Construction is a crucial service that literally paves the way and lays the foundation for almost every aspect of daily life. Unfortunately, it’s also one of the most dangerous careers in the U.S. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), nearly 200,000 construction workers were injured in 2018, the most recent year of data available. A further 1,008 were killed on the job.
A poorly managed or equipped construction site is full of a variety potentially deadly or life-altering hazards, but some of the more common construction tasks to turn tragic are hoisting and rigging. In particular, construction slings that are shoddily made, worn out, or misused can snap under pressure, dropping workers or construction materials from great heights.
If you’re considering bringing a rigging accident lawsuit against a construction company that has injured you or a loved one, The Stoddard Firm can help.
CONSTRUCTION SLINGS REQUIRE SPECIAL ATTENTION TO BE USED SAFELY
In a construction context, a sling is defined as “an assembly which connects the load to the material handling equipment.” Most often, the equipment in question is a crane. Slings can be made of metal, synthetic fibers, or natural fibers, and can vary in form from chains to mesh.
Because every hoisting or rigging job is different, and because slings are the main equipment component that must be adapted to different load shapes and materials, they’re one of the most common points of failure in accidents. To combat the high potential for error that comes with using slings, construction site supervisors must be careful to consider all the variables in each situation, use the right sling for the job, and use it correctly.
American Cranes & Transport recommends what they describe as the “ABC” approach to sling safety, with ABC standing for abrasion, bearing pressure, and cutting. Many sling failures happen because the sling has been abraded over time by cargo, or because the pressure of the load settles in unexpected ways, or because of a sharp edge cutting through the sling. To guard against these common threats, slings should be padded to protect against abrasion, the load should be experimentally lifted a short distance off the ground to make sure its weight is not enough to break through the padding in any area, and the sling should not be put in contact with any corners that are 90 degrees or sharper.
POOR RIGGING AND UNSAFE SLINGS AT CONSTRUCTION SITE WORKPLACES HAVE DEADLY CONSEQUENCES
Lifting massive objects, and sometimes workers themselves, high above the ground obviously has significant stakes. When something goes even slightly wrong, the situation can quickly become catastrophic. That’s why it’s so important to make sure that everything is done correctly, and that safety procedures have several layers of redundancies.
For example, in September of 2020, two construction workers in New York had to cling on to the outside of the building they were working on when their rigging collapsed. If they had not been wearing their required individual safety harnesses, they would most likely have fallen. As it was, rescue workers were able to maneuver them to safety.
Also in New York, in 2015, a crane spontaneously dropped a 13-ton air conditioning unit from height. An unnamed inside source told reporters that the sling holding the unit looked like something had cut through it. Ten people were injured, two of them construction workers. These injuries probably could have been prevented if the sling had been properly padded. Yet it should also be noted that if anyone had been working directly under the crane, the outcome could have been much worse. This is exactly why the space under a suspended load is supposed to be kept as clear as possible.
There are other incidents, however, when safety procedures like safety harnesses and clearing the area either aren’t followed, aren’t applicable, or just aren’t enough to contain the scale of an accident when a sling breaks. Back in 2008, another New York crane collapse killed seven people across a space of two city blocks. Broken synthetic slings found at the scene were believed to be the cause. Some experts reported that, based on the photographic evidence, the slings may have been severely overloaded. Further investigation revealed that the slings were also worn out and covered with “cuts and snags” before the accident. The master rigger in charge of setting up the crane was charged $210,000 in OSHA fines for four willful violations.
Cities with extremely dense vertical construction, like New York, tend to have more frequent reports of disastrous sling failures. However, misused or poorly manufactured slings can cause death and injury anywhere construction is performed, from other high-rise cities, like Atlanta, to one- and two-story construction sites in suburban and rural areas.
However, while they may not be as thorough as they could be, OSHA standards do exist for sling and crane usage. Specifically intended to prevent injuries and deaths from unsafe slings at construction sites, OSHA’s requirements for the use of slings in construction include:
- Never using synthetic, metal mesh, or steel chain slings without a clearly marked strength rating from the manufacturer
- Never using a sling to lift more weight than it is rated for, or more than its lowest-rated connector or attachment is rated for
- Never adjusting the length of slings with knots or other makeshift solutions
- Inspecting all slings and connecters before the start of work each day, and retiring any elements that show signs of damage
- Using padding to protect slings from any sharp edges on the load being hoisted
- Keeping hands clear of the sling while it is being tightened around a load
Beyond the care, use, and inspection of the slings themselves, OSHA also offers further guidance on the practice of rigging and hoisting, and the use of rigging equipment. A few essential standards include:
- Having the rigging inspected by a qualified rigger at the beginning of each shift
- Planning the path each load will take, to prevent collisions
- Never requiring employees to work under suspended loads, unless they are needed to hook or unhook the load
- When lifting a load over an employee is unavoidable, using safety latches and having a qualified rigger rig it to prevent unintended shifting
- Retiring equipment after exposure to unsafe temperatures, which vary by material
There are also specific rules for hoisting human beings. With a few exceptions, mostly involving very small or underground spaces, equipment that was not built specifically for moving personnel cannot be used for that purpose, unless the conditions of the construction site make it impossible or unsafe to use ladders, scissor lifts, and other traditional personnel movers. When cranes and other construction machinery absolutely must be modified to hold people, there are specifications for how this is to be done:
- The equipment must be fitted with a personnel platform designed by a qualified individual, with any welding work performed by a qualified welder.
- The platform must be designed to remain as level as possible, never tilting more than 10 degrees regardless of the machine’s position.
- The load capacity of the platform should be at least five times the actual load it will carry.
- There must be handrails along all sides of the platform, and any gates should latch securely and only open inward.
- A trial lift must be performed before any workers board the platform, during which an equivalent weight is lifted and moved in the same way the workers will be.
- Except when working over water, each worker should be equipped with a personal fall-arrest system secured to the platform.
- The base of the equipment should not be moved while the platform is occupied, except along tracks or in rare cases where there is no safer option.
As noted above, the terms “qualified rigger” and “qualified person” come up a lot in OSHA’s relevant standards. There is no formal certification for these titles (except for “qualified welder”), so employers do have the right to designate particular workers for these roles at their discretion, based on their skills and experience. However, when a “qualified rigger” or “qualified person” is required for a job, there must be a designated worker in this role, in whom the employer can reasonably place confidence. Simply throwing a group of new, inexperienced workers into a situation that requires a qualified rigger is both dangerous and an OSHA violation.
LAND OWNERS, CONSTRUCTION COMPANIES, AND EQUIPMENT MANUFACTURERS ALL SHARE RESPONSIBILITY FOR WORKER SAFETY
Construction companies are the most obvious entities responsible for their workers’ safety. Like any employer, construction companies have an obligation to provide employees with a workplace that is as safe as it can reasonably be. Unfortunately, when an employee gets hurt, the claim usually has to go through worker’s comp, which does not compensate injuries as fully as a successful rigging accident lawsuit would. However, workers who are classified as independent contractors, as well as employees who have been denied worker’s comp, may have the option of suing instead.
Additionally, there are other entities that may share responsibility for construction workers’ injuries. For example, if a sling or other piece of construction equipment failed under normal use, rather than due to overloading or inadequate padding, the manufacturer who produced the faulty or incorrectly rated sling would be responsible for the consequences. Or, if the owner of the property being altered knew about relevant hazards and kept them a secret, or pressured the construction company to ignore safety regulations, that owner might also be liable for resulting accidents.
Even employees who have been approved for worker’s comp have the option of also pursuing legal action against negligent parties other than their employers.
THE STODDARD FIRM HAS EXPERIENCE HELPING VICTIMS OF CONSTRUCTION ACCIDENTS
The legal experts at The Stoddard Firm are passionate about the rights of injured workers and experienced in all relevant areas of law, including personal injury, product liability, and premises liability. If we represent you in your rigging accident lawsuit, we’ll work with you to explore all possible avenues of recovery. We’ll help you take stock of exactly what entities contributed to your accident and how, as well as all the ways your injuries have affected your life.
Then, we’ll present this information in a way that both judges and juries respect, to make sure you get full compensation, not only for your medical bills and lost income, but for your pain, lost enjoyment, and any reduction in your future quality of life.
To discuss the details of your individual case with a lawyer in a free consultation, just reach out through our online chat function, or give us a call at 678-RESULT.