In New York state, construction workers in the “trades” (carpenters, plumbers, electricians, steel workers, steamfitters, laborers, masons, painters, and every other trade) are protected under the “safe place to work” laws. These laws are known in the legal arena as the “labor law” and there are different sections covering varying types of work related activities and injury causing situations. Labor Law cases are very favorable to construction workers. These laws hold the building/structure owner as well as the general contractor liable for certain injuries suffered by workers in the trades. What this really means is that in addition to having a worker’s compensation claim against their employer, the injured worker may also have the right to bring a lawsuit against the owner of the building/structure and against the general contractor overseeing the job. Thus, the injured construction worker has two claims.
In order for the safe place to work laws to apply and provide protection to the injured worker, certain criteria must be met. First, the work being performed by the injured worker must be the type that is covered under the law. All trade work is typically covered if its being done for construction, erection, repairing, demolition, or altering of a building or structure. The injury does not have to occur on a construction site or project. As long as the work being performed is trade type work there is typically protection under these laws.
So, for example, if the trade worker’s company was hired by a building owner to simply paint ,or replace electrical wiring, or install an alarm system, or to install a new boiler, these types of activities will normally be covered under these laws.
In addition, the safe place to work laws concentrate on providing workers in the trades with protection from elevation-related accidents, such as falls from a height (ladders, scaffolds, platforms, etc.). When a worker falls from a height and is injured because a ladder/scaffold is inadequate, unsecured, unstable, or defective these laws mandate “absolute liability” upon the owner and general contractor. This is true regardless of who owned the ladder or scaffold. The owner and general contractor are required to ensure that workers working at a height are provided with proper safety devices. So, if a ladder or scaffold collapses, breaks, tips, slides, etc., and causes injury to the worker, both the owner and general contractor are liable. The same is true if materials, tools, or supplies fall from a height striking a worker below. There is even a special section of the law providing heightened protection for window washers who are injured on the job due to height/fall related injuries.
The safe place to work laws also provide protection for injuries caused by slipping/tripping on a work site, injuries caused by lack of eye protection, injuries caused by electrocution, injuries caused by unguarded power equipment and many other types of trade related activities.
As Construction Managers, General Contractors and owners typically look at these jobs as “time is money”, they are always looking to get the work done as quickly as possible. However, this oftentimes means skimping on safety, and the workers are hardly in a position to complain if they want to stay employed. Therefore, these laws are absolutely necessary to keep the job sites safe for the workers who are involved in this physical and often times dangerous work.
As with all laws, there are many exceptions and exclusions that apply, and these cases are very fact specific. As such, consulting with an attorney that is experienced in handling cases involving the labor law is essential.