almost absolute liability for gravity-related construction accidents. These are accidents in which a worker falls from a scaffold or ladder and accidents in which a worker is injured from falling objects. Construction materials weighing thousands of pounds are routinely hoisted at the job site exposing workers to significant danger when those materials fall.
In New York, pursuant to Section 240(1) of the New York State Labor Law, the owner and general contractor of a construction project are absolutely liable as a matter of law for the injuries sustained by a worker in a gravity related accident. The law places the responsibility for a safe workplace on the parties best able to provide a safe construction site – the owners and general contractors. Absolute liability means the owners and contractors cannot blame the injured worker for negligence when an accident occurs. This is significantly different from a typical negligence case.
The workers case under Labor Law 240 is separate and apart from the injured workers worker’s compensation case. Workers compensation is always available to pay an injured workers medical bills and a percentage of the workers lost income. The workers lawsuit under the Scaffold Law is in addition to the workers compensation claim. Only the workers employer that provides workers compensation insurance has a bar against a lawsuit, that bar does not extend to the owner and general contractor.
(1) All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, in the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure shall furnish or erect, or cause to be furnished or erected for the performance of such labor, scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices which shall be so constructed, placed and operated as to give proper protection to a person so employed.
There are many specific requirements about the structure and building of scaffolding. These regulations are found in the New York State Industrial Code and in the rules of the Occupational Safety and Hazards Administration (OSHA). The violation of a regulation can serve as proof that the scaffold in question did not provide proper protection and violated Labor Law 240.
Specifically, scaffold footing or anchorage for every scaffold must be capable of supporting the maximum load intended to be imposed by use without settling or deformation and must be secured against movement in any direction. 23-5.1(b) New York State Industrial Code.
The scaffolding must be constructed to bear four (4) times the weight of its intended use. 23-5.1(c) New York State Industrial Code. Every scaffold must have adequate horizontal and diagonal bracing to prevent any lateral movement. 23-5.1(2).
All lumber used in the construction of the scaffold must be stress grade, having a minimum unit stress “f” of 1500 psi. All lumber subject to stress shall be sound, straight grained, free from shakes, large, loose or dead knots, checks or any other defects which may impair strength and durability. 23-5.1(g) New York State Industrial Code.
Scaffolding planking shall not extend less than 6 inches beyond any support and not more than 18 inches beyond any end, unless securely fastened in place. The minimum width of every scaffold platform must be 18 inches.
Every scaffold must have adequate horizontal and diagonal bracing to prevent any lateral movement. 23-5.1(2).
The open sides of all scaffolds platforms must be provided with a safety railing (except platforms less than seven feet (note that mobile scaffolds regardless of height such as baker’s scaffolds must have railings).
Steel scaffolds are more durable than wood structures. Steel scaffolding must be erected and used in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations. Proper seating and locking of all scaffold connections are mandatory.
Firm footing must be provided for each upright; a metal plate is most satisfactory and may be provided with scaffolding. It is necessary to supplement this plate with planking or other support in loose material; minimum thickness of lumber recommended is two inches. Scaffold footings should be secured against movement by recessing, staking, or other means.
All uprights must be plumb. For a scaffold less than 75 feet high, a minimum outside diameter of 2 inches is recommended for tubing. For scaffolds above this height, the uprights should be in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
Toe boards are normally nailed to uprights when erecting a wood pole scaffold. Because tubular scaffold uprights are metal, toe- boards must be nailed to platform planks or fastened to uprights with bolts or other appropriate connections.
Guard rails must be secured to uprights by connectors designed for this use. Guard rails for tubular scaffolds should have tubing with a minimum outside diameter of 11/2 inches.
The most frequent misuse of tubular scaffolds is the failure to use toe boards and guard rails.
Tubular scaffold uprights are usually smaller in diameter than timber posts for the same size scaffold. It is important that: (1) uprights be erected and maintained in vertical (plumb) position, and (2) diagonal bracing be provided.
Exterior scaffolds should be tied or anchored to the building at a height of 3 times the narrowest width and every two sections thereafter as a minimum. As work progresses upward and platforms are removed, it is important that all ledgers be left in place to provide rigidity.
Workmen must not ride rolling scaffolds or attempt to move rolling scaffolds by pulling on overhead pipes or structures. All material and equipment should be removed from the scaffold platform or secured before moving the scaffold. Caster brakes or wheel locks should be applied at all times when a scaffold is not being moved.
All lumber used in constructing ramps, platforms, and scaffolding, should be of good quality, seasoned, and straight-grained, free of large loose or dead knots, knots in groups, checks, splits, and other defects which decrease the structural strength.
All nails should be driven home. No nail should be subjected to direct pull. A minimum of four nails per joint should be used. The size of the nail used depends upon the load that must be carried by the joint and the thickness of the material being jointed: one-inch stock requiring 8d nails, two-inch stock requiring 16d nails, etc.
Each scaffold should be designed for the loads which will be done in the performance of the work. All loads, including workmen, building materials, and the weight of the scaffold structure itself must be taken into account. Adequate footings, such as planks, should be provided for up rights, especially when they rest on earth, sand, or loose material. Cross-bracing to provide stability for the scaffold must be provided.
Permanent ladders or stairs should be provided. If a ladder is used, it should be secured against slipping and overturning.
Overhead protection must be provided for workers on the scaffold if work is being performed overhead. A roof of lumber, heavy canvas, or screen wire can be used.
Handrails and guardrails should be provided on all open sides of scaffold platforms. Toe boards should be installed on all open sides of scaffold platforms.
Pole scaffolds have been classified as “light trades” and “heavy trades”. The former includes carpenters, painters, and other trades which will not bring heavy material loads on the scaffold platform. The “heavy trades” include bricklayers, stonemasons, concrete workers, and steel workers.
Single pole scaffolds differ from independent scaffolds in that only one side is supported by uprights, one end of each ledger being carried by the building under construction itself.
Single pole scaffolds should be cross-braced in both directions, along the face of the building and at right angles to the building face at every third or fourth upright.
The following general rules are prescribed for maintaining all types of scaffolds in safe condition:
If you or a loved one is injured doing construction work contact an experienced lawyer in the field of construction accidents. At Asta Law, we have been fighting to obtain compensation for injured New York construction workers for over thirty years.
A construction site injury can be emotionally, financially, and physically devastating. Michael J. Asta, Esq. is one of New York’s leading accident attorneys with over 500 Million Dollars recovered for clients and over 30 years fighting for New Yorkers like you. You can be confident that the legal team at Asta Law is fully committed to winning the best possible results for our personal injury clients and their families. If you’ve been injured in a scaffolding accident, call Asta Law at (212) 244-6555 or complete the contact form here on our website so we can help you. The consultation is free, and we work on a contingency basis meaning there is no fee until we obtain compensation on your behalf, guaranteeing you’ll never come out of pocket.
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