Scaffolding Collapses and Accidents Are a Major Contributor to Construction Hazards
Scaffolding collapses at construction sites grab big headlines, but are they all that common? The answer is that scaffolding collapses are not rampant, but scaffolding accidents are among the leading causes of construction site injuries and deaths, even where there is no collapse. These accidents can happen anywhere, including small towns, big cities, and everything in-between.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reported that in 2009 there were 54 fatalities involving scaffolding accidents. The BLS found that 72 percent of employees injured in scaffolding accidents blamed the accident on either the planking giving way – a collapse – or the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object.
When you look at the numbers, the incidence of scaffolding accidents is not insignificant. There were 5,190 employees killed on the job during 2016. That works out to about 3.6 fatalities per 100,000 full-time employees. That averages to 99 workplace fatalities per week, or more than 14 workplace deaths per day. Out of the 4,693 workplace deaths in private industry during 2016, 991 – more than 21 percent – were in construction occupations, meaning more than one in five employee deaths in 2016 were in construction jobs. Four events were responsible for more than 63 percent of construction industry deaths. These included:
- Falls, which accounted for 84 out of 991 total deaths in construction in 2016. This includes falls from scaffolds.
- Being struck by an object killed another 93 construction employees in 2016. This, likewise included injuries to worker on scaffolds.
- Electrocutions killed another 82 construction workers in 2016 and constituted the third-leading cause of death on construction worksites.
- Being “caught in between” resulted in 72 construction site deaths in 2016. This includes construction workers killed when caught in or compressed by equipment or objects, and struck, caught, or crushed in collapsing structure, equipment, or material, including scaffolding collapses.
An industry group, the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), did an analysis of construction injury and fatality statistics that concluded scaffolding accidents were on the rise. The group’s analysis showed that the number of falls from scaffolding and working platforms increased by 13% from 15 in 2013 to 17 in 2014. The analysis by the NASC included only incidents at NASC member construction sites.
Still, the study found that 97 percent of all reportable accidents at such sites in 2014 were what are known as “slips, trips and falls” or STF accidents. These frequently are scaffolding accidents, as the single largest cause of accidents to workers on scaffolds is not falls from height, but slips, trips and falls on the same level. The NASC study also found that the one injury to a member of the public was the result of a scaffold collapse.
Many Scaffolding Accidents are a Result of Regulatory Violations
Scaffolding construction is highly regulated, and scaffolding failures and accidents often are the result of violations of these regulations. Among the top 10 standards violations cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration from October 2016 through September 2017, four violations involved regulations related to scaffolding work, including:
- Fall protection while on scaffolds
- Scaffolding construction requirements
- Fall protection training
Regulatory requirements for scaffolding construction are extensive. These requirements include:
- Fall protection or fall arrest systems. These are required for any employee working more than 10 feet above the next lower level
- Guardrails, which must be of in a certain range of height
- Midrails, which must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface
- Footings for scaffolding upright supports must meet certain standards for stability
- Platforms must be fully decked
- Guying ties, and braces are required for scaffolds over specified heights
- Capacity requirements are such that scaffolds and scaffold components must support at least four times the maximum intended load
- Training for every employee who works on a scaffold relating to the hazards and the proper procedures to address those hazards
- Regular inspections are required before each work shift and after any event that could affect the structural integrity of the scaffold
- Erecting and dismantling must be conducted by a trained person who is able to determine the feasibility of providing a safe means of access and fall protection for these operations
Federal law requires that contractors, building owners, and others overseeing construction sites provide a reasonably safe working environment for their employees as well as for members of the public passing by the site. Despite these requirements, federal studies show that the requirements often are not scrupulously followed.
A study by the National Center for Biotechnology Information in 2004 found that scaffolding practices at many construction sites were somewhat lax. The NCBI applied a 150-point checklist to evaluate scaffold safety practices at 113 scaffolds in nine areas of the eastern United States. The study found that nearly 32 percent of the scaffolds were either in danger of collapse or were missing planking, guardrails, or adequate access.
The study also found that there was a strong statistical correlation between such structural flaws and fall protection hazards. The study further determined that there often was a lack of proper scaffold safety practices in place, including having competent persons for scaffold safety training, the use of independent scaffold erection contractors, and the use of scaffolds that were not simple frame types.
Clearly, construction scaffolds are hazardous places for employees and, in the event of a collapse, also for passersby. Given the high percentage of workplace accidents that take place on construction sites and the high percentage of construction site accidents that involve scaffolding, scaffolding safety has to be a major concern. When accidents occur involving scaffolding, the injured have rights and should seek legal guidance.
If You Have Been Injured in an Accident Involving Construction Scaffolding in the Chicago area, Contact the Attorneys of Abels & Annes
If you have been involved in an accident involving construction site scaffolding, you should consider consulting an attorney to determine what your rights are under the circumstances of your accident. The attorneys of Abels & Annes can assist you in protecting your rights when you are involved in such an accident. You can reach us at (312) 924-7575 or through our website.