Find out your legal options if you’re hurt in a scaffold accident at work
A scaffold is an elevated, temporary work platform used by workers to elevate themselves, materials, and equipment. In the United States, roughly 2.3 million construction workers (around 65% of the construction industry) work on scaffolds.
If you haven’t used a scaffold, you’ve probably seen the complicated system of metal or aluminum pipes from a distance and been thankful you weren’t balancing on it. In reality, scaffolds can be safe when used properly.
Unfortunately, they’re not always used properly — and when mistakes are made the consequences can be deadly.
Scaffolding accident statistics
According to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), scaffold-related accidents result in roughly 60 deaths and 4,500 injuries every year. Falls from scaffolds account for roughly 25% of fatal falls from all working surfaces.
In all, employers lose almost $90 million in workdays lost as a result of scaffold accidents and injuries every year.
These statistics show how important it is — for both workers and employers — to take workplace safety seriously.
Common causes of scaffold accidents
According to a recent BLS study, 72% of scaffold accidents can be attributed to 1 of the following 3 causes:
- Scaffold support or planking gives way due to defective equipment or improper assembly
- Slipping or tripping while on a scaffold due to factors such as slippery surfaces or lack of guardrails
- Falling objects hitting either a worker on a scaffold or those below
As for the other 28%, scaffold accidents can be caused by:
- Electrocution as a result of scaffolds and equipment being too close to power or utility lines
- Environmental conditions, such as wind, rain, and the presence of hazardous substances
- Inadequate fall protection
- Collapse of scaffold due to overloading
Common scaffold accident injuries
Due to the fact that scaffolds are used to get access to heights that are otherwise too high to reach, most scaffolding accidents result in serious injuries or death. The most common scaffold injuries include:
Of course, it’s not just workers who can be injured in scaffolding accidents. Pedestrians can be seriously hurt or killed when scaffolding collapses.
Scaffolding safety standards
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) publishes regulations on scaffold safety, including how to construct, maintain, and use scaffolds.
In addition, many private organizations publish scaffold safety standards. Violations of these standards can be used as evidence of negligence in personal injury cases resulting from scaffold accidents.
Preventing scaffold accidents
Despite how dangerous scaffolding might look, serious injuries and fatal falls can be prevented. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) recommends taking the following safety measures:
- Comply with current and proposed OSHA regulations for working with scaffolds.
- Assure that the design and construction of scaffolds conform with OSHA requirements.
- Keep scaffold suspension ropes and body belt or harness system drop lines (lifelines) protected from hot or corrosive substances.
- Wear personal fall protection equipment.
- Inspect all scaffolds, scaffold components, and personal fall protection equipment before each use.
- Use structurally sound portions of buildings or other structures to anchor drop lines for body belt or harness systems and tiebacks for suspension scaffold support devices.
- Follow scaffold manufacturers’ guidance regarding the assembly, rigging, and use of scaffolds.
What to do if you’re injured in a scaffold accident
If you’ve been injured in a scaffold accident — whether as a worker or a bystander — you’ll want to consider filing an injury claim so that you can be reimbursed for any damages you suffered. Depending on the circumstances of the accident, you have 2 main options:
- Workers’ compensation claim. Workers’ compensation is a type of insurance that provides benefits to employees injured during the course of employment. Though workers’ compensation laws differ from state to state, the vast majority of employers are required to carry workers’ compensation insurance. If you’re a construction worker and you slip on a scaffold and injure yourself, a workers’ compensation claim is your most likely recourse. One of the major benefits of a workers’ compensation claim (as opposed to a personal injury lawsuit) is that workers’ compensation is a no-fault insurance system. This means you don’t have to prove that anyone was at fault for your injury in order to receive compensation.
- Personal injury claim. If the scaffold you used was defective, and the defect caused your accident, then you may be able to sue the manufacturer of the equipment. This is a form of personal injury lawsuit known as a product liability lawsuit. A personal injury lawsuit would also be appropriate if you’re a bystander injured as a result of a scaffold accident. In such a case, you would have to show that the company (or individual) using the scaffold was negligent —in other words that they were careless and their carelessness caused your injuries.
The specific damages you can recover will depend on the nature of your accident, as well as the laws of the state in which you file your lawsuit or workers’ compensation claim. However, in most cases, you’ll be able to recover economic damages (medical expenses, lost wages, etc.) and non-economic damages (pain and suffering, loss of consortium, etc.).