Before a construction project begins, the crew typically builds scaffolding to protect its workers and the public from injuries. On many job sites, the scaffold is the only means for preventing workers and pedestrians from being struck by dangerous falling debris.
Unfortunately, contractors sometimes skimp on this vital stage of the construction process. The pressure to complete a project on time and reduce expenses puts workers in harm’s way and increases the risk of serious and even fatal injuries.
Construction work continues to be one of the most dangerous occupations in the U.S. For every 100 full-time construction workers, an average of 3.7 workers suffer an occupational injury or illness every year. With approximately 70,000 construction workers in New York and New Jersey, an estimated 2,590 will be injured on the job every single year. Even worse, New Jersey saw 99 fatal work injuries in 2011, and New York saw 206, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.
An estimated 2.3 million construction workers work on scaffolds. Safer scaffolding can help to prevent some of the 4,500 injuries and dozens of deaths that occur every year, as well as recover $90 million in lost productivity.
There are three basic types of scaffolds used in everyday construction:
- Supported scaffolds: consist of one or more platforms supported by rigid, load-bearing members, such as poles, frames, legs, outriggers, etc.
- Suspended scaffolds: consist of one or more platforms suspended by ropes or other non-rigid overhead support
- Other supported scaffolds: sometimes thought of as vehicles or machinery, including manlifts and personnel hoists
What Safety Requirements Are In Place To Protect Workers?
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration regulates the construction and proper use of scaffolding.
OSHA defines certain parameters for those responsible for designing, erecting, and dismantling scaffolding. Workers involved in erecting or dismantling scaffolding must be capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards and have the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate hazards. Workers involved in designing and constructing scaffolds must:
- Possess a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or
- Have extensive knowledge, training, and experience
- Be able to solve or resolve problems related to the project
Preplanning for scaffolding includes determining the correct type of scaffolding, determining the maximum load for the scaffold, assuring a good foundation, and avoiding the risk of electrical hazards.
In addition to extensive design, material, and engineering specifications for the scaffold support and platform, OSHA requires the installation of fall protection devices, including personal fall arrest systems and guardrail systems.
To protect employees from objects falling from above, the construction company is required to install devices that catch tool and debris, such as:
- Safety net systems
- Guardrail systems
- Debris nets
- Catch platforms
- Canopy structures
More specific fall-related guidelines are available on the OSHA website.
What Injuries Can Faulty, Collapsed Scaffolding Lead To?
Many varieties of injury can occur when a scaffold collapses. If a person is on the scaffold when it collapses, they could suffer fractured bones, head, neck, or spinal cord injuries, possible paralysis, traumatic brain injuries, or in worst cases, death.
Common hazards associated with scaffolds are:
- Falls from elevation (due to lack of fall protection)
- Collapse of the scaffold (due to instability or overloading)
- Being struck by falling tools, work materials, or debris
- Electrocution (usually due to the proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines)
A Bureau of Labor Statistics study showed that 72 percent of workers injured in scaffolding accidents attributed the accident to the support giving way or to slipping and being struck by a falling object.
Injuries from scaffolding falls include:
- Brain injuries, including traumatic brain injuries and closed head injuries
- Neck injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Limb injuries
- Back injuries
These injuries can have a variety of causes, including scaffolding that is assembled improperly, scaffolding that is designed or manufactured improperly, supports that are not equipped to handle the necessary weight, faulty or old equipment, or slippery footing surfaces.
What Can Supervisors Do To Ensure Workers’ Safety?
Congress developed the Occupational Safety and Health Act to protect workers in dangerous professions like construction. Under the act, enforced by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, employers have certain responsibilities to keep workplaces safe and healthy.
Nearly one-third of scaffolding accidents are a result of construction deficiencies, meaning the components are substandard, essential components are left out, or the assembly is unfinished.
To start, employers should always:
- Construct all scaffolds according to the manufacturer’s instructions
- Install guardrail systems along all open sides and ends of platforms
- Use a guardrail system or personal fall arrest system for scaffolds more than 10 feet above a lower level
- Provide safe access to scaffold platforms
- Do not allow workers to climb cross-bracing as a means of access
- Inspect the scaffolding after construction and assign someone to re-inspect the scaffolding at designated intervals
- Inspect the rigging of suspended scaffolds periodically to ensure all connections are tight and no damage has been done
- Instruct workers on the proper way to climb and use scaffolding
More detailed requirements for on-the-job scaffolding can be found on the OSHA website.
Deciding who is liable for a scaffolding accident can be a tricky process, and an experienced personal injury lawyer will be able to conduct a proper investigation. The majority of safety responsibility rests with the site’s general contractor, but faulty scaffolding can also be attributed to subcontractors, vendors, and manufacturers.
Why, When, and How Should You Retain a Lawyer?
Construction workers injured in Fort Lee scaffold accidents need an experienced personal injury lawyer that can help win damages for:
- Current and future medical care
- Lost wages
- Lost earning potential
- Pain and suffering
Those injured in New Jersey have two years from the incident to file a personal injury lawsuit, and those injured in New York have three years from the incident to make a claim. Failure to file suit within the given time frame could mean forfeiting your day in court and losing out on potential compensation.
Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi considers your employer’s noncompliance with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration standards to be unacceptable. We aggressively pursue all legal remedies and strategies to protect you and your fellow workers from unsafe construction conditions.
Contact Maggiano, DiGirolamo & Lizzi at (201) 585-9111 or fill out an online form to schedule your free and confidential consultation. We are committed to understanding your unique situation and fighting for you every step of the way.