Labor Law 241(6): How the Law Protects the Safety of Construction Workers

A guide to New York Labor Law 241(6)

New York State law doesn’t leave it up to contractors or property owners to provide safe working environments for their workers. The safety measures you see throughout the city are the results of New York’s Labor Laws, which require contractors to provide reasonably safe working conditions. But these conditions aren’t always met, leading to serious accidents that can endanger the lives of workers.

If you’re a construction worker who’s recently been injured in a workplace accident, you may or may not have heard of Labor Law 241(6). It is helpful as a construction worker, or a lawyer, to develop a familiarity with this important law. To help you better understand how this law protects you, this article will cover:

Understanding your rights under NY Labor Laws after an injury can be overwhelming, especially as you recover. But learning about this law can help ease the process as you seek justice and compensation.

What is Labor Law 241(6)? Labor Law 241(6) requires that employers provide “reasonable and adequate protection and safety” to all employees performing “construction, excavation, or demolition work.” This is a broad definition, but in basic terms, the law covers construction laborers working on any sort of alteration to a structure. It also ensures the contractor or site owner has safety measures in place and holds them accountable if anyone is injured due to safety violations.

New York Industrial Code Part 23 outlines these safety measures, and includes requirements such as:  

  • Minimum heights for guardrail
  • Protective covers for saws and other equipment
  • Blast safety zones when using explosives
  • Proper systems for hoisting materials

But Labor Law 241(6) doesn’t just cover safety precautions; it also imposes a non-delegable duty on site owners and general contractors to protect those working on their construction project. This legal doctrine holds owners and contractors accountable for any accidents that occur on their work sites, regardless of if they are directly responsible for the violation or not.

For example, a general contractor may hire a subcontractor to help with renovating an old office building. If this subcontractor leaves exposed wires out, causing an unsuspecting construction worker to trip over the wires and injure his or her wrist, the general contractor and the subcontractor can both be held responsible for the accident. It was the general contractor’s job to create a safe workplace, and under Labor Law 241(6), he or she is responsible for the violation even if he or she wasn’t aware of the subcontractor’s actions.   The subcontractor can also be held accountable for their own failures.

Labor Law 241(6) differs from Labor Laws 200 and 240, though many cases may involve violations from two or more of these laws. While 200 and 241(6) tend to focus more broadly on creating safe construction sites, 240, also occasionally referred to as the “Scaffold Law,” focuses specifically on fall-related accidents. It applies in instances where a worker falls from heights (from scaffolding, a ladder, or otherwise) or in instances where a worker is struck by a falling object.

The differences between 241(6) and 200 are a little less clear cut. They both require general contractors to provide reasonable safety measures, but 241(6) requires that your attorney proves a section of the NY Industrial Code was violated. Labor Law 200 cases do not necessitate an Industrial Code violation.

One case handled by BOM involved both Labor Law 241(6) and 240(1). Our client, a construction worker in Brooklyn, was removing a 10,000-pound steel beam from the worksite. While working, the column that supported the beam (which was 30 feet in the air) collapsed, and our client fell to the ground, the beam landing on him. He sustained severe injuries, including amputation and multiple fractures, and still suffers from ongoing pain.

In this scenario, our attorneys successfully argued that the general contractor violated both 240 and 241. Because this case involved a serious fall, 240 applies, and because the general contractor failed to provide the proper safety equipment for hoisting and securing the steel beams, 241(6) applies as well.

How can you tell if you have a case?

In extremely basic terms, there are four key questions to look at when figuring out if you have a case under Labor Law 241(6):

  1. Was the work you were performing a “covered activity”?
  2. Was there a violation of NY Industrial Code Part 23?
  3. Did this violation create an unsafe place to work?
  4. Was this violation the proximate cause of your injuries?

Covered Activities

Covered activities – types of construction work protected under Labor Law 241 – are dictated by Part 23 of the New York State Industrial Code. Though the body of the text only names construction, excavation, and demolition as covered activities, a recent case expanded the scope of Labor Law 241(6). The case, Nooney v. Queensborough Public Library, 212 AD3d 830, 832 [2d Dept 2023], established that 241(6) covers anything involving construction, erection, alteration, repair, maintenance, painting, or pointing of a building or structure.

It’s important to keep in mind that routine maintenance is not a type of work that is considered a covered activity under the law. Let’s say that a light in a commercial building goes out and you are called upon to fix it. While fixing the light, you fall off your ladder and sustain injuries.

  • If you were changing a burnt-out light bulb when you were injured, you likely would not have a case under Labor Law 241(6). Switching light bulbs would typically be considered routine maintenance, and thus would not be a covered activity.
  • If you were completely replacing the light fixture when you were injured, you may have a case. In this scenario, you were performing an alteration to the building, and alterations generally classify as covered activities.

Like many areas of law, nuance matters.  The specifics of every case need to be carefully considered in reaching a conclusion about whether specific work is considered a “covered activity.”

Though it’s relatively clear in most cases if you were engaging in a covered activity, some scenarios can be murkier. In one case handled by BOM, a mechanic was assigned to repair a loading dock ramp at an airport warehouse. The repairs – which included swapping out heavy-duty springs – required our client to climb under the loading dock ramp. While working, the forklift that had lifted the ramp slid backward, causing the ramp to fall onto our client’s back. His injuries were severe, but the defense argued that repairing these springs was routine maintenance, and thus, not a covered activity under NY Labor Laws. The lawyers at BOM successfully argued that not only was this a covered activity, but also that the property owner was negligent, as the forklift was found to be poorly maintained.

NY Industrial Code Part 23 and “Reasonably Safe” Workplaces

Because cases involving Labor Law 241(6) hinge on the existence of a New York Industrial Code violation, attorneys who deal with labor law must have a robust knowledge of the code.

Some examples of violations that our lawyers have encountered in the past include:

  • Exposed wires and other hazards causing a trip and fall
  • Power tools that lacked proper guards
  • Failure to provide aprons and rubber gloves when working with electricity
  • Failure to provide protective goggles or eyewear when working with machines

If a violation is found, it can then be argued that the employer did not create a safe place for employees to do their jobs. Under 241(6), site owners have an obligation to provide a safe working environment, so failure to do so can result in a lawsuit.

For instance, one case that settled during trial involved a laborer on a construction site who was using a crane to hoist pipes. The worker tragically suffered amputations of the tips of two fingers after the pipes caught and twisted our client’s hand. Our lawyers poured over the Industrial Code, searching for an applicable regulation, and were able to pinpoint a rarely cited aspect of the Industrial Code that dictated how to safely hoist pipes. Section 8.3(e) (3) of Industrial Code Part 23 dictates that pipes of a certain length and diameter require spreader bars to prevent accidents like our client’s from occurring. Even though the pipes met the length requirement, these safety protocols were not in place in this incident, resulting in our client’s injury. Ultimately, the case was settled during trial, just before closing arguments, for $1.85 million.

The New York Industrial Code was first established in 1913, as part of the creation of the Department of Labor’s Industrial Board. Though it does get updated, its age means that it may not have regulations or guidelines for modern technology and machinery, which can evolve rapidly. In cases like this, where there is no Industrial Code regulation to point to, but an incident still occurred, the case will likely become a claim under Labor Law 200.

Proximate Cause

Finally, any Labor Law 241(6) claim must show that the code violation caused the accident to occur. Actual cause (also called cause-in-fact) is straightforward. For instance, if you’re injured after being hit by a car while crossing the street, the driver’s failure to stop is the actual cause of your injury.

Proximate cause – a term used to describe the legal cause of an accident – works a bit differently and will likely be more relevant in Labor Law cases. Proximate cause states that a worker’s injury was a foreseeable result of the defendant’s action (or inaction).

For example, BOM handled a case in which a worker was given a circular saw that was missing its safety guard. Because of this defect, the worker sustained severe injuries to his wrist. Though the contractor did not literally cause the injury, the contractor providing a faulty piece of equipment was the proximate cause. An injury like our client’s was to be expected if given defective equipment, and the contractor failed to provide a safe working environment by giving him this machine.

Defenses in a Labor Law 241(6) case

When filing a claim in any case, it may be helpful to think about the defendants’ potential arguments. Two that arise often include the “integral to work” argument and the concept of comparative negligence.

Under NY Labor Law, an employer or site owner may be able to argue that because a piece of equipment is integral to the work being performed, he or she cannot be held liable for any injuries.

In a case argued by BOM, a worker was impaled by rebar on a construction site. The defendant argued that, because the rebar was integral to the work, it could not have been removed from the site to prevent an accident. Our lawyers successfully appealed to a judge that even if the rebar could not be removed, the contractor still had an obligation to make it safer by putting caps on the rebar.

Under 241(6), the defense may also argue that the worker bears some fault for the accident through a legal concept called “comparative negligence.” This is another one of the key ways 241(6) differs from NY Labor Laws 240(1). In Labor Law 240 cases, employers must contend with strict liability – they are legally responsible for an accident regardless of how a worker may have partially contributed to their own injury (provided there is evidence that the defendant bears some legal responsibility for the accident). Conversely, under Labor Law 241(6), workers may be held at least partially responsible for the accident, and the settlement or verdict amount will reflect that.

Cases Handled by Block O’Toole & Murphy Attorneys  

Thanks to their deep knowledge of NY Labor Laws, especially how to interpret and apply them, our attorneys have set new standards in these cases. For more information on BOM’s experience with Labor Law 241(6), review some of our other previous cases:

  • $11.5 million settlement for a construction worker who suffered severe injuries after a defective circular saw kicked back and struck his wrist. The saw, which was missing its safety guard, was in violation of the Industrial Code.
  • $5.5 million settlement for a construction worker who was hit by a rotating excavator and pinned against a sheet of steel. Our client suffered several fractures that required surgery and developed Chronic Regional Pain Syndrome (CRPS) as a result. The foreman at the site should have ensured the swing radius was clear before running the machine.
  • $5 million settlement for a laborer conducting excavation work who struck an unmarked electrical box while using a jackhammer, resulting in an electric shock that caused severe electrical burns and disc herniations in his spine. Under the Industrial Code, the electric box should have been marked and shut off prior to construction. Our client also should have been given protective equipment, like rubber gloves and an apron, so this case showed several clear violations of the law.
  • $4.75 million settlement for a foreman struck by debris at a demolition site. The Defendant had failed to delineate safe zones for the blast, resulting in our client suffering severe injuries to his spine and shoulders. The Industrial Code requires that safety zones be clearly marked whenever demolition work is occurring.

If you’re struggling with a construction-related injury and need legal counsel, contact Block O’Toole & Murphy by calling 212-736-5300 or by filling out an online form.

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