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Are New York construction safety laws at risk?

Last month, we told you about new legislation that, if passed, would create additional exceptions to New York's Scaffolding Law -- meaning many construction workers would have fewer legal options if they are injured on the jobsite while working at great heights.

Well, it turns out that this same bill -- otherwise known as Assembly Bill 1602 -- would, if passed, also change New York Labor Law section 241, which is the law that provides additional safety protections to construction workers on the ground. Similar to the proposed amendment to the Scaffolding Law, this possible change is not necessarily good news for injured construction workers.

What are lawmakers trying to change?

Generally speaking, New York Labor Law section 241 currently protects all construction workers. Indeed, while the Scaffolding Law protects those working at great heights, section 241 covers most other situations that can take place at ground level.

For instance, section 241 says that all general contractors and property owners must comply with the following provision when they are involved in construction, demolition or excavation:

All areas in which construction, excavation or demolition work is being performed shall be so constructed, shored, equipped, guarded, arranged, operated and conducted as to provide reasonable and adequate protection and safety to the persons employed therein or lawfully frequenting such places.

The provision above is merely one of many contained in section 241 -- essentially making it an all-encompassing safety law for construction workers.

One of the most important aspects of section 241 is that construction workers may be able to seek legal recourse and damages if they are injured because a contractor or property owner violates a provision of the law. In fact, according to New York case law, the purpose of this law is to "give [workers] in the hazardous employment of construction, demolition, and excavation added protection, other than [workers'] compensation."

It should be pointed out, however, that there are certain property owners that are exempt from this law, including owners of "one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work."

However, if Assembly Bill 1602 becomes law, there will be additional exceptions added to this law, including owners of farms and owners of multiple dwellings. As we noted in our previous blog regarding the proposed changes to the Scaffolding Law, owners of multiple properties are often sophisticated businesspersons, unlike many single dwelling owners. This raises the question of whether multi-property owners should be given additional protection at the expense of construction worker safety. We'll let you decide.

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