Although scaffolding is a problem to people throughout New York City, construction workers are in the greatest danger of scaffold accidents. Scaffolds are commonly used at construction sites to let workers reach raised areas to do electrical, carpentry, and plumbing work, as well as to give welders access to areas they cannot normally reach. When used properly, scaffolds are an integral part of the construction industry.
How Scaffolds Can Be Used Safely
About two-thirds of all construction workers use scaffolds each year, which creates a huge potential for accidents and injuries. On a construction worksite, scaffolds should be erected to code and everyone around them should be trained in safe practices when on or around a scaffold. Many fatalities in construction each year are caused by falls and being struck by falling objects, and scaffolds present both of these risks. Safety rails should always be included on scaffolds, which must be built to support construction-level weight, and workers on raised scaffolds should wear harnesses and tie-off lines so that they can be caught if they do fall.
A big problem in the construction industry is that when safety violations do occur, they go unreported.
Construction companies are frequently cited for not setting up or using scaffolds to OSHA standards. This is the third most common OSHA violation in the country. If workers report these violations, and ensure that site managers enforce the safety standards, that will be greatly reduce the chances of a workplace accident and injury.
Are There Rules for New York Scaffolds?
As a busy city that seems to be always under construction, New York has additional risks of scaffolding-related injury to pedestrians. Safety laws passed in the 1980s require building facades to be inspected, and repaired or replaced as necessary to keep pedestrians beneath structures safe. However, building owners can erect scaffolds to ensure falling debris is caught or held in place, which meets the requirements of these laws.
Unfortunately, no deadline was ever put in place for how long these scaffolds can remain, only that the permit for them be renewed periodically. This is usually less expensive than actually having the exterior of the building repaired or renovated.
Because of this, scaffolding has become an eyesore and danger on streets throughout the City. Building owners complain that repair costs are too high, and that the scaffolds keep pedestrians safe while allowing them to keep rental prices reasonable. But the scaffolds themselves present new dangers, including tripping hazards for people walking past them, and danger from renters placing items on top of scaffolds above city streets, which can fall and strike someone underneath. Business owners also complain about scaffolds blocking their storefronts and hurting their businesses as customers refuse to fight their way past the structures to get inside the store.
What You Can Do
Although several attempts have been made to place limits on how long these scaffolds can be kept up in front of a building, so far they have all failed. Most scaffolds, or “sidewalk sheds” as they are called, are removed a few years after the repair work is done, but even two years of living with scaffolding can be painful. In some cases, however, these sheds are left up for years with no repair work being done. One offender has had scaffolding up for more than a decade, with no sign of actual work taking place any time soon!
The best thing you can do is support city lawmakers working to find a reasonable solution to the city scaffolding problem. New scaffolds are being designed that are brighter, more visually appealing, and less obstructive on sidewalks and around buildings. Encourage local businesses or building owners to use this type of scaffolding, so that city streets become safer and more enjoyable for all pedestrians.
If you trip and fall over a scaffold, or fall off a scaffold while working, take legal action against the building owner so that they realize leaving these obstructions up for an indefinite period of time is unacceptable. For more information, call the attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP, at (212) 986-7353.