Scaffolds are used in virtually every major construction project. They are temporary structures that are built onsite to give workers elevation and access to all parts of the building. An estimated 65% of construction workers perform their duties on or from a scaffold, much of the time at extreme heights. Slip-and-fall accidents on scaffolds can be fatal, and many workers die due to falls from scaffolds every year.
These accidents usually can be avoided if hazards are addressed immediately and with the appropriate measures. However, it is not uncommon for safety violations to be committed, either by employees or employers. Injured victims may be entitled to compensation for the damages they have suffered as a result.
Attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP have more than 50 years of experience handling cases for workers and families of workers in the construction industry. We understand that if you have been injured in a fall from a scaffold, you will be faced with costly medical bills, loss of present and future income, and a long and painful period of recovery.
There are many ways in which structural failure can occur with scaffolds, and they are all connected to human error. Common causes of scaffold accidents include the following:
- Scaffolding is not stabilized or secure.
- Scaffolding is assembled incorrectly.
- Scaffolding is built without handrails or guards.
- Scaffolding is not kept in good condition.
- Scaffolding has not been adequately tested.
All of the above can lead to scaffolding collapse, failure, and deterioration. Accidents can also be caused by slippery or loose scaffolding.
Special labor laws established in New York State give workers the right to expect a safe working environment. If they suffer injury due to negligence, workers are entitled to compensation for their damages. These specific provisions address worker issues:
- Section 200: Requires employers and contractors and their agents to provide a safe working environment for employees. This provision also holds them liable in a workplace injury incident.
- Section 240: Details measures that must be taken to prevent falls and injuries.
- Section 241(6): Defines compliance with the New York State Industrial Code and establishes liability for any violations of the Code.
The full text of the statutes can be found through a search of New York State's Labor Laws. A New York personal injury lawyer can also help you gain a comprehensive understanding of these provisions.
The Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) was enacted in 1970, but it was in 1971 when Congress turned its full attention on scaffolding accidents, specifically, trying to avoid them. In 1996, Congress revised the "Safety Requirements for Scaffolding 1910.28" to identify three main points of scaffolding safety, and these requirements are still being used today.
Unfortunately, not all companies and workplaces take the time to ensure that full safety measures are in place in these identified areas, and that can lead to scaffolding accidents. It is important for victims of these accidents to know what the requirements are, so that they can seek compensation for negligence if it has occurred. The three main points identified by the OSHA in proper scaffolding use are:
- Proper training: Every individual working on scaffolding should have full knowledge about the scaffolding they are on – when to move on it, what the dangers are, and how to remain safe while on it.
- Ladders and guardrails: Scaffolding of varied sizes requires ladders and guardrails of varying sizes. Proper, functional ladders and guardrails must be installed on all scaffolding ten feet or more off the ground.
- Personal protective equipment (PPE): The most important PPE for scaffolding workers is fall protection, typically in the form of a harness. This PPE must be worn by all workers any time they are on the scaffolding.
The above requirements apply to all types of scaffolding. The three main types of scaffolding are:
- Supported scaffolding: Platforms on these scaffolds are supported by poles or frames to help keep them steady. This is the most common type of scaffold found on construction sites.
- Suspended scaffolding: These scaffolds have platforms too, but instead of holding steady on poles, they are suspended from above with wires or ropes. Suspended scaffolding is the type used by window washers.
- Aerial lifts: More commonly referred to as "cherry pickers,” aerial lifts are in fact a type of scaffolding. They are lifts, mounted on a vehicle, and are most frequently used when a person needs to be lifted, but typically not to a very great height. Utility companies sometimes aerial lifts these when working on wires.
The law states that every employer should have a "competent person" present any time scaffolding is going to be used. This individual is to inspect the scaffolding before it is used to ensure its safety. The competent person must be present any time the scaffolding is erected, moved, dismantled, or altered. This person is also responsible for making sure any person working on the scaffolding is wearing the PPE provided by the employer. These daily inspections will be in addition to the regular inspections performed by OSHA.
While it is easy for workers to blame the employer when a scaffolding accident has occurred, employers are not always at fault. There can be a number of parties responsible in scaffolding accidents, including subcontractors, manufacturers, leasing companies, vendors, and equipment designers.
Distinct types of scaffolding are used for different purposes on New York construction sites. Regardless of the type of scaffolding used, safety regulations and precautions must be rigorously observed to prevent tragic accidents. Common types of scaffolding include:
- Tubular steel scaffolding: This construction is sturdier than wood scaffolding. Manufacturer recommendations must be followed in erecting the scaffold, and all connections must be seated and locked properly.
- Wood scaffolding: It is crucial that each wood scaffold is designed to carry the full load of the work being done – including workers, building materials, tools and equipment, and the weight of the scaffold itself. Lumber used in constructing wood scaffolding must be of decent quality.
- Rolling Scaffolds/Baker Scaffolds: Rolling scaffolds are designed to be portable. Caster brakes or wheel locks should be in use at all times when rolling scaffolds are not being moved. Workers should not ride rolling scaffolds while they are in motion or attempt to move them by pulling on overhead structures. All items and equipment on a rolling scaffold should be removed or secured before the scaffold is moved.
- Pole scaffolds: There are two categories of pole scaffolds -- light trades and heavy trades. The light trades category is used by painters, carpenters, and other trades that do not bring heavy loads to the scaffold platform. Steel workers, stone masons, bricklayers, and concrete workers use heavy trades pole scaffolds.
Under the NYC Building Code, adjustable and non-adjustable suspended scaffolds are subject to installation inspection. Inspection is required when the scaffold is installed at the site, when it is relocated to a new drop, or when any part or attachment is added, relocated, or removed. The scaffolding inspection must be performed by:
- A licensed rigger (or a licensed sign hanger if the scaffold is to be used exclusively for sign hanging);
- A rigging foreman employed and designated by a licensed rigger (or a sign hanging foreman employed and designated by a licensed sign hanger, if the scaffolding is to be used exclusively for sign hanging);
- A professional engineer or architect licensed or registered in the state of New York; or
- A person employed and supervised by a licensed engineer or registered architect in the state of New York.
However, when the integrity of the scaffolding support surface is in question or when parapet clamps are used, a New York State licensed engineer or registered architect must perform the inspection.
New York construction workers are injured in scaffold accidents every year. Scaffolds are often constructed at significant heights and falls from heights – or falling objects dropped from scaffolds -- can cause catastrophic or fatal injuries. Types of injuries common in scaffold accidents include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Spinal cord injury (causing paraplegia or quadriplegia)
- Back and neck injuries
- Arm and elbow injuries
If you have been seriously injured on the job, your best chance of recovering full compensation is to have an experienced personal injury lawyer handling your case. The workers' compensation insurance company may refuse or try to lessen the amount of your claim. Our New York construction injury attorneys can help you file your claim and handle an appeal if necessary.
Your injuries may have been preventable if the contractor or property owner had followed the appropriate OSHA safety guidelines and had provided the required safety training. In addition to workers compensation benefits, you may have a third-party claim for compensation. We can thoroughly investigate your accident to determine fault and liability and vigorously pursue the compensation you deserve.
New York personal injury attorneys at Wingate, Russotti, Shapiro & Halperin, LLP have been rated AV® by Martindale-Hubbell® -- the highest possible rating for both ethical standards and legal abilities. We have been listed among the Best Law Firms by U.S. News and World Report and awarded membership in the Million Dollar Advocates Forum. Our firm has recovered more than $1 billion for our clients. Call us at (212) 986-7353 to schedule a free consultation after a serious scaffolding accident.
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NY Scaffolding Accident Verdicts & Settlements
$7.25 Million - Scaffold Defect
$3.375 Million - Non-Union Laborer Injured in Scaffold Fall
$3.2 Million - Union Worker Falls from Scaffold
$3 Million - Fall Off of a Scaffold
$2.95 Million - Worker Falls From Scaffold
$2.5 Million - Scaffold Accident Crane Collapse
$2.2 Million - Scaffolding Accident
$1.3 Million - Man Killed in Fall From Scaffolding