New York Scaffold Accident Prevention Guide
Scaffolds are hallmark fixtures at construction sites. These temporary structures play a critical function in many types of construction work. They provide access to elevated areas and platforms for both workers and materials.
More than two million construction workers across the country use scaffolds, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). That amounts to 65 percent of the entire construction workforce.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that, nationwide, scaffolds contribute to more than 60 deaths and 4,500 injuries every year. Approximately 15 percent of all fatal falls in construction are from scaffolds. And more than 70 percent of these scaffold fatalities involve:
- Plank or flooring collapses
- Slips and falls
- Falling objects
- Defective scaffold setup
Sadly, the majority of these accidents are preventable. Had the right prevention measures been in place, hundreds of construction workers could still be alive today.
Understanding the Safety Regulations
State and federal safety regulations impose strict requirements for scaffold design and setup. Depending on the type of scaffold – whether supported or suspended, mobile or stationary, adjustable or not – contractors must adhere to detailed specifications. These specs address cross-bracing, support, counterweights, footing, load capacity and the like. For example:
- Each scaffold (and each level of scaffolding) must have a safe means of access.
- Steps and landings must have nonslip treads.
- Scaffolds must be able to support their own weight plus four times the maximum intended load.
- Level, stable footing is mandatory for each scaffold.
- Scaffolds should not be moved, erected, dismantled or changed without informing an appropriate supervisor.
- Scaffolds attached to building facades must be properly secured to avoid tipovers.
- Scaffolds must have the appropriate guardrails, midrails and toeboards.
- Scaffold accessories such as ladders or braces that are damaged should be repaired or replaced immediately.
- Rope used on suspended scaffolding must be protected from heat-producing sources and should be regularly inspected for fraying or tears.
- Canopies, barricades or safety netting may be required to protect workers on the ground from falling objects.
- Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electrical power lines.
- Scaffolds and riggings must be inspected before every shift.
In addition, certain large-scale scaffolds require the involvement of a certified engineer to ensure that they’re structurally sound.
How to Stay Safe around Scaffolding
If you work on, under or near scaffolding, you should be aware of the dangers –especially hazards such as falls and falling objects. Follow these tips to stay safe on the job:
- Never use scaffolds that are covered in snow, ice or other slippery substances.
- Always wear a hard-hat.
- Take the time to set up scaffolds properly.
- Never place barrels, boxes or freestanding ladders on scaffolds.
- When using mounted ladders to access scaffolds, always maintain at least three points of contact with the ladder.
- Only use the designated means for accessing scaffolds.
- Never climb on cross-bracing or other parts of the scaffold.
- Stay alert to your surroundings.
- Report all suspected safety violations and concerns.
If you will be working on scaffolds at heights of 10 feet or more, your employer must provide adequate fall protection. These measures might entail personal fall arrest systems, safety netting, toeboards and guardrails.
The Importance of Training
Training is a critical component of accident prevention. Those who will be working on or around scaffolds should receive periodic training that addresses, among other things:
- The nature of all scaffold-related hazards
- Fall protection measures
- What to look for in identifying defective scaffolds
- Safe means of accessing and working on scaffolds
- Procedures for relocating mobile scaffolds
- Load capacity considerations for each type of scaffold involved
Trainings should be specific to the types of scaffolds that will present at the jobsite. Additionally, retraining should occur whenever there are changes in circumstance, such as new types of scaffolding, changed conditions or new hazards.
What if an Accident Happens?
Some contractors take shortcuts when it comes to scaffold safety, leading to devastating accidents. New York’s “Scaffold Law” – Labor Law section 240 – places responsibility on employers and contractors to provide safe jobsites when it comes to working at heights. When falls happen, employers found to have safety violations can’t shift the blame to workers. This means injured workers and their loved ones may have a clear path to recovery.
At Block O’Toole & Murphy, a New York City law firm, our attorneys understand the nuances of scaffold accident cases. We have secured hundreds of millions of dollars for construction workers and their families, including:
- A $7 million settlement on behalf of a carpenter who was struck by a falling metal clamp while working on a scaffold
- A $6 million settlement on behalf of a caulker who fell through a gap in scaffold flooring
- A $5 million award for a worker who fell 25 feet when a scaffold tipped over