Scaffolding Safety Failures: Legal Recourse for Construction Workers

NTZ Editor

According to a report by the New York City Department of Buildings (DOB), construction fatalities can occur on job sites of any size, with the majority occurring on larger and more complex projects. Most worker injuries and deaths are from falls on large construction job sites, including from scaffolding. In fact, nationwide each year, about 4,500 workers suffer scaffolding injuries, with more than 50 dying as a result, according to the Department of Labor.

Due to the increasing number of injuries on larger sites, the DOB conducted upwards of 50% more unannounced monitoring inspections in 2022 than the previous year. The DOB conducts over 300,000 construction inspections annually.

Unfortunately, many worker injuries and deaths from falls are due to employers’ not adhering to federal OSHA (Occupational Safety & Health Administration) regulations. OSHA requires employers – general contractors and project owners – to provide fall protection equipment and maintain guardrails, hole coverings, and other fall protection measures at all times. OSHA also has specific regulations for scaffolding safety.

A Close Look at OSHA Regulations for Scaffolding Safety

There are many OSHA scaffolding requirements and best practices for employers to follow to
ensure worker safety. They include the following:

  • Employers must provide fall protection equipment for every worker on scaffolding more than 10 feet above a lower level.
  • The scaffolding must be structurally sound and sturdy enough to support its weight plus four times the maximum intended load. It should do all of this without settling or any displacement whatsoever. Scaffolds should be set up on completely solid footing.
  • Unsteady objects, such as loose bricks, boxes, barrels, etc., should never be used to support planks or scaffolds.
  • A knowledgeable person must supervise workers as scaffolds are erected, dismantled, moved, or altered in any way.
  • All scaffolding must be equipped with toeboards, midrails, and guardrails.
  • Brackets, braces, screw legs, trusses, or ladders should be routinely examined. Any weak or damaged equipment should be replaced or repaired immediately.
  • Scaffolding platforms should be tightly planked. Ensure scaffold plank grade material or equivalent is used.
  • A designated and certified “knowledgeable person” must inspect all scaffolding. The scaffolding must be re-inspected at predetermined intervals.
  • Rigging on all suspension scaffolds must undergo inspection and should occur before each shift, as occasionally the structural integrity of suspension scaffolding becomes compromised and is not safe. Connections should be tight. Absolutely no damage should occur within the rigging.
  • Natural or synthetic rope involved in the suspension scaffold setup should be monitored. It needs to be protected from nearby heat-producing machinery and other sources.
  • Employees must be trained about the hazards of using diagonal braces for fall protection.
  • Scaffolding may be accessed by way of stairwells and ladders. Do not access via unsteady objects.
  • Scaffolding must always rest at least 10 feet from electrical power lines.

When Safety Regulations Are Ignored, Injuries Happen

Based on our years of experience representing construction workers injured on job sites, the Law Office of Nicholas E. Tzaneteas finds the following common causes behind scaffolding accidents.

Improperly Erected Scaffolding

Accidents occur when scaffolding has improperly secured planking, loose guard rails, or worn connection hardware. If not correctly erected and inspected, scaffolding is prone to failure and exposes workers to injuries from falls.

Objects Falling from Scaffolding

All tools, construction equipment, and materials should be adequately secured when working on elevated scaffolds. A large object dropped from even a short height can generate enough momentum during the fall to cause significant harm if it impacts a ground-level construction worker. Construction businesses that fail to install proper retaining straps and other measures may be considered negligent if their failure is the direct cause of a dropped object that strikes and injures a construction worker.

Electric Shocks from Contact with Power Lines

Metal scaffolding transmits electricity. Construction sites may not always have the option of placing scaffolding far away from power lines. Still, if such a risk exists, managers must take extra care to protect scaffolding from unintentional contact with such lines. Workers on those scaffolds will face much higher electrocution risks if the metal scaffolding serves as a grounding path for an electrical arc.

Inadequate Crew Training in Scaffolding Use

Construction firms should provide frequent training sessions for their crew on properly performing construction job activities on scaffolding, including the best techniques for securing safety harnesses and climbing up and down scaffolds. Construction workers who do not obtain proper training put themselves and their co-workers at risk.

Legal Options for NYC Construction Workers Injured While Working on Scaffolding

Construction workers injured on a construction site are entitled to receiving Workers’ Compensation benefits, which will pay for lost wages up to a certain amount, medical treatment, rehabilitation, and ongoing medical expenses.

In addition, New York has a series of laws to protect construction workers resulting from workplace negligence on the part of the construction firm and property owner, including Labor Law Section 240, known as the “Scaffolding Law.” This law requires employers to provide scaffolding that can support at least four times the total weight of all workers and equipment that will work at heights. In addition, all scaffolding taller than 20 feet from the working surface must also have a securely attached safety rail that runs along the supported platform’s entire length. The whole apparatus must be fastened so that it cannot become unstable, collapse, or tip over.

Under New York City law, general contractors who provide scaffolding for their workers must also provide personal protective equipment (PPE), such as fall protection gear, and train their employees on general scaffold safety and the correct use and maintenance of their PPE.

The Scaffolding Law governs construction employers’ duty to protect workers at heights and grants those workers the right to claim compensation for any injury or death caused by a fall or an object falling from a height.

Call the Law Office of Nicholas E. Tzaneteas

The Law Office of Nicholas E. Tzaneteas can help victims of construction site injuries. As experienced New York City, Bronx, Brooklyn, Queens, and Manhattan construction accident attorneys and personal injury law firms, we have helped injured clients recover millions of dollars in judgments and settlements.

If you or a loved one had a workplace accident in NYC and suffered an injury through no fault of your own, you may be eligible for substantial financial compensation for medical bills, lost wages, and pain and suffering. You may be entitled to Workers’ Compensation insurance benefits and damages due to negligence from the liable parties.

We know the New York Labor Laws inside and out and have secured construction accident settlements for our clients from parties responsible for the accident.

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