Scaffolds are temporary frameworks that allow construction workers to reach high places when working on a building. On average, 2.3 million construction workers will work frequently with scaffolds, and each year, there are about 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths from scaffolding falls and scaffold-related accidents.
While OSHA and state regulations continue to fight for safer construction environments, scaffolding accidents are still alarmingly prevalent in the construction industry. Many scaffolding accidents are a result of a scaffolding collapse, but here are a few other reasons you might get hurt on a scaffold:
- You slip and fall off a scaffold due to slippery conditions or an improper incline.
- Safety gear like a tether is improperly attached.
- Free objects like tools can fall and hit someone.
- The scaffold is too close to electrical wires, and you get electrocuted by a faulty wire.
What to Do After a Scaffolding Accident
See if anyone is hurt – Injuries from a scaffolding accident can range from minor to very serious. Take stock of your injuries as well as other people’s, and make sure no one is in critical condition. Call an ambulance if immediate assistance is needed.
Seek medical attention – Even if your injury wasn’t severe, getting medical help is still important. First, it establishes paperwork that looks at your injuries, which can be useful in filing for worker’s compensation, or may be submitted as evidence if the case goes to court. Second, the faster you receive
Evaluate the safety for other workers – Make sure the scaffold is brought up to legal standards before any other workers enter the area. If necessary, close off the dangerous location until it can be evaluated by a supervisor.
File a report – Although some laws do give time before a filing deadline approaches, filing a report as quickly as possible is recommended. This ensures that all the details are fresh in your mind, and can speed the process for things like worker’s compensation.
Speak with a lawyer – Before signing papers or receiving worker’s compensation, discuss your situation with a personal injury lawyer, to make sure that you are receiving all damages that are rightfully yours. Do not let your employer bully you into acting too quickly, or without legal counsel.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) works with state law-makers to ensure the safety of construction workers who use scaffolding. Here are a few especially important requirements that OSHA has laid down for scaffolds:
- Scaffolds must able to carry their own weight plus four times the maximum intended load.
- Scaffolds have to be equipped with guardrails, midrails and toeboards.
- Unstable objects, such as barrels, boxes, loose bricks or concrete blocks must not be used to support scaffolds or planks.
- Must use scaffold plank grade material.
- Scaffolds must undergo proper inspection and reinspection and speficied intervals.
- Employees must be instructed about the hazards of using diagonal braces as fall protection.
- Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electric power lines at all times.
- In addition, proper training is required for all personnel who will be required to be around or on a scaffold while working.
Liability laws may change from state to state, but in most cases, the safety of scaffolding and the workers on a construction site falls on the shoulders of the employer or contractor in charge. Supervisors and managers are responsible for ensuring that proper materials are used and erection standards are met; they are also required to inspect scaffolding on a regular basis to ensure worker safety.
In New York, workers are uniquely protected, as “Scaffold Law” states that all responsibility for gravity addicents (falls) is in the hands of the construction company. Other states may place responsibility with the company for scaffold materials and construction, but responsibility with the workers for accidents not caused by a faulty scaffold– like an eployee who falls at his own fault, or doesn’t listen to safety instructions and fails to wear a tether.
Worker’s compensation is designed to benefit both the employee and employer in the case of a worksite accident. For employees, worker’s comp covers medical expenses, along with a portion of the employee’s salary. For employers, it provides a “no-fault” insurance program, where employees agree not to sue the employer for additional compensation.
However, there are many instances in which worker’s compensation is either denied, or may not be sufficient to cover income loss or other damages. Your worker’s compensation might be denied if:
- The claim wasn’t reported or filed on time.
- Your employer disputes the claim.
- You did not receive medical treatment (the employer can argue that you weren’t injured).
If your employer is denying you compensation, it’s important to go through all the details with your lawyer. They may be able to fight for your right to worker’s comp, or they might suggest a civil suit against your employer instead.
Even if you qualify for, and receive, worker’s compensation, you may still be eligible for additional compensation. These damages can be fought for by filing a third-party claim.
For example, an electrician injured on scaffolding might receive worker’s compensation from their employee. However, the contractor who erected the scaffolding is also at fault for the injury, so the electrician could seek compensations by suing the contractor as a third-party claim. These claims can help cover lost income not covered by worker’s compensation, or loss of future earnings if you are unable to return to work due to your injury.
Frequently Asked Questions
How can I tell if I have a scaffolding injury case?
The best way to tell if you have a case is to speak to a lawyer with experience handling lawsuits for scaffolding injuries. They will be able to advise you on how to move forward, and help you get the compensation you deserve.
What if I was walking by a scaffolding when I was injured?
As a bystander, if scaffolding collapses on you, or construction materials fall from scaffolding and injure you, you do have the right to sue. Your case may involve a suit against the contractor, the property owner, or the company employing the construction worker, depending on how the scaffolding accident happened.
Can I work while receiving worker’s compensation?
You may not find a new job while receiving worker’s compensation. All your income must be properly reported; if it’s not, you may be liable for fraud under the law. If you had a second job at the time of injury, you may report it as part of your income. You may be eligible to receive partial wage coverage from worker’s compensation for both jobs.
Failure to disclose all income, or working while receiving worker’s compensation, is considered fraud and can lead to serious legal action against you.
What is “Light Duty”?
Your doctor may release you to “light duty,” meaning that you are well enough to perform work like clerical duties. Your doctor will specify limits on your physical abilities, which your employer must adhere to. If your employer has light duty work available, they are obligated to offer it to you. If the light duty work pays less than your previous position, disability wages may be able to cover a portion of the difference.
If you decline light duty work, this may have a negative effect on your worker’s benefits. In many states, turning down light duty will strip you of wage loss benefits. Some states may also rescind rehabilitation benefits in this case.
How do I report an OSHA scaffolding violation?
To report an OSHA regulation violation, such as unsafe scaffolding or a scaffolding accident that occurred at your worksite, you have several options: