Unsafe Scaffold Work: A Far Too Common Plight Facing Construction Workers

Saturday, September 28th, 2013

The construction accident lawyers at Block O’Toole & Murphy have represented many scaffold accident victims. Below, they share their insight about the frequent challenges construction workers that are required to work on scaffolds face.

An estimated 2.3 million construction workers frequently perform work on scaffolds, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Protecting these workers from scaffold-related accidents, OSHA says, would prevent 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths every year.

In an effort to protect workers from scaffold accidents, OSHA regulations detail scaffolding safety requirements and standards, which were revised after Bureau of Labor Statistics studies showed that 25 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents had received no scaffold safety training, and 77 percent of scaffolds were not equipped with guardrails. Today, the most common scaffold hazards include:

  • Falls from elevation, due to lack of fall protection;
  • Collapse of the scaffold, caused by instability or overloading;
  • Being struck by falling tools, work materials, or debris; and
  • Electrocution, principally due to proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines.

OSHA’s current scaffolding regulations cover every aspect of scaffolding from the proper materials, sizes, design, to assembly, construction and use. OSHA regulations also impose requirements on employers to provide training to the workers who assemble and disassemble scaffolds. In addition, OSHA requires that employers have a qualified person provide training to each and every employee who performs work on a scaffold.

Unfortunately, in 2012, OSHA’s scaffolding requirements were the number three most-violated of all OSHA regulations, with 3,814 violations. (Fall protection and hazard communication regulations were numbers one and two, respectively). This statistic fails to account for instances where violations went undetected because OSHA was not present at the worksite. Clearly, noncompliance and unsafe scaffold work are a huge problem at construction sites.

A very useful guide to finding out the OSHA requirements on specific construction jobs can be found on OSHA’s website here: www.osha.gov/SLTC/etools/scaffolding/index.html. By clicking through the etool, you can choose the type of scaffold (suspended or supported scaffold) and then follow links to the requirements for each particular aspect of that scaffold.

For example, under supported scaffold, then frame or fabricated, then support structure, and then capacity, you learn that scaffolds must be capable of supporting, without failure, their own weight and at least 4 times their maximum intended load. A case study describes a worker who was injured when he went from one section to the next on a 6-foot high scaffold and the scaffold collapsed, causing him to fell to the cement floor. He sustained fractures to his left knee and right elbow. The employer was cited for not assuring the stability of the scaffold. In the same section, you learn that scaffolds may only be altered under the supervision and direction of a competent person, which is accompanied by a tip warning against overloading a scaffold by removing the braces, resulting in the weight on the scaffold to be distributed to fewer structural members, compromising the stability of the entire scaffold.

Under suspended scaffold, then two-point (swing stage), then anchorage, and then tiebacks, you learn that tiebacks must be secured to a structurally sound anchorage on the building or structure and that tiebacks must be installed perpendicular to the face of the building or opposing angle tiebacks must be installed. A case study describes a worker who was injured while on a two-point suspension scaffold suspended by cornice hooks at the top of a parapet wall. The hooks were not tied back with a secondary tieback system. The worker suffered a back injury when the left side of the parapet wall collapsed, causing the left cornice hook to fall and the left end of the scaffold to fall to the ground. The scaffold had not been tied back according to specifications and the workers on the scaffold had not been provided any training, including on how to safely rig and secure a scaffold.

Under supported scaffold, frame or fabricated, access, you learn that workers must be able to safely access any level of a scaffold that is 2 feet above or below an access point and climbing cross-braces is forbidden. A case study describes a worker who was injured while climbing the end-frame of a three-tiered metal scaffold when a midrail pulled loose. He fell approximately 12 feet to a concrete dock, sustaining multiple fractures to the head, left and right foot, and left wrist, and torn ligaments in the knees.

Under supported scaffold, frame or fabricated, platform, planking, you learn that each platform must be fully planked or decked between the front uprights and guardrail supports and no gaps greater than 1 inch are permitted between adjacent planks and there must be no more than a 14-inch gap between the scaffold platform and the structure being worked on.

And under supported scaffold, frame or fabricated, fall protection, guardrail systems, you learn that guardrail systems must be installed along all open sides and ends of platforms, and must be in place before the scaffold is released for use by workers. A case study describes a worker who was injured while on a fixed deck plank attached to a fabricated frame scaffold, and another worker was pulling a 16-foot long 2×4 off the bucket of an excavator. There were no guardrails at the working level. When the other end of the 2×4 slipped off the bucket, the victim worker did not let go of his end, and was pulled off the deck. He fell 16 feet to the ground, sustaining facial fractures and other injuries.

It is obvious that, despite the great number of OSHA safety regulations, scaffolding accidents occur with devastating frequency. Worker safety is a problem that isn’t going away.

Block O’Toole & Murphy fights to protect the rights of those injured, or tragically killed, in scaffolding accidents. The scaffold accident lawyers have a track record of fighting for victims of scaffold accidents and making sure they and their families are fairly compensated. We are committed to helping injured construction workers and their families during a very difficult time. The construction accident attorneys at Block O’Toole & Murphy, LLP have achieved more than $700,000,000 in verdicts and settlements on behalf of injured victims. You can contact them for a free consultation at 212-736-5300. You can also learn more about the firm by visiting the firm’s website at blockotoole.com.


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