Over 2 Million Individuals Work on Scaffolds: How can Employers Keep Them Safe?
December 15, 2017
Approximately 2.3 million individuals work on scaffolds every year, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) –but 4,500 of them are injured and another 60 die largely because of employer safety failures. The administration reports that the cause of these accidents is often the support or planking giving way, or that a worker slips or is hit by a falling object. If employers comply with OSHA’s scaffolding standards, fewer employee injuries and deaths will occur.
There are three main types of scaffolds: support scaffolds, aerial lifts and suspended (elevated) scaffolds. Suspended scaffolds typically include one or more platforms or planks, which are supported by overhead support. Support scaffolds are also made with one or more platforms but instead of being elevated are supported by legs, frames, poles, outriggers or other kinds of load-bearing materials. Aerial lifts vary from both supported and suspended scaffolds because they are vehicle mounted devices that lift workers to elevated positions.
Particular types of work equipment can come with inherent hazards, so it is important for employers and employees alike to take precautionary measures. OSHA investigates workplace injuries and deaths and finds that scaffold hazards can be most commonly attributed to an employer’s failure to provide adequate fall protection, improper scaffold stability, unsafe loading practices and workplaces that are prone to falling debris, work materials and tools. Because suspended scaffolds and aerial lifts allow for workers to be at elevated heights, there are serious electrocution and fire hazards present that can occur if scaffolding or a worker comes into contact with electrical power lines.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) finds that almost three-quarters of all scaffold falls are the result of planking or support collapsing or an employee falling or being struck by an object. This is why employer and workplace compliance with federal OSHA safety standards is essential: it can literally help save a worker’s life if he or she gets stuck in a dangerous situation. OSHA urges employers to take thorough scaffold safety measures, such as:
- Use fall arrest systems (and personal fall arrest systems) as well as guardrails;
- Never overload scaffolding with people or equipment;
- Ensure that a competent team member inspects scaffolding;
- Close off the area below a scaffold to require no-entry while in use;
- Install a net or canopy to protect workers from all falling objects, tools and equipment, and:
- Observe the appropriate clearance distance between suspended scaffold and all power lines – consider de-energizing power lines if necessary
Workers can suffer catastrophic injuries from poorly maintained, improperly guarded or unstable scaffolding and aerial lifts. Some injuries that are commonly associated with this type of work accident are traumatic brain injuries or TBIs, internal organ injuries, paralysis, spinal cord injuries, broken bones and severe lacerations. Depending on how serious the injury is, individuals may require substantial time off work for treatment, rehabilitation, surgery and recovery. In many cases, however, a worker may become permanently disabled after being injured on-the-job in a scaffolding-related incident.
Just recently, a Philadelphia man was shocked and thrown from a suspended scaffold. The scaffold appeared to be too close to nearby electrical lines, which the man mistakenly touched as he was working. Thankfully, the incident was not fatal and the worker survived his injuries and fall – but not everyone is so lucky. Without the strict adherence of every employer to OSHA guidelines, workers will remain at serious risk for injury and death from scaffolds.
Even though OSHA oversees workplace safety and can step in to enact financial penalties against workplaces involved in scaffolding safety failures, the same company may be fined for failing to keep employees safe over and over again. A New Jersey company performing contractor work in Philadelphia was just fined nearly $20,000 by the administration – but reports show that the same company was fined for similar reasons in 2014. In this instance, the company was allowing workers to perform duties on unsecured scaffolding, which had also been built too closely to electrical power lines and had no protection against falling objects installed. It should come as no surprise that scaffold failures often make their way onto OSHA’s yearly list for the ten most common safety violations.
Individuals who are disabled as the result of a workplace illness, injury, disease or condition are able to file for workers’ compensation benefits, as well as those with preexisting conditions and a job that made them worse. Workers’ compensation benefits are intended to help injured workers sustain themselves and their loved ones – who may rely on sharing incomes to make ends meet – while they take the time they need to recover from a workplace injury. If you have been injured at work, you should report it to your supervisor right away and be sure to keep a personal record of your injury or illness.
Employers not only need to be aware of the three main types of scaffolds, but also the common hazards that come along with them, various hazard prevention measures and how to ensure installing and using scaffolds safely in any kind of workplace that requires their use. Scaffold and aerial lift-related injuries and deaths occur far too frequently, especially considering they can often be prevented.
Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at Galfand Berger, LLP Represent Individuals Injured by Workplace Falls from Scaffolding
If you or a loved one has suffered injuries or death due to a workplace accident, please contact our Philadelphia Workers’ Compensation lawyers. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Reading and Lancaster, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation with a member of Galfand Berger’s legal team, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.