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Ladder accidents in New York and Labor Law Section 240

by Brandon Cotter

One of the four leading causes of death in the construction industry was due to worker falls from heights. In an effort to protect construction workers from the demands of Owners and Contractors, such as aggressive work schedules and implementing cost saving measures on worker safety for the benefit of increased profitability, the New York State Legislature has enacted laws that charge Owners and Contractors with complete responsibility for height related accidents should they occur.

Specifically, New York State Labor Law section 240(1) provides 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 … 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.”

Assuming that a Contractor cannot engineer out the height related risk to protect its workforce prior to the start of the work, the Owner and Contractor has an absolute responsibility to ensure that all construction workers are provided with proper and adequate fall protection and equipment required for the workers to safely perform all required job activities. Importantly, the New York State Legislature has barred Owners and Contractors from passing this obligation onto others. Simply put, if a worker is injured as a result of a fall from a height, it is likely that a Court will find a violation of Labor Law section 240(1), and thereby hold the Owner and Contractor 100 percent responsible for all resulting damages caused by the fall.

Common Causes of Ladder Accidents that Violate Labor Law Section 240

Some of the typical fall protection devices provided to construction workers include ladders, scaffolds, and harnesses/lanyards. We will focus on ladders in this article. Below are some typical height related construction accident scenarios that are clear violations of Labor Law section 240(1), and impose 100 percent liability on Owners and Contractors.

Workers Who Are Not Provided With Ladders and Yet Are Asked to Perform Height-Related Tasks

An example of this scenario would be a carpenter who is performing height-related renovation activities at an office building and was not provided a ladder to perform those activities. Instead, the carpenter, feeling pressure to complete the work pursuant to the Contractor’s schedule, uses a wobbly and unbalanced desk to reach the necessary height to perform the work. In this scenario, the Owner and Contractor would face liability based on a violation of Labor Law section 240(1), and the Owner and Contractor would be held to be 100 percent responsible for all of the injured worker’s proven damages.

Workers Who Are Provided with Defective Ladders

Ladders that have damaged rungs, missing rubber feet, broken support braces, or are unstable due to being old and warped all cause serious risks for construction workers who work at heights. Prior to use, all ladders should be inspected to ensure that they are in proper working order. Workers should be suspect of any ladder that is not sturdy, has broken pieces, or where the safety label has been painted over. Owners and Contractors should never provide their workforce with these types of defective ladder because they are inherently unsafe.

In defense of a lawsuit, Owners and Constructors routinely try to blame the injured construction worker, who they are charged with protecting pursuant to the law, for not inspecting the ladder or for improperly placing the ladder. In short, rather than accepting responsibility, they try to blame workers for causing their own accident and resulting injuries. Notably, Labor Law section 240(1) prevents an Owner and Contractor from making this argument because the worker’s actions, or inactions, are not taken into account when considering liability.

Workers Who Are Provided With The Wrong Type of Ladder for the Particular Height-Related Activity

For example, an electrical worker who needs to reach a height of 14 feet above the floor to perform his/her work is given an 8-foot, A-frame ladder instead of an extension ladder. To reach this height, a 6-foot tall worker would have to stand on the top rung of the A-frame ladder, which would be an improper use as per the warnings contained on the A-frame ladder itself and in the ladder manufacturer’s manual. This would be an example of a situation where the Owner and Contractor put the construction worker at risk by providing the wrong type of ladder for the particular height related activity.

Workers Who are Provided with Ladders to Perform Height-Related Activities that Require Scaffolds

To safely work on any type of ladder, three-points of contact is required. If this cannot be achieved, then a ladder is not the proper height related device for the identified activity.

One example of this type of accident scenario would be if a construction worker was provided a ladder to install HVAC ducts. Certainly, it would be impossible for the worker to be able to maintain three-points of contact on the ladder while holding an HVAC duct with two hands. In this scenario, it would be all too easy for the worker to fall while either climbing the ladder with his/her hand full or when installing the HVAC duct. Here, the worker was not provided with the proper safety device because he/she should have been provided a scaffold or mechanical lift rather than a ladder.

Another example would be an electrical worker who is instructed to pull cable in a drop ceiling. Again, this type of activity would require a scaffold as opposed to a ladder because the worker would not be able to maintain three-points of contact on the ladder while also using two hands to pull the cable. Additionally, the act of pulling the cable could cause the worker to lean too far to the side, thereby causing the worker to fall from a height because the ladder kicked out from under them. This is yet another scenario where the worker was not provided with the proper safety device because they should have been provided a scaffold or mechanical lift rather than a ladder.

It is undisputed that construction workers face significant and life-threatening height related risks every day. The above noted scenarios present Labor Law section 240(1) violations if a worker was involved in any of these height related types of falls, and New York State law would hold the Owner and Contractor 100 percent responsible for all of the injured worker’s proven damages that resulted from the fall.

Contact Hach & Rose, LLP

All too often, the Owners and Contractors prioritize profits and compressed schedules over worker safety. At Hach & Rose, LLP, our team of highly experienced litigators have been representing construction workers in these types of height related ladder falls for decades. If you are a construction worker who has been seriously injured as a result of a height related fall from a ladder at a construction site, please contact Hach & Rose, LLP at (212) 779-0057 so that our team can fight to protect the rights of you and your family.

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