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New York's Scaffold Law Protects Minority Workers

The lawyers at Block O'Toole & Murphy frequently discuss the laws that protect New York's construction workers. As lawyers we appreciate the legal and practical significance to any watering down of New York's Scaffold Law, Labor Law Section 240 . New York is the construction capital of the world. Every day our workers are at risk in a way that is different than any other place in the world. The worker safety laws in New York require building owners, contractors and developers to provide essential safety equipment to protect workers that are laboring at heights. If they comply with the statute and provide a safe work environment, they have no concerns. If they fail to provide a safe place to work, and someone is hurt or killed they can be held responsible under the law. Sounds simple; sounds just. If your construction site is unsafe, you are responsible for workers who suffer devastating injuries or die because you failed to comply with the law. The premise is: the law places responsibility on those that have the ability to control the work at the site and make sure it is safe.

Every year though, insurance companies and those that profit from big business target the law - - misstating important facts to foster their case. But when the facts are flawed, the arguments that follow are illogical. A piece in the Amsterdam News by Barrie Smith, the President of 100 Black Construction Workers and a Business Agent with Laborers Union Local 79, does an effective job of debunking the myths that worker safety opponents are throwing out there.

Myth #1: The Scaffold Law adversely impacts minorities. Barrie correctly points to a study conducted by the Center for Popular Democracy about worker safety. More specifically, this study examined the percentage of minorities injured at construction sites. Their statistics revealed that 74% of fatal construction site falls were by Latino or immigrant workers. Also, 60% of construction workers that were injured at a construction site between 2003 - 2011 were Latino or immigrant workers. Nevertheless, worker safety opponents argue, somewhat dubiously, that watering down the law or even eliminating the protections for workers will somehow yield a positive impact for minority workers. Eliminating the worker safety protections will only make the most vulnerable workers, minorities, even more exposed to the perils associated with dangerous construction work. The numbers don't lie; the insurance companies, on the other hand, have an infamous history of misrepresenting facts to pad their bottom line.

Myth #2: The Scaffold Law is somehow impacting the access that communities have for pre-kindergarten education for our children. This baseless claim is being recklessly offered by opponents of worker safety laws despite clear claims by Mayor Bill DeBlasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo that pre-kindergarten construction has absolutely nothing to do with the issue. The lone hurdle for pre-k expansion is funding to operate the pre-k centers. The argument offered by anti-worker safety advocates is misleading, at best.

Myth #3 New York Worker Safety Laws are the only one of its kind. Barrie correctly points out that this simply isn't true. It ignores the black letter laws of far too many states to be an honest mistake. Again, this is about insurance companies making money and has nothing to do with the truth.

Barrie concludes by conceding that minority and women owned businesses, one of the driving forces behind the reform effort, are a very important part of the construction industry. However, making legislative advances for this vital business community should not include sacrificing the safety of construction workers, especially the minority workers that are most effected, by dismantling the scaffold law.

This article is a must read for construction workers, their family members and those that are interested in preserving worker safety in New York. Block O'Toole & Murphy has long supported construction workers and the laws that keep them safe. In fact, many of the firm attorneys sit on the Labor Law Committee of The New York State Trial Lawyer's Association. These committed lawyers have represented hundreds of union and non-union workers and are proud to consider them colleagues and friends. To learn more about their firm and the more than $700,000,000 in verdicts and settlements, you can review the firm website For a free consultation, you can reach them at 212.736.5300.


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