Building Trades

Scaffold Law at Stake

June 18, 2013
By Marc BussanichMake the Road NY outside construction site where a worker was injured in January

Queens, NY—Marc Proferes was badly injured on the job six years ago when the plank he was standing on gave way and a scaffold collapsed on him. The real estate and building industries have been pushing to repeal New York’s Scaffold Law because they claim it adds millions of dollars to construction costs, and they might get their way before the legislative session ends in Albany. Watch Video

Standing near the construction site at 45-11 Broadway in Astoria, Queens, where a construction worker was killed in January, Mr. Proferes said the injuries he sustained have been life changing.

“I was bed-ridden for six years. I’ve had two spine and one knee surgeries and I’m still in a lot of pain,” said Proferes.

New York’s Scaffold Law goes back to the late 19th century, and protects construction workers by requiring contractors to follow safety guidelines mandated by law and places the burden on them to prove a job site was safe should a worker be injured.

But the industry says that states throughout the country have repealed scaffold laws while the last-standing law in New York is onerous.

According to the website,, which is a product of the pro-business Lawsuit Reform Alliance, the general liability loss costs is over $700 per $1,000 of payroll for contractors working on bridge or elevated highway construction projects. 

Back in March, Sen. Patrick Gallivan (R-Erie) and Assemblyman Joe Morelle (D-Rochester) sponsored new legislation that would alter the law by shifting more burden onto construction workers to prove they didn’t err when they get hurt.

But Sen. Diane Savino noted in a recent letter to legislative leaders and Governor Andrew Cuomo that New York has to preserve the Scaffold Law in its current form because construction remains one of the most dangerous occupations in the country.

“In 2011, the Bureau of Labor Statistics recorded 721 construction deaths in the U.S. and thousands more serious injuries,” Savino wrote.

Hilary Klein with Make the Road New York, which organized the press event at 45-11 Broadway, said the industry is essentially trying to gut the law.

“They’re calling it amendment, but it’s the equivalent of repealing the law. The current law holds the contractor 100 percent liable for any damage in the scaffolding, but the amendment creates a standard of ‘comparative negligence,’ which means if a worker steps onto the scaffolding, he or she may be partially to blame for having participating in the accident,” said Klein.

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June 18, 2013

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