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Some 2.3 million workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, use scaffolding while on the job, says the Occupational Safety and Health Administration. They also frequently use ladders and other types of lifts. Because of this, falls and other height-related accidents are among the top causes of injury and death in the industry. A Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that 54 workers died in scaffolding accidents in 2009. Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that 81 percent of construction worker fall injuries involve a ladder.
Scaffolding and ladder accidents can result in a range of serious injuries, including broken bones, fractured spines and traumatic brain injuries. A BLS study found that 72 percent of workers injured in scaffolding accidents were hurt when the structure collapsed, they slipped and fell, or they were struck by a falling object. These types of accidents could be prevented if everyone in the construction industry complied with OSHA scaffold regulations.
OSHA scaffold regulations are designed to protect all U.S. workers from on-the-job injuries. Federal law mandates that all employers, managers and workers follow OSHA regulations when working on scaffolding. The key provisions of OSHA scaffolding standards include specifications on fall protection systems, guardrail height, scaffold platforms, capacity limits, worker training and equipment inspections.
All scaffolds must be designed and constructed in compliance with OSHA standards regarding equipment type, capacity limits, construction methods and use. Scaffolds manufactured after January 1, 2000, must have a top rail between 38 and 45 inches in height. OSHA requires that all scaffold platforms be fully planked or decked. Scaffolds and scaffold components must be able to support their own weight plus a minimum of four times their maximum loads while suspension scaffold rigging is required to support at least six times its maximum load. Once a scaffold is erected, each platform must be fully planked or decked. The maximum allowable space between the platform and uprights is 1 inch.
All employers are required to fully train each employee who will use a scaffold. This training must be provided by a competent individual who is qualified to spot and mitigate the dangers associated with the scaffold being used. OSHA requires the training to cover the potential hazards of scaffold use, correct erection and disassembling procedures, and the proper methods of inspecting, operating and maintaining the type of scaffold in use. Scaffolding should only be erected, dismantled or moved under the supervision of a qualified employee.
New York has a unique construction injury law compared to most other states. New York Labor Law Section 240, known as the "Scaffold Law," provides strict liability for all contractors operating in New York in the event of a scaffolding accident. This means that a contractor is legally required to pay all damages associated with a scaffolding accident that occurs on their worksite.
The law was created to provide special protection for employees who work on scaffolding. One reason for this extra protection is that workers who fall from heights tend to suffer severe and debilitating injuries. Another reason is that workers are dependent on their employer to provide safe equipment and proper training. As a result, New York places absolute liability on employers who fail to properly protect their workers from harm in scaffolding accidents. It also finds employers liable for any injuries suffered from unsecured objects that fall from a height.
Under New York Labor Law Section 240, the term "absolute liability" means that lawsuit defendants can be found liable for a scaffolding injury even if they did not directly employ the plaintiff. Therefore, liability claims can be extended beyond an injured worker's direct employer to include general contractors, property owners and others. In addition, some courts have ruled that an injured worker's own negligence does not absolve an employer or other defendants from legal responsibility. This means that any risk mitigation steps taken by the employer are not considered by the court. Opponents of New York Labor Law Section 240 believe its "absolute liability" provisions are responsible for a sharp increase in the cost of liability insurance.
Due to the height involved, scaffolding and ladder accident injuries tend to be serious. Common injuries include:
Workers who are injured as the result of a scaffold accident or ladder fall are eligible to file for workers' compensation benefits, which provide medical coverage and wage replacement payments. Injured workers may also have grounds to file a personal injury lawsuit against their employer for damages, including medical costs and lost wages, if they are found to be negligent. Because legal claims are time sensitive, it is important to schedule a consultation with an attorney as soon as possible. An attorney could carefully review the case and explain all legal options available.
Families who lose a loved one to a scaffolding or ladder accident may wish to speak to an attorney about filing a wrongful death lawsuit. This type of claim could lead to a settlement that covers funeral and burial costs, loss of income, loss of companionship and other related damages.
This article is intended to be helpful and informative. But even common legal matters can become complex and stressful. A qualified construction accident lawyer can address your particular legal needs, explain the law, and represent you in court. Take the first step now and contact a local construction accident attorney to discuss your specific legal situation.