Scaffolding is a temporary structure that is used to allow workers to perform their duties at various heights. While commonly-used on construction sites, when scaffolding is manufactured or assembled incorrectly, workers can be catastrophically injured or killed as a result.
While the use of safety precautions (such as lanyards and harnesses) is the best way to avoid falls from scaffolding, there is no amount of precaution that can prevent accidents that occur from the use of defective scaffolding.
Why Scaffolding Accidents Occur
In nearly all instances, scaffolding is broken down into three components: steel or aluminum tubes, couplers, and wooden boards. Quite often when there are scaffolding incidents in construction, it is because the scaffolding platform was not properly assembled and collapsed, thus causing workers to experience falls that can be quite serious. In some cases, scaffolding may not even be guyed (tied) to the structure to prevent tipping.
Similar to a chain, scaffolding is only as strong as it’s weakest component. Just one small defect could bring the whole thing down, and this is why it’s so important for construction companies to inspect materials on a regular basis.
While most construction companies are very meticulous in assembling and inspecting their scaffolding, many less-scrupulous companies are more-concerned with deadlines than worker safety. Failing to properly erect, secure, and maintain scaffolding is a serious violation, and as one recent lawsuit shows, juries are not sympathetic to companies who put profits over safety.
Common Causes and Associated Injuries
Scaffolds are complex pieces of construction material that require extremely careful and precise assembly in order to maintain the balance and support the weight of both workers and all their building materials. Some of the causes of scaffolding accidents include:
- Improperly assembled scaffolding (on site)
- Improperly designed or constructed scaffolding (off site)
- Supports that fail
- Broken scaffolding or scaffolding that has outlived its useful life
- Safety equipment that is defective or insufficient
- Footing surfaces that are unsafe (oily, slippery, wet)
Some of the injuries that tend to be in accordance with scaffolding accidents include the following:
- Brain injuries
- Injuries to the neck
- Back injuries
- Spinal cord injuries
- Injuries to the arms and/or legs
Are Scaffolding Accidents Common?
According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), an estimated 4,500 injuries to construction workers occur every year because of scaffolding accidents. Additionally, the National Census of Fatal Occupation Injuries (CFOI) reports there are an average of 88 deaths that occur every year as a result of scaffold accidents.
Because scaffolds have such a high safety risks, it is mandatory they comply with specific safety regulations. In spite of the regulations that are in effect, there are still serious accidents often caused by carelessness, a lack of attention to safety, hurrying to complete the job, and overlooking safety factors in order to reduce cost.
Liability for Scaffolding Accidents
The responsibility for worker safety usually falls on the site’s General Contractor (and vicariously to the company itself), but it’s possible that other parties may also share liability for your accident such as materials suppliers, other vendors, manufacturers, and even subcontractors.
In many states, workers who are injured while performing their jobs are barred from suing their employer over a workplace injury, and are only permitted to file workers’ compensation claims in order to cover related medical expenses and recover some of your lost income. That being said, there are many caveats to this. Work accident laws are complex in the US, and depending on the location of the accident and the facts of your case, you could have many legal options available to you.
In order to find out what other options may be available, you need to speak with an attorney in your state who is experienced in both workplace injuries and product liability law.
Through an injury claim or lawsuit, you may be able to recover compensation to cover losses such as:
- Medical and physical therapy bills
- Lost income
- Loss of the potential for future earnings
- Pain and suffering
If you have been injured in a scaffolding accident, don’t let your employer push you around. Learn the rights available to you, and help hold responsible those who put profits over your safety and livelihood.