New York Scaffolding Accident Lawyer

NEW YORK SCAFFOLDING ACCIDENTS

Scaffolding Accident Lawyer NYC

construction accident attorney

Workers working at heights face a significant risk of injury or death as a result of a fall from a scaffold.  Far too often the scaffolding fails to provide proper protection as it is not adequate to the height related task at hand; often not set up or operated as it should be.  The risk of falling from scaffolding is too great to allow for any departure from safe practices.

Due to a large amount of high rise construction historically found in New York City, the New York legislature provided significant statutory protection to workers working on elevated heights such as scaffolding.  New York State’s Scaffold Law was passed in 1885 before there were any protections afforded by workers’ compensation laws.  New York remains the only state that imposes an almost absolute liability standard for gravity-related construction accidents.

In New York, pursuant to Section 240(1) of the New York State Labor Law, to the extent that the scaffolding fails to provide proper protection, the owner of a qualified property and general contractor of the construction project are liable as a matter of law for the injuries sustained by the worker that fell therefrom.  This is called a third-party case, which is a claim in addition to a claim for workers’ compensation benefits.  In the event of a worker falling from a scaffold due to a failure to provide proper protection, the defendant owner and general contractor cannot claim worker comparative fault as an offset to their liability as is the case in most negligence cases.

Liability for a worker sustaining injury in New York as a result of a fall from a scaffold is essentially strict liability and can only be overcome by proving that the scaffold did not fail to provide proper protection and the worker was the sole cause of the accident.

 

Scaffolding Accident Laws

STATUTORY PROTECTION – Section 240 New York State Labor Law

(1) All contractors and owners and their agents, except owners of one and two-family dwellings who contract for but do not direct or control the work, 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.

(2) No liability pursuant to this subdivision for the failure to provide protection to a person so employed shall be imposed on professional engineers as provided for in article one hundred forty-five of the education law, architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-seven of such law or landscape architects as provided for in article one hundred forty-eight of such law who do not direct or control the work for activities other than planning and design.  This exception shall not diminish or extinguish any liability of professional engineers or architects or landscape architects arising under the common law or any other provision of law.

(3) Scaffolding or staging more than twenty feet from the ground or floor, swung or suspended from an overhead support or erected with stationary supports, except scaffolding wholly within the interior of a building and covering the entire floor space of any room therein, shall have a safety rail of suitable material properly attached, bolted, braced or otherwise secured, rising at least thirty-four inches above the floor or main portions of such scaffolding or staging and extending along the entire length of the outside and the ends thereof, with only such openings as may be necessary for the delivery of materials.  Such scaffolding or staging shall be so fastened as to prevent it from swaying from the building or structure.

(4) All scaffolding shall be so constructed as to bear four times the maximum weight required to be dependent therefrom or placed thereon when in use.

INDUSTRIAL CODE VIOLATIONS:

Aside from the specific requirements pertaining to scaffolding provided for by OSHA , the New York State Department of Labor in the Industrial Code, sets forth specific requirements for the assembly and erection of scaffolding.  If there is a violation of any of these provisions that are specific in requirement, this standing alone can serve as a basis for establishing a failure to provide proper protection pursuant to Section 240(1) or Section 241(6) of the New York State Labor Law. 

The Industrial Code has many requirements for the proper erection and assembly of scaffolding in New York.  

Scaffolding Footing:

Specifically, scaffold footing or anchorage for every scaffold must be capable of supporting the maximum load intended to be imposed by use without settling or deformation and must be secured against movement in any direction.  23-5.1(b) New York State Industrial Code.

Scaffolding Planking:

The scaffolding must be constructed to bear four (4) times the weight of its intended use.  23-5.1(c) New York State Industrial Code.  Every scaffold must have adequate horizontal and diagonal bracing to prevent any lateral movement.  23-5.1(2).

All lumber used in the construction of the scaffold must be stress grade, having a minimum unit stress “f” of 1500 psi.  All lumber subject to stress shall be sound, straight grained, free from shakes, large,. Loose or dead knots, checks or any other defects which may impair strength and durability.  23-5.1(g) New York State Industrial Code.

Scaffolding planking shall not extend less than 6 inches beyond any support and not more than  18 inches beyond any end, unless securely fastened in place.  The minimum width of every scaffold platform must be 18 inches.  

Scaffolding Bracing:

Every scaffold must have adequate horizontal and diagonal bracing to prevent any lateral movement.  23-5.1(2).

Safety Railings:

The open sides of all scaffolds platforms must be provided with a safety railing (except platforms less than seven feet (note that mobile scaffolds regardless of height such as baker’s scaffolds must have railings).

METAL SCAFFOLDSSpecial Approval:

Any metal scaffold exceeding 125 feet above ground must not be placed into service until such scaffold has been granted special approval.

Strength of Metal Scaffold:

The live and dead load shall not exceed one-quarter of the actual tested scaffolding strength.

Metal scaffolding for particular types of work require the the capacity to support uniformly distributed live loads of the following:  Stone masons – 75 pounds per square foot; Stone setters (no stone on scaffold) – 25 pounds per square foot; Bricklayers – 50 pounds per square foot; Carpenters – 25 pounds per square foot; Miscellaneous (no material on scaffold) 25 pounds per square foot.

Safety Railings:

Safety railings must be provided for every metal scaffold.   

Access:

Ladders, stairs or ramps must be provided to the platform levels of the metal scaffold if more than 2 feet above or below grade.

Footings:

The foots of metal scaffolds must be able to support without settlement or deformation the maximum design loads of the scaffold.

Metal base plates not less than 16 inches square shall be provided for the tubular ends of posts.

Where the ground or grade is not level, screw jacks or adjustment jacks shall be used to level the platform bearers.

Tie Ins:

Every metal scaffold must be securely tied into the building or structure at intervals not to excess of 30 feet horizontally and 26 feet vertically.

Tubular Welded Frame Scaffolds:

Tubular welded frame scaffolds must be properly braced by cross bracing or diagonal bracing and diagonal horizontal bracing must be provided at every level where building or structure tie-ins are required.

Attachements:

Each frame leg shall have a positive lock or fastener to hold one frame member to the other vertically.

Spacing of Frame Members:

For tubular metal scaffolds, the maximum frame spacing for heavy duty scaffolds are six feet, for medium duty scaffolds are eight feet and light duty scaffolds are 10 feet.

Safety Railing Posts:

Every safety railing post on a tubular welded frame scaffold must fit over a coupling pin or sprocket connected to the outer end of an end frame leg, or shall fit in the frame leg no less than 4 inches.  The post must be securely fastened to the end frame by a positive locking device.

Structural Members:

The structural members of tube and coupler scaffolds must be made of steel tubing.

Couplers:

All vertical, horizontal and diagonal members of tube and coupler metal scaffolds must be securely fastened with approved safe locking devices to form positive connections.  The use of grey cast iron fittings in scaffolds are prohibited.

Bracing:

Cross bracing must be in place across the width at every third set of posts horizontally and every fourth runner vertically.

An Outrigger Scaffold is a scaffold with its platform resting on outrigger beams (thrustouts) projecting beyond the wall or face of a building or structure.  The inboard ends are secured inside the building or structure.  

Outrigger Beams:

Outrigger beams must not extend more than 6 feet out beyond the face of the building or structure.

Inboard Ends (Support):

The inboard ends measured from the fulcrum must be one and one-half times the outboard length.

Planking:

The planking of every outrigger scaffold shall be laid tight and must extend to within 3 inches of the wall of the building or structure.  The planking must be nailed or bolted to the outriggers.

Superstructures:

All supports for superstructures installed on outrigger scaffolds must be placed directly over the outrigger beams and secured in place.  The superstructure cannot exceed six feet in height above the outrigger beams.

Two point adjustable suspension scaffolds (also known as swing stage scaffolds) are the most common of the suspended scaffolding category.  Typically used by window washers and serve use in high rise construction.

Secure anchorage is the first concern in safe deployment.  Tiebacks must be secured to structurally sound anchors on the building or structure (not secured to vents, electrical conduits, or standpipes.  The tiebacks must be perpendicular to the face of the building or structure and they must be the same strength to the suspension and hoisting ropes.  

Outrigger beams must be stabilized by counter-weights or bolts or other direct connections to the floor or decks.  Specifically designed counterweight must be used.  

The scaffold and scaffold components must be capable of supporting without failure, their own weight and at least 4 times their maximum intended load.  Suspension ropes and connecting hardware must be capable of supporting 6 times of the intended load.  

Inspection before Installation:

All load warring parts and means of suspension must be inspected before the suspended scaffold is installed.

Suspension from roof hooks or irons:  No parapet, curtain wall or similar portion of a building or structure can be used to support the roof hooks or irons of any suspended scaffold.  

Supervision:

A designated supervisor must be assigned for the purposes of installation or any change in horizontal position.  

Hoisting Machines:

Any manual or power operated hosting machine used for suspended scaffolds must be approved (this does not include block and tackle).  At least four turns of the suspension wire rope shall at all times remain on the drum and the end of the wire rope must be properly secured to the drum.

Fibre Rope:

Any fibre rope used with a suspended scaffold must be first grade manila hemp or its equivalent in strength and blocks must be of a size to fit the ropes.  Fibre rope shall not be used near any work involving corrosive substances or chemicals.  Fibre rope cannot be used in lengths exceeding 100 feet between blocks and shall not be used on the hoisting drum.

Tie-ins:

Every suspended scaffold must be tied into the building at every working level.  Window cleaner anchors shall not be used for tie-ins.

Scaffold Platforms:

Planking of every suspended scaffold must overlap its support and must be secured against displacement.  If placed directly upon stirrups without supporting frames – they must be secured together by cleats nailed to the underside.

Two point suspended scaffold platforms must be at least 20 inches wide and no more than 32 inches wide.  The platforms must rest upon hangers fabricated of steel or wrought iron, and must be designed for support for guard rails, intermediate rails and toe boards.

Roof Irons:

Roof Irons or Hooks must be constructed of steel or wrought iron and securely anchored.  Tie backs must be in place with the tension at right angles to the face of the building or structure.

Safety Railings and Screenings:

The open points of two point suspension scaffold must have safety railings in place, with wire mesh in place from toe boards to the top of the railings.

Use of Two Point Suspension Scaffolds:

Two or more suspension scaffolds cannot be combined by bridging into one.  Persons are prohibited from passing from one to another, and no more than two people are permitted to work on a two point suspension scaffold unless specially approved.

Safety Belt – Harness:

Workers on two point suspension scaffolds must have a harness and approved safety belt with separate hanging life line.

Limitations of Use:

Ladder jack Scaffold can only be used as light duty purposes.  The platform cannot be more than 20 feet off the ground.  No more than two persons may occupy a ladder jack scaffold at the same time.

Slipping Prevention:

The ladders must be placed, fastened or held to prevent slipping.  

Planks:

Platform planks must be no less than two inches thick if in wood.  Metal planks must be approved.  Planks must extend beyond support not less than 6 inches and not more than 18 inches.  Spans between supports must not be more than eight feet.  

Manually propelled mobile scaffolds are commonly referred to as Baker’s Scaffolds.  They are metal scaffolds on wheels with locking casters, usually used in plastering and painting trades when movement from one location to another is frequently required.  

Platform Planking:

Baker’s Scaffolds planking must be tightly planked for the full width of the scaffold.  Planks must be no less than 2 inches thick, if exterior grade plywood the planking must be at least 3/4’s inch thick.

Safety Railings Required:

The industrial code specifically requires safety railings to be in place.  This is a common form of accident when a worker falls from a Baker’s Scaffold with no safety railings in place, as often from the factory safety rails are not specifically provided.  

Platform Access:

A ladder or stairway must be provided for access to a baker’s scaffold, which can be affixed or built into the scaffold.  Access must not cause tipping.  

Mobile Scaffold Height:

Height cannot exceed four times the minimum base dimension.  

Casters:

Casters must be designed for strength and dimensions to support four times the maximum load indented to be imposed.  All casters must have positive locking devices to hold the scaffold in place.

Bracing:

Manually propelled mobile scaffolds must be properly braced by cross bracing and diagonal bracing to secure vertical members together.  The cross bracing and diagonal bracing must be of the proper lengths to automatically square and align the vertical members in a plumb position.  All bracing connections must be secure.

Moving Scaffolding:

Mobile scaffold must be prevented from tipping or falling during movement.  Movement can be made only on level floors free from obstructions or openings.  No person shall be suffered or permitted to ride on the mobile scaffold while it is is being moved.

Strength:

Every boatswain chair and support must be capable of sustaining four times the maximum weight intended to be placed upon.

Chair – Seat:

The chair or seat must be suspended from its four corners by rope slings.  The chair must be at least 24 inches in length and 10 inches in width.  The chair or seat must be at least 2 inches and if hardwood at least 1 1/8th thickness.  The chair must be reinforced across its full width by cleats securely fastened to the underside of each end.

Suspension Tackle:

The rope must be first grade manila at least 5/8ths inch in diameter or a synthetic fibre with a breaking strength of 5,000 pounds and at least 1/2 inch in diameter.  Rope must be reeved through proper sized ball bearings or bushed blocks.  Only safety hooks shall be used.  Ropes shall be protected against chafing.  

Seat Guard or Safety Belt:

Every boatswain’s chair must be provided with a rope or strap guard across both the front and rear located 18 inches above the seat or an approved safety belt with separate hanging lifeline securely attached to a fixed support must be provided.

Powered Boatswain Chairs:

Must be approved.

Harnesses:

Harnesses designed to suspend a person in a sitting position must be approved.

CASES OF INTEREST:

The statutory protections afforded by Section 240(1) of the New York Sate Labor Law often result in Summary Judgment motions.  This is largely on account of the fact that there is no viable comparative fault claim against the injured worker under the statute.  As a result, there is a large body of case law set forth by the higher courts in the various departments in New York (which are sometimes not in agreement) and of course a body of case law from the highest court in the State – the Court of Appeals.  The case law further defines the scope and protections afforded to injured workers under the statute.  Below are just a few of the cases of interest in the category of scaffold related accidents in New York Sate.

Bianca-Neto v. Boston Rd. II Hous. Dev. Fund Corp., 2020 NY Slip Op 01116 (Court of Appeals) 

Appellate Division reverses lower court’s dismissal of a case based upon section 240(1), where the injured worker was on a scaffold platform and climbed behind another worker onto a scaffold beam, unhooked his harness to climb into a window opening.  The defendant claimed that there was a standing instruction not to enter the buildings though window openings and other methods of entry were available.  Held by Appellate Division to be a question of fact as to workers’ understanding of standing instruction.

Saavedra v. 111 John Realty Corp., et al., 2020 NY Slip Op 00082 (First Department)

Worker entitled to summary judgment as to liability when it was undisputed that he fell when the scaffold he was working on collapsed.  Defendant’s argument that the worker was warned not to use other trades scaffolding was merely an instruction to avoid an unsafe practice and this is not a sufficient substitute to the requirement to provide the worker with a safety device that allows him to complete his work safely.

Ferguson v. Durst Pyramid, LLC, et al., 2019 NY Slip Op 09388 (First Department)

Plaintiff who fell from an inverted bucket used as a means to access an elevated work platform entitled to summary judgment pursuant to Section 240(1) of the Labor Law.  Held that the bucket was an inadequate safety device that failed to provide proper protection.  There was a further finding that there were no available stairways or ramps to access the platform.

Gonzalez v. Romero, 2019 NY Slip Op 09149 (4th Department)

Singly family residence owner hired the plaintiff to stain the exterior of a barn to be used as a wedding and event center.  Plaintiff used a ladder to access the scaffold, the scaffold collapsed establishing a prima facie violation of Section 240.  The lower court dismissed the case, and the 4th Department Appellate Division reversed, holding that even though a single family, and even though the barn was used for personal storage, when there are mixed uses of a property, if the work is related to the future commercial use, the single family exception does not provide a defense.  The defendants held liable as a matter of law.

Sanchez v. Bet Eli Co. Del. LLC, 2019 NY Slip Op 08275 (First Department)

Appellate Division upholds lower court’s granting of plaintiff’s motion for summary judgment, where plaintiff fell from a scaffold where there was no dispute that the scaffold supplied lack safety railings, and where the plaintiff was not provided with any other safety device.  Furthermore, plaintiff was not required to show that the scaffold was defective in order to prevail.

Castro v. Malia Realty, LLC, 177 A.D.3d 58 (2019) (Second Department)

Plaintiff alleged that he fell 6 to 7 feet after a scaffold he was on collapsed.  The case was pending in Queens County and the trial court rejected plaintiff’s request for a unified trial, and rather had the trial in a bifurcated manner (liability first and then if successful damages).  The defendant claimed that the plaintiff did not fall from a scaffold, but rather hurt himself lifting boards.  The plaintiff lost at trial, and appealed.  The Appellate Division Second Department reversed and remanded the case for a new trial to be held in a unified manner as to liability and damages, as the plaintiff sought to introduce medical evidence supporting his claim that his injuries were consistent with his manner of accident (falling from a scaffold) as opposed to defendant’s contentions.

Roblero v. Bais Ruchel High School, Inc., 175 A.D.3d 1446 (2019) (Second Department)

Plaintiff fell from a scaffold while performing plumbing work on a building owned by the defendant.  The plaintiff was not wearing a harness or lanyard.  The defendant’s attempt to establish the plaintiff was the sole proximate cause of his accident was rejected.

Wolf v. Ledcor Construction Inc., 175 A.D.3d 927 (2019) (Fourth Department)

Plaintiff prevailed as a matter of law on his Section 240(1) violation, when the Baker’s Scaffold he was standing on wheel fell into a floor drain that was covered, which caused the scaffold to tip over.  Held that it was not “so placed” to provide proper protection.  

Carpentieri v. 309 Fifth Ave., LLC, 2020 Slip Op 01269 (2020) (First Department)

Painter who fell from scaffold four feet off the ground when top plank flipped upwards while applying tape to a light fixture in preparation to a painting project entitled to judgement as a matter of law on Section 240(1) claim.  Defendant’s testimony that observations of another type of scaffold that was not defective some time after the accident does not create a question of fact to defeat plaintiff’s claim.

Vohra v. Mount Sinai Hosp., 2020 NY Slip Of 01024 (2020) (First Department)

Summary Judgment motion granting plaintiff liability when injured while dismantling a scaffold affirmed.