Scaffolding and OSHA Regulations

Learn About NYC's Scaffolding Law

New York's Labor Law §240, sometimes referred to as the scaffolding law, is a statute that protects construction workers who suffer height related - - or gravity related - - injuries. The statute states, in part, that owners and contractors are responsible for workers injured during the erection, demolition, repairing, altering, painting, cleaning or pointing of a building or structure if the injury is gravity related and is due to a failure to provide safety devices that will afford the worker the proper protection while doing his job. The statute lists the types of safety devices that are envisioned, including, "Scaffolding, hoists, stays, ladders, slings, hangers, blocks, pulleys, braces, irons, ropes, and other devices ..." Workers injured in New York after a scaffold fall can be subject to serious and disabling injuries. The New York law seeks to provide those injured workers a remedy because they were not given a safe place to work.

New York work sites, after work-related injuries that include scaffold falls and collapses, are generally inspected and investigated by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). A failure to adhere to the safety guidelines mandated by OSHA can result in sanctions including fines, stop work orders or a loss in licensing. Most importantly, it is statistically proven that work sites that comply with OSHA standards have fewer job-related injuries. This data includes scaffold related injuries.

What are the standards that OSHA requires for workers using scaffolds?

The OSHA scaffolding standards spell out in-depth requirements. These include areas of focus like training, fall protection, and the safe distance a scaffold can be positioned when working near power lines. Some of these standards are outlined below.

OSHA Training Requirements

The OSHA standards specify types of lumber, weight limits of particular designs and required inspection periods for all types of scaffolding. The standards also mandate training of workers, and provide suggestions about the topics that should be covered during the training. These include:

  • OSHA regulations and standards
  • Erecting and dismantling scaffolding
  • Appropriate personal protective equipment, often referred to by the trades as PPE
  • Fall protection. This is especially important because OSHA statistics indicate that more than one-third of work accidents are the result of falls.
  • Material handling
  • Access-passageways and stairs should be clear and FREE of debris. Rebar should be capped and clearly illuminated.
  • Working platforms
  • Foundations
  • Planning. This is a too-often-ignored component of work safety.

OSHA rules suggest additional topics for training when the work involves certain types of scaffolding, such as tubular welded-frame scaffolds, tube and clamp scaffolds, and system scaffolds.

In addition to requiring initial training, OSHA requires employers to retrain workers when appropriate.

OSHA Fall Protection Requirements

OSHA regulations also require fall protection for scaffolding. The type of protection varies according to the type of scaffolding. For example, catenaries scaffolding requires personal fall protection such as anchored harnesses or belts. Crawling board scaffolding also requires personal fall protection, like a guard rail and/or a grab rope. An employer is responsible for providing fall protection according to OSHA standards and making sure that it is used. This requirement applies even if it is inconvenient or takes longer to complete the job. Shortcuts lead to preventable injuries.

OSHA Restrictions on Power Line Proximity

OSHA regulations govern how close scaffolding can be to power lines. Depending on the type of electrical line and the voltage, scaffolding must be at least three to ten feet away from live power lines. If the work requires the scaffolding to be closer, power lines must be shut down. The consequences of failing to abide by this should be obvious. Yet electrocution, fire and explosion accidents occur far too often because of problems with work taking place in close proximity to a live power line.

Violations of OSHA Standards

We discussed available sanctions above. Do they happen in practice? OSHA has imposed fines on New York State businesses. Examples include Mondi Construction in the Bronx (2011) and K&G Hahira Construction, also of the Bronx (2011). In 2012, OSHA fined Yonkers Construction Co. for providing no fall protection to employees working more than six feet off the ground. In the same year, OSHA cited the Brooklyn firm of SP&K Construction for failing to provide fall protection on scaffolding, exposing workers to falls of 10-40 feet. A Staten Island firm was fined for using makeshift devices on top of scaffolding to increase the height of the structure. In 2013, OSHA fined a Buffalo construction firm, Ellicott Development Co., for failing to use guardrails on scaffolding, exposing workers to falls of more than two stories.

Although OSHA standards and regulations exist to prevent injury and death, the ongoing need for such regulation is borne out by statistics, which show that falls from scaffolds are among the most frequent accidents in the construction industry. Such accidents caused 59 deaths across the country in 2009, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

If you were injured in any type of scaffolding accident, contact an attorney with knowledge about New York's Labor Law §240.