Construction Falls: Scaffolds and Ladders Can Cause Serious Accidents

Construction Falls: Scaffolds and Ladders Can Cause Serious Accidents

We know from last week’s announcement by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) that a great many workers in Indiana, Illinois, and the rest of the country are asked by their employers to work in dangerous conditions.  We discussed OSHA’s Top Ten Cited Violations for 2016 in our prior post.

Of particular concern, however, are that two of the top ten most cited violations involve a specific kind of work:  jobs needing scaffolds or ladders.

Failures in meeting OSHA safety standards for (1) Scaffolding and (2) Ladders were huge violations this year.

Scaffolding: Third Most Cited OSHA Violation

Over half of all construction workers will need to use a scaffold on the job today; OSHA reports 65% of the construction industry will need to climb on a scaffold frequently as they work on the construction site.

That’s estimated to be over 2,300,000 construction workers who need to be up on scaffolds while at work. Failures in keeping those workers safe mean they can fall from the scaffold and suffer serious, sometimes fatal, injuries. 

Scaffolding safety regulations are found in OSHA Regulation 1926.451. Under federal law, scaffolding includes suspended scaffolds or supported scaffolds.

Suspended scaffolds are platforms that hang from an overhead structure.  They are suspended from above by ropes, wires, or other means.  Suspended scaffolds include:

Supported scaffolds rise from the ground and have at least one platform, usually involving a frame (but not always).  The platform is supported by beams, poles, or other rigid support.  Workers on construction sites use a variety of scaffolds in their work, including:

Biggest Dangers to Construction Workers Using Scaffolds

According to OSHA, the biggest dangers facing construction workers from falls involving scaffolds were the following safety violations:

  • Failing to make sure each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level is protected from falling to that lower level;
  • Not obeying the requirement that when scaffold platforms are more than 2 feet above or below a point of access, cross-braces shall not be used as a means of access;
  • Failing to have working levels of scaffolds fully planked or decked;
  • Failing to have personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems in place;
  • Failing to have Guardrail systems installed along all open sides and ends of platforms.

Ladders:  Seventh Most Cited OSHA Violation

Ladder safety is regulated under OSHA Regulation 1926.1053.  Many workers use portable ladders, which can be moved from location to location on the job site.

Ladders are often the cause of construction site fall accidents.  According to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health, ladders may be the cause of as much as 81% of construction site fall injuries

OSHA describes the following types of portable ladders:

With portable ladders, workers should not be asked to climb any ladder that will not support a load of at least four times the maximum intended load, as a general rule.  For those ladders that must lean against a support (non-self-supporting), the angle of the ladder should be monitored.  Improper positioning can lead to a serious fall.

With any ladder, rungs, cleats, and steps should be inspected to make sure that they meet minimum standards for spacing (10-14″ apart, etc.) and that they are parallel and in good working order.

Additionally, workers should not use a ladder that has not been maintained.  Employers need to make sure site ladders are clean with rungs and steps free from slippery coatings like oil, wet paint, grease, etc.

Biggest Dangers to Construction Workers Using Ladders on the Job

According to OSHA, the biggest dangers facing construction workers from falls involving ladders were the following safety violations:

  • Portable ladder access;
  • Ladders used for purposes other than the purpose for which they were designed;
  • Top or top step of a step ladder used as a step;
  • Using ladders with structural defects;
  • Worker carries an object or a load while using the ladder; carrying the load can cause the employee to lose balance and fall.

Falls from Ladders or Scaffolds on the Job Can Lead to Serious Injuries

Construction work is hard and dangerous work.  There’s plenty of risk on a construction site from things like chemicals, electricity, and heavy machinery.

It may seem like a fall from a ladder or scaffold is far from the most serious risk on a construction site.  That is sadly not true.

Our firm knows all too well that construction falls can be serious accidents which are life-altering to the construction worker and his family.  A ladder or a scaffold can be a danger that results in a fall accident with traumatic brain injury, a permanent spinal cord injury, or even a wrongful death.

The new OSHA revelations confirm that too many employers are not doing all that they should do in order to keep construction workers safe on the job site.   Be careful out there!

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