Labor Law 240: Understanding New York’s Scaffold Law

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By JohnBarnes

If you’ve ever walked past a construction site in New York, you might have noticed the towering scaffolds and the workers maneuvering high above the ground. Ever wondered what protects these brave souls from the dangers they face daily? Enter Labor Law 240, often known as the Scaffold Law. This law is a crucial piece of legislation aimed at ensuring the safety and rights of construction workers in New York. Let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of Labor Law and unravel its significance, applications, and implications.

What is Labor Law 240?

Labor Law , a part of New York’s labor laws, is specifically designed to protect construction workers from height-related risks. This law mandates strict safety standards and holds employers and property owners liable for accidents involving falls from heights or objects falling from heights.

Key Provisions of Labor Law 240

  1. Safety Equipment: Employers must provide appropriate safety equipment, such as scaffolds, ladders, and hoists, to protect workers from falls.
  2. Liability: If a worker is injured due to the lack of proper safety measures, the employer or property owner is held liable.
  3. Non-Delegable Duty: The responsibility for ensuring safety cannot be transferred from the employer or property owner to another party.

Why Was Labor Law 240 Enacted?

In the late 19th century, as New York City’s skyline began to soar, so did the number of construction-related accidents. The Scaffold Law was introduced in 1885 to address the alarming rate of fatalities and injuries among construction workers. Its primary aim was to enforce strict safety regulations and make sure employers took responsibility for their workers’ well-being.

How Does Labor Law 240 Work?

Labor Law works on a principle of absolute liability, which means that in the event of a violation, the responsible parties cannot use certain defenses to avoid liability. Here’s a closer look at how this law operates:

Employer Responsibilities

Employers must:

  • Ensure all safety devices are in good condition and properly installed.
  • Regularly inspect scaffolds and other equipment.
  • Train workers on the proper use of safety equipment.

Employee Rights

Employees have the right to:

  • A safe working environment.
  • Receive appropriate safety training.
  • Report unsafe conditions without fear of retaliation.

Implications of Labor Law 240

While Labor Law 240 is designed to protect workers, it also has significant implications for employers and property owners. Let’s explore these impacts in detail.

For Workers

Labor Law 240 provides a robust safety net for workers. If an accident occurs due to inadequate safety measures, workers can seek compensation for their injuries without having to prove negligence.

For Employers and Property Owners

This law imposes a heavy burden on employers and property owners, making them strictly liable for any height-related accidents. This liability often translates into higher insurance premiums and potential financial losses due to lawsuits.

Controversies Surrounding Labor Law 240

Labor Law 240 is not without its critics. Over the years, it has sparked considerable debate among lawmakers, employers, and safety advocates. Here are some of the main points of contention:

High Costs

Critics argue that the absolute liability standard leads to exorbitant insurance costs, which can be particularly burdensome for small contractors and property owners.

Impact on Construction Projects

The fear of potential lawsuits and high insurance premiums can delay construction projects, ultimately affecting the economy.

Calls for Reform

There have been numerous calls to reform Labor Law 240 to introduce a comparative negligence standard, where liability is proportionate to the degree of fault. However, these proposals have faced stiff opposition from labor unions and worker advocates.

Labor Law 240 in Action: Case Studies

To truly understand the impact of Labor Law 240, let’s look at some real-world examples where the law played a pivotal role in ensuring justice and safety for workers.

Case Study 1: The Empire State Building Renovation

During the renovation of the iconic Empire State Building, a worker fell from a scaffold due to a faulty harness. Under Labor Law 240, the property owners were held liable, resulting in a significant settlement for the injured worker. This case underscored the importance of maintaining high safety standards.

Case Study 2: The Brooklyn Bridge Rehabilitation

In another instance, a construction worker on the Brooklyn Bridge rehabilitation project was struck by a falling object. Thanks to Labor Law 240, the worker received compensation for his injuries, highlighting the law’s role in protecting workers from unforeseen hazards.

FAQs about Labor Law 240

What types of construction activities does Labor Law 240 cover?

Labor Law 240 covers activities such as erecting, demolishing, repairing, altering, painting, and cleaning structures where the risk of falling or being struck by falling objects exists.

Who can be held liable under Labor Law 240?

Property owners, contractors, and employers can be held liable if they fail to provide proper safety measures and equipment.

Can an injured worker sue under Labor Law 240 if they were partially at fault?

Yes, under Labor Law 240, the absolute liability standard means that even if the worker was partially at fault, they can still seek compensation.

Is there any defense against liability under Labor Law 240?

The only viable defense is if the worker was the sole proximate cause of the accident, meaning the accident occurred solely due to the worker’s actions, and not due to any lack of safety measures.


Labor Law 240, or the Scaffold Law, remains a cornerstone of worker protection in New York. Its stringent safety requirements and the principle of absolute liability ensure that workers are safeguarded against the inherent dangers of construction work. Despite the controversies and debates surrounding it, the law’s fundamental purpose of protecting workers’ lives and well-being continues to resonate strongly.

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