The recent decision by the Court of Appeals addressing Labor Law §240(1) reaffirmed the strong protections afforded workers under the statute. O’Brien v. Port Authority of New York and New Jersey signals the court’s strict enforcement of construction site safety rules. 2017 N.Y. Slip Op. 02466 (March 30, 2017). These rules are meant to protect workers by requiring owners and contractors who control work sites to provide safe equipment to protect against gravity related accidents. Here, a worker was injured when he fell on an exterior staircase which was wet from exposure to the elements. Although defendants were well aware the staircase would be exposed to the elements, defendants moved to dismiss the plaintiff’s Labor Law claims arguing that this was a garden variety slip and fall case, and that the staircase was not a specifically enumerated safety device under the Labor Law. Rejecting the defendants’ arguments, the court held the staircase was in fact a safety device under the statute and as such it was required to be in such condition that a worker would not be injured in a gravity-related accident such as a fall.

As readers who have handled Labor Law cases are aware, Labor Law §240(1) protects workers on construction, demolition, renovation, etc. projects from falls or from having objects fall on them from above. While ladders and scaffolds clearly fall within the statute’s protections as specifically enumerated devices, the Court of Appeals has now made clear that so do staircases and other devices which serve as the functional equivalent of protected devices. This is a refreshing reaffirmation of the protective principles of the labor law.

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