Scaffold Law advocates: 'Let the sunshine in'

Keith J. Ferrante | Legislative Gazette
March 9, 2015

A union-backed coalition is fighting to keep New York's controversial Scaffold Law intact while passing new regulations requiring insurance companies to disclose claims data related to construction accidents.

Representatives of the Scaffold Safety Coalition were joined at the Legislative Office Building last week by Assemblyman Francisco Moya, D-Queens, and Assemblyman Marcos Crespo, D-Bronx, in support of the Scaffold Safety Law and the proposed "Sunshine Bill" (A.4718/S.3392) that would enact the Construction Insurance Transparency Act of 2015. 

Many supporters of the Scaffold Law say it protects workers injured on construction sites while critics of the law say its existence raises the cost of business insurance in New York state and unfairly punishes contractors and construction companies. A long-standing argument against the Scaffold Law is that it raises insurance rates in New York. Moya and Crespo are challenging those claims by forcing insurance companies to release claims data.

Photo by AP.
The Sunshine Bill would require liability insurance providers to file financial statements and claims data with the state's superintendant of financial services.

"We need to do everything we can to strengthen our workplace safety law and not weaken the ones that we already have," Moya said. "In the absence of real enforcement, we need something to keep the bad actors in line and for years, the scaffold law has done just that."

Moya explained that while many contractors and developers comply with the law, there are still those who don't.

"There are many construction companies and property owners out there that put the safety of their workers first and we commend them for the commitment to safety. But the Scaffold Law is not about them. It's about incentivizing bad actors to stay in line," Moya said.

 The Scaffold Safety Law requires employers to provide safety equipment and training for employees working off the ground. Scaffold Safety Coalition members and their advocates in the Legislature are calling on lawmakers to maintain strong worker safety laws.

Opponents claim insurance rates are driven up by the Scaffold Law but Moya's bill would allow data to be collected and analyzed. He said this was why the Sunshine Bill was important.

"What this debate really needs is some hard facts. If the Scaffold Law is actually driving up costs, then let's take a look on how we can fix that while protecting our workers," Moya said. "Unfortunately, the anti-scaffold law lobby doesn't want to give us any information, they want to keep us in the dark about how insurance rates are set. And if there is anything to hide, then all we have to say is 'show us the data.'"

Crespo said the Sunshine Bill would shine light on insurance industry practices related to construction accident payouts, saying "if not for this legislation, until we get it done, we don't even know what playing field they're playing on."

He also advocated for the safety of workers.

"Workers, who are told that their safety, their lives, the impact it has on them and their health and their families' ability to sustain themselves is the least important part of that equation," Crespo said. "Forget about an unfair balance. That is an insult to the men and women who make this city run, the men and women who believe in this city, who have made an investment in this city, who raise their children here, they deserve better. Their safety should never be questioned." 

Gary LaBarbera, president of the NYC Building & Construction Trades Council of Greater New York, underlined the importance of scaffold law for workers across the state.

"Workers safety is the most important thing for all of us in the building trades and members of the assembly, and that's pointed out. There are many very responsible contractors and very many developers who take this seriously," LaBarbera said. "But there are also very irresponsible developers and irresponsible contractors that don't care at all about workers' safety and that's why we have to protect the scaffold law as it is now."

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SOURCE: www.legislativegazette.com

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