Scaffolds are the temporary structures that construction workers use to access the higher levels of construction projects in progress. Because scaffolds are not part of the final product being produced, and they are usually built very quickly and with a relatively high level of improvisation to fit the project at hand, they often fail to meet the safety standards applied to more permanent structures.
As a result, falls from scaffolding, fatal accidents, and serious related injuries are tragically common on construction sites. In fact, according to a survey conducted by the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), scaffolds were involved in over 10% of all fatal falls in U.S workplaces from 2011-2016.
That’s a big piece of an enormous problem. About one in every five fatal workplace accidents happen to construction workers, and falls are the second most common cause of work-related injuries across the board.
Most frustratingly, these accidents are not random events, or unavoidable hazards of the work. At the heart of what causes scaffolding accidents are corner-cutting decisions that put efficiency and profits before worker well-being. Scaffolding standards are the third most commonly violated category of OSHA regulations. Simply adhering to these already-mandatory rules could save dozens of lives every year, but unfortunately, OSHA penalties and common decency are rarely enough to change the behavior of for-profit companies.
That’s why it’s so important for scaffolding accident survivors, and the families of the victims of scaffolding fatal accidents, to stand up for their rights in civil court. Not only can getting fair compensation offer a sense of justice and relieve the practical burdens that come with a loss, making it easier to focus on the emotional ones, it helps take the profit out of endangering workers.
Below, we’ll talk about what types of accidents might happen on scaffolds, what causes scaffolding to collapse, what can be done to prevent these accidents, who is responsible for them, and what survivors’ legal rights are after the fact.
If at any time you would like to talk directly with a Georgia construction accident lawyer about your specific scaffolding accident, simply reach out through our online chat function for a free consultation.
What Causes Scaffolding Accidents?
As noted above, the short answer is negligence. On a more practical level, the most common causes of scaffolding accidents can be divided up based on the three main scaffolding accident types:
- Collapsing scaffolding
- Falls from scaffolding
- Objects falling from scaffolding
We’ll start with the most complex and varied category, scaffolding collapse accidents. What causes scaffolding to collapse can vary from faulty materials to poor construction to external accidents. For example, in July of 2020, the parapet of a Manhattan building collapsed, striking a construction rig, which then struck a scaffold where workers were performing repairs. The scaffolding collapsed, and one worker was killed. In that case, there may have been nothing wrong with the scaffolding itself, but the building repairs were, by all accounts, long overdue, and it seems the construction company may not have accounted for how unstable it was in their setup.
Similar accidents happen fairly frequently with vehicles running into otherwise sound scaffolding. While these are some of the more difficult accidents to prevent when construction must be performed on public streets, construction companies should still anticipate likely hazards, such as local traffic, and take any reasonable measures to shield workers or include redundancies that will prevent severe falls in case of an accident.
The majority of scaffolding collapse accidents, however, occur without any external influence. In June of 2020, two workers fell down the inside of an Illinois water tower while performing sandblasting work, when their scaffold collapsed under them. One of them fell at least 50 feet, and both were rescued in critical condition. The accident was described as a “technical failure.”
That’s pretty much the same story that can be seen happening to construction workers all over the country, over and over again.
Still within 2020, another scaffolding collapsed in New Hampshire in February, causing one worker to fall an estimated 20-30 feet and forcing another to jump inside the building they were working on to avoid injury. The worker who fell was hospitalized. The company involved had already received numerous OSHA citations, including some related to scaffolding standards.
Another scaffolding collapse happened in the same New Hampshire town in July, this one fatal. A worker fell on top of a tool he had in his hand at the time of the collapse and severed an artery.
A few months later, in Miami Beach, Florida, another scaffolding collapsed under two workers. Like the others, this collapse shouldn’t have happened, but this incident differs in one vital way. The two workers both had backup safety harnesses that functioned perfectly and saved their lives. They were both rescued uninjured.
Scaffolding Doesn’t Have to Collapse to Cause Injuries and Death
The other two main types of scaffolding accidents occur without the scaffolding collapsing at all. In the second type, a worker falls over the edge of a non-collapsing scaffold. This, too, is troublingly common.
Such an accident happened in June of 2020 to a 16-year-old part-time subcontractor in Nashville, Tennessee. His older brother was standing next to him on the scaffolding and describes hearing a noise and turning just in time to see him go over. The victim fell 120 feet to his death. No safety harness was found on either the remains or the scaffold.
Then, in November, a man in Madison, Wisconsin fell at least 35 feet from a scaffold and was taken to the hospital in critical condition. OSHA was contacted, but no further details have been released.
The third kind of scaffolding accident occurs when an inanimate object falls from a scaffold and strikes a person on a lower level. While also common, these accidents are often left out of scaffolding accident statistics, because scaffolds are just one of many falling object hazards to be found on construction sites.
The role of the scaffolds themselves in these accidents should not be ignored, however, because the design and use of a scaffold can significantly affect its likelihood of causing a falling object accident. Lumping all falling object accidents together without paying attention to where the objects are falling from leads to missed prevention opportunities. Hard hats are great, but making sure they never need to be tested on the job is even better. Well-designed scaffolds can help do that.
What Can Be Done to Prevent Scaffolding Accidents?
So, how do you stop a scaffolding from falling? Or stop people or objects from falling off of scaffolding? What is the most dangerous hazard with scaffolding planks, really, and how can it best be addressed?
Though often ignored, OSHA does provide detailed safety standards for scaffolding construction and use. Some of these measures that construction companies can and should be taking to protect their workers include:
- Using planking rated to support at least four times the intended load.
- Making sure there is no more than a 1-inch gap between horizontal planking and uprights in most places, and never more than 9 ½ inches in places where irregular building shapes require a larger gap.
- Bracing scaffolds at regular intervals.
- Installing guardrails along all edges not facing the work, with drop-offs of more than 10 feet.
- Shielding workers below from falling objects using nets, toe boards, or catch platforms, while also requiring hard hats.
- Training all employees on the hazards and best practices associated with the kind of scaffolding they will be using.
- Providing personal fall arrest systems to anyone who will be working at a height.
- Never requiring or allowing workers to use cluttered or slippery scaffolding, except to correct the situation.
Following these standards and the rest of OSHA’s relevant codes can prevent scaffolding planks from giving way, stop tools and appendages from slipping through gaps, and provide multiple layers of protection against serious falls and head injuries.
These safety standards are not only freely available to construction companies, they’re legally non-negotiable. Companies that choose to ignore them are responsible for the harm they cause to workers and families and should be expected to pay for it.
When Can You Sue for Damages After a Scaffolding Accident?
Even when a construction company is clearly in the wrong, worker’s comp law may protect it from employee lawsuits. If you are eligible for worker’s comp, which usually only covers medical expenses and a portion of lost wages, you usually can’t sue your employer directly for full compensation. However, many construction workers are not classified as employees, and there may be other parties who are fault besides your employer.
If you were injured due to a construction company’s negligent use of scaffolding, you may have a case against them if any of the following are true:
- You are an independent contractor or otherwise not directly employed by the construction company.
- Your worker’s comp claim was denied.
- A superior caused your accident on purpose, rather than out of indifference.
Even if none of these apply to you, you may still be able to recover full compensation by looking to negligent parties other than your employer. For example, if the scaffolding was constructed from defective materials, the supplier could be held liable for your losses. The owners of building projects also often share liability in case of accidents and other subcontractors may be responsible as well.
You can pursue compensation from third parties while simultaneously collecting your worker’s comp payment, so there’s no need to wait before getting your immediate medical expenses covered.
The Stoddard Firm Has Passionate and Qualified Scaffolding Accident Lawyers in Georgia
When choosing a construction accident lawyer for scaffolding fatal accidents or injury cases, it’s important to find someone knowledgeable in all relevant areas of law, who will make your priorities their own.
The experts at The Stoddard Firm are closely familiar with employment law, premises liability, product liability, personal injury, and wrongful death. We know the typical circumstances surrounding scaffolding accidents, so we know what to look for, but we don’t make assumptions. We’ll perform our own thorough investigation of the accident to find out what went wrong, identify all negligent parties, and present you with your best options for full compensation.
When we say full compensation, we mean we don’t just want to make sure you can cover emergency surgery or, if necessary, funeral expenses without taking on debt. We mean we want all of your expenses related to the accident covered for the rest of your life, including lost income and long-term care, as well as a fair sum for your physical and emotional pain.
We’ll keep you in the loop every step of the way and fight for exactly the outcome you’re looking for.
Once again, whenever you’d like to discuss your case, you can reach us at 678-RESULT or through our online chat function for a free consultation.