Scaffold Law Limitations

New York Labor Law §240(1), popularly known as the Scaffold Law, provides in part that “all contractors and owners and their agents…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.”  This law does not, however, provide for the unlimited protection of employees and liability of employers in all construction site incidents involved injury and some form of fall.

In Reyes v. Magnetic Const., Inc., 83 A.D.3d 512, 922 N.Y.S.2d 291 (1st Dept. 2011), for example, a bricklayer was injured at the construction site of a hotel when he tripped and fell from a staircase temporarily constructed such that the top tread was “wedged” under the concrete slab that formed the second floor of the hotel.  The plaintiff bricklayer was holding onto a piece of plywood at the top of the staircase to pull himself up onto the second floor, when his right foot caught the edge of the slab, causing him to fall forward onto the floor.  The court found the injuries sustained by the bricklayer not to be compensable under Labor Law § 240(1) because they did not occur as the result of an elevation-related or gravity-related risk. Rather, his fall was the result of a hazard “wholly unrelated to the risk which brought about the need for stairs in the first place” and was the result of “the usual and ordinary dangers of a construction site”.  The court further found that the simple fact that the bricklayer fell while at an elevated level does not render the injury a result of an elevation-related risk as the accident occurred at the same level of the plaintiff’s work site and therefore did not trigger the scaffold related law that would have required a safe scaffold to be put in place by the contractor.

In Nieves v. Five Boro Air Conditioning & Refrigeration Corp., 93 N.Y.2d 914,690 N.Y.S.2d 852 (1999), the court reiterated that the core objective of Scaffold Law in requiring protective devices for those working at heights is to allow them to complete their work safely and prevent them from falling, not for contractors to be held liable to workers injured as a result of a hazard wholly unrelated to the risk which brought about the need for the safety device in the first instance.  In that case, a construction worker sustained injuries while installing a sprinkler system at a construction site when he stepped from the bottom rung of a ladder and tripped over the writing of a concealed portable light on the floor.  Such circumstances were deemed to be usual and ordinary dangers of a construction site, rather than an elevation-related hazard, and thus the worker did not have standing to recover under Scaffold Law.

Therefore the Scaffold Law cannot be invoked anytime there is a fall of some kind by a construction worker at a construction site.  The injury must be the result of an elevation-related risk, such that requires proper and safe scaffolding to protect the worker.

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