How can Scaffolding Accidents be Prevented?

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Scaffolding is a common sight at many construction sites across the United States. Whenever something tall needs exterior work and even while it is going up initially, workers often rely on scaffolding to enable them to do their jobs. In a city such as Baltimore that has buildings as old as the nation itself, scaffolding use is common and most people fully understand the potential dangers of working with scaffolding. Scaffolding can be very high, very narrow, and relatively unstable when compared with working on the ground.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says the United States had about 7.5 million workers employed in the construction industry in 2019. The annual job-growth rate for the entire construction industry was nearly six percent that year and rising, until the coronavirus pandemic interrupted that progress. That means the nation has more than eight million people working in the construction industry and rising.

Scaffolding Poses Significant Dangers

The U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) says about two-thirds of all construction workers use scaffolding while on the job. With such a large percentage of construction workers using scaffolding to get work done, scaffolding accidents injure thousands of workers and killed dozens more each year. Many of these accidents generate claims for Workers’ Compensation.

As of 2003, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics says scaffolding accidents caused an average of 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths every year. Those injuries and deaths cost workers and their families significant pain, suffering, medical costs, and lost income. Those injuries and deaths also cost employers about $90 million.

Those numbers likely rose in proportion to construction industry job gains in recent years. Therefore, it is safe to say scaffolding is a major cause of workplace accidents and injuries and a significant cause of deaths among construction workers. Nearly three-fourths of those deaths involve bad scaffolding.

OSHA says workers attributed one of three main causes in 72 percent of scaffolding accidents that caused their injuries:

  • Either the planking or the support structure suddenly gave way.
  • Wet or slick planking caused them to slip and fall.
  • Falling objects struck and injured workers.

Extensive use of scaffolding makes it critically important to ensure scaffolding is placed properly and safely. Scaffolding is designed to protect workers and pedestrians alike, but accidents do happen. The following scaffolding safety suggestions could help you to avoid suffering a scaffolding-related injury.

Train Workers to be Scaffolding-Competent

Scaffolding is a very important piece of equipment that requires proper use, just like any other equipment. When you are working on scaffolding, your employer should not just send you up to work with no assurance that you understand how to work on and with scaffolding. Your employer should ensure you know how to work safely, prevent falls, and not drop tools or cause other items to fall.

Properly trained scaffolding-competent workers know how to work safely with scaffolding and use appropriate safety equipment and measures. They also know how to identify and correct potential issues with scaffolding to prevent accidents from occurring. When you and your coworkers are scaffolding-competent, you greatly reduce the odds of suffering injury accidents.

Inspect Scaffolding Often

Scaffolding does not just go up and stay put until you take it down. Like all things mechanical or that humans build, it is subject to the effects of time, weather, and changing work conditions. Your employer needs to ensure scaffolding goes up properly and remains in good working condition throughout the construction project. Regular inspections prior to sending work crews up and continual inspections throughout the workday help to keep scaffolding in solid and safe condition. If any improper conditions are found, your employer should make sure they are corrected to provide you and your coworkers with the safest possible work area.

Fall Protection and Arrest Systems

Safety harnesses can stop you from falling several stories to the ground. If you do fall, an arrest system can save you from making a hard landing. Those kinds of fall-protection systems are critically important for your employer to provide you and your coworkers so that you can stay relatively safe.

Likewise, hand tools and other construction equipment that you use while on the job can be secured with cables that are long enough to let you move freely while working but that stop the gear from falling if you drop it. It can also help to install safety nets outside the scaffolding to catch items that might fall.

Use Appropriate Guardrail, Midrail, and Crossbracing

OSHA has specific guidelines for erecting and securing scaffolding to ensure the best possible workplace protection. Guardrails have especially detailed requirements that your employer must ensure are correct to prevent accidents and avoid OSHA violations. The guardrails include a toprail, midrail, and crossbracing to ensure everything stays securely in place while giving you the best possible protection.

Scaffolds that were manufactured since 2000 must have toprails that are mounted between 38 inches and 45 inches high. The midrails can be mounted about halfway between the planking and toprail. If the midrail is secured by the crosspoint in a crossbrace, the midrail must be between 20 inches and 30 inches higher than the work platform. Properly placed guardrails and crossbracing help to ensure the best protection against falls.

Secure All Platforms and Footings

You cannot work safely if your footing is loose. All scaffolding platforms and footing must be properly secured and inspected regularly to maintain solid footing. Scaffold-competent workers who are trained to observe and identify potential planking and footing problems are especially important for maintaining scaffolding safety. Also important is regular inspection before and after work crews start their respective shifts.

Proper Maximum Load Support

OSHA says a scaffold should hold at least four times its maximum intended load. If the scaffolding is suspended, it must hold six times its maximum intended load weight. If you employer erects scaffolding that does not meet those standards, there is a much greater potential for a catastrophic failure while under maximum load.

Those kinds of failures are likeliest to occur while the scaffolding has the most workers on it, which raises the potential for mass casualties. Some projects require engineers to determine maximum intended loads and the proper structure to meet OSHA requirements and give you a relatively safe work environment.

Secure with Guying Ties and Braces

The effects of weather, temperature, and use all cause scaffolding to suffer the effects of entropy. Entropy in engineering refers to the natural tendency for mechanical things and structures such as scaffolding to go from a properly built state into one that needs some attention. Changes in weather and outdoor temperature can cause scaffolding to expand and contract as well as move about slightly. If left ignored, that scaffolding could become dangerous to workers.

That is why it is critically important to ensure guying ties and braces are in place and regularly checked and secured. Your employer should train all workers to pay close attention to guying ties and braces as well as other securing equipment to help maintain relatively secure and safe scaffolding.

Baltimore Workers’ Compensation Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Help Workers Recover from Their Injuries

Scaffolding accidents injure thousands of workers and kill dozens more annually. Nearly three-fourths of worker injuries with scaffolding are due to defective conditions that should have been identified and corrected. If you or someone you know is injured from a scaffolding-related accident, the experienced Baltimore Workers’ Compensation lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton are available to help. We will fight to obtain the best compensation for you and hold liable parties accountable. Call us today at 844-556-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to learn more and to schedule a free consultation.

Located in Baltimore, we serve clients throughout Maryland.