Five Steps To Improve Scaffold Safety

Facility managers can avoid costly injury claims in New York by making sure scaffolds are safe for construction workers.

Adobe Stock/ Panumas

Slawomir Platta, Esq.

Scaffolding is a critical component of any construction site in the United States. In fact, two out of every three construction workers use scaffolding on the job. While allowing laborers of all trades to work at great heights, it also increases the risk of serious accidents and catastrophic injuries—especially when not used properly.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) estimates that scaffolding accidents cause about 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths annually—costing upwards of $90 million in lost work time.

Many scaffolding accidents are avoidable. They typically happen when employers and/or laborers fail to follow standards set by OSHA and New York’s Scaffolding Law.

Some simple steps can help to improve scaffold safety, decrease the likelihood of catastrophic accidents, and reduce the costs associated with resulting trauma and death.

1. Ensure Workers Are Properly Trained On How To Use Scaffolding Safely

Under New York state law, construction workers on most job sites must have 40 hours of safety training. OSHA has safety training requirements in place, too. Safety training should cover a variety of topics—including scaffolding safety.

There are a variety of in-person and online scaffold safety training courses that offer critical insight into different types of scaffold systems, common problems, and important safety tips.

Workers who have already completed their safety training should consider continuing education. Scaffold systems and change, safety recommendations can change over time— getting refreshers from time to time can help to ensure that everyone uses scaffolding rigs properly, which can reduce the likelihood of accidents.

2. Use Scaffolding Equipment That Meets OSHA And NY Safety Standards

Not all scaffolding systems are created equally. Employers may try to cut corners when purchasing or rigging scaffolding (and other equipment) to save on cost.

A used system or an outdated system, when assembled, may not have:
● Guardrails that are the correct height,
● Necessary crossbracing
● Use midrails, or
● Fully planked or decked platforms.

Scaffolding must also have fall arrest or other fall protection systems in place to ensure that workers are protected against dangerous falls from heights. If a worker notices that a scaffolding structure fails to comply with these (and other) safety standards, it’s critical to notify a supervisor right away.

3. Follow Instructions Provided By The Manufacturer When Erecting And Rigging Scaffolds

Every manufacturer has its own unique design and protocol for erecting and rigging scaffolding systems. The best way to ensure that scaffolding is assembled and built properly is by following the manufacturer’s instructions step by step.

Any misstep or mistake or assumption can result in an improperly assembled scaffolding system—which, in turn, can cause construction laborers to suffer serious injuries.

While workers compensation benefits may be available, it’s important to note that failure to follow the manufacturer’s instructions could prohibit workers seeking construction compensation from the company for additional costs and suffering.

3. Inspect Scaffolding Regularly

Scaffolding can take a while to build, anywhere between a few hours and more than a week, depending on the structure, its height, and its intended use. Structures that take weeks to build won’t be disassembled and reassembled frequently. They’re in place for a while.

Over time, and they’re used over the course of a construction project, scaffolding can become unstable or move. By ensuring that scaffolding is inspected on a regular basis, you can reduce the risk of it failing and causing workers to get hurt.

4. Supply Workers With Proper Personal Safety Protection Equipment

Scaffolding must be equipped with a fall safety or fall arrest system if laborers are working more than 10 ft. above a lower level. Additionally, workers must always be supplied with traditional safety equipment, including hard hats, gloves, and eye protection.

Workers who aren’t supplied with safety equipment or who are asked to work on scaffolding systems without adequate fall arrest systems and guardrails must notify their supervisors immediately. Not only are these violations that can result in costly fines, but they put construction workers—who are already engaged in some of the most dangerous work in NYC—at an even greater risk of harm.

Keep in mind that having safety equipment isn’t enough. Workers must be trained on how to properly use the equipment, like how to put on a harness the right way, for the equipment to be effective.

5. Identify Load Limits and Capacity For Scaffolding

Every piece of scaffolding equipment has its own load limit and capacity. Only so many workers, and tools, can use the structure (or an individual platform) at one time. If safety supervisors, project managers, and construction workers are not aware of the load limits of the specific scaffolding that’s being used on a job site, it’s increasingly likely that more laborers will use the system at one time than is safe.

Scaffolding can fail, causing workers to fall and sustain severe, if not fatal, injuries. Before using scaffolding, be certain that the capacity is identified and that its limit is strictly enforced.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Falls are a leading cause of death on construction sites across the nation. They’re also one of the top reasons that workers suffer catastrophic injuries and find themselves faced with an inability to work and sue for damages as a result. Scaffolding systems heavily contribute to these devastating falls.

Platta is the Founding Partner of The Platta Law Firm, PLLC. He earned his degree from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. He’s been trying construction accident cases throughout the Courts of New York for almost 20 years and has been featured as a Super Lawyer consecutively since 2015.

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