When used properly, scaffolds enable construction to work safely at considerable heights. Scaffolding accidents happen when they aren't used properly or are not in safe working condition to start with.
Legally speaking, property owners and contractors are responsible for providing a safe work environment, including safe scaffolding. But the reality is that the burden falls on workers to make sure their equipment is safe. A few extra minutes at the start of a job may save a life or prevent a severe injury.
- Basic scaffold safety measures
Inspections are very important to preventing scaffold and ladder accidents. Each component of the scaffold must be inspected prior to use. Any part that isn't up to par or that is not installed properly can lead to a very serious accident.
- Do not use scaffolding that is leaning or unsteady.
- Do not use scaffolding if any rope is frayed or if any planks, bars, pulleys or connectors are visibly worn.
- Never use bricks, blocks, boxes or other unstabilized objects to support a scaffold.
- Do not work on scaffolds that are not full planked.
- Do not climb the crossbars. Use the ladder.
- Do not work without guard rails or other fall protection.
- Never stand or work beneath scaffolding while it is in use.
These are just a few of the scaffolding safety guidelines that will help keep workers safe. They may seem like common sense, but scaffolding accidents very often trace to shortcuts and unsafe practices by workers. It's not only "rookies" who get hurt. Experienced carpenters, painters, window washers, roofers and others in the building trades get hurt when basic safety precautions are ignored.
Only people who are familiar with scaffolds should put them together. Those persons should also be the ones conducting the inspections before and during each shift.
Tag out unsafe scaffolding
Scaffolding that is found to be unsafe should be tagged and all use suspended. It should not be used again until the safety issues have been repaired and the entire apparatus has been inspected again. Signage that clearly notes that the device is unsafe and out of service should be placed on it so that there is no doubt that about its suitability for use.
Is scaffolding really that dangerous?
When you think of "scaffolding accident" or "scaffolding collapse" you might imagine someone falling from several stories. Actually, about 90 percent of falls from scaffolds occur at 12 to 15 feet off the ground. Even at 11 feet high the velocity of a fall is great enough that half of such falls end in fatality. Most scaffolding injuries are associated with typical job duties. This is why safety is such a big consideration when this apparatus is being used.
New York's scaffold law (Section 240)
New York's law goes above and beyond the requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration's guidelines. New York Labor Law Section 240 applies an absolute liability standard in these cases. Work site owners and construction contractors can be held liable for the injuries that occur due to issues with scaffolding. The law does not limit the coverage only to employees, so other people (tenants, patrons, visitors) have the same right to seek compensation as those hired to work on the job.
While the wording leaves room for interpretation, courts have largely upheld that a person's own negligence does not negate the liability of the property owner and contractor. If the injured party was partly at fault, he or she can still seek personal injury compensation, above and beyond any workers' compensation benefits.