Scaffolding Collapse

Tennessee Construction Injury Law: Scaffolding Collapse

scaffolding collapse concept - builder climbing on scaffolding at construction site

The scaffold is among the most commonly used pieces of construction equipment throughout the U.S. and even the world. These temporary, raised-platform work structures provide versatility to those working from otherwise inaccessible heights by serving as a work platform as well as a ladder. In general, when constructed, used, and disassembled properly, they also provide workers with heightened stability and balance.

An approximate exceeding 60% of all workers in the construction industry regularly use scaffolds, and the experienced construction accident attorneys at InjuryTN know that scaffolding collapses occur all too often in Tennessee and throughout the U.S.

Generally, there are three different kinds of scaffolds:

  • Aerial Lifts – devices which are mounted on vehicles used to elevate workers (boom platforms, aerial ladders, etc.)
  • Supported Scaffolds – bolstered by fixed load-bearing structural elements (i.e. frames, legs, outriggers, and poles)
  • Suspended Scaffolds – suspended by ropes or some other non-rigid material from an overhead structure

Although every type of scaffold has the potential to collapse, in this article we will focus our attention on supported scaffolding collapses.

Causes of Scaffolding Collapses

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), more than 70% of all accidents involving scaffolding collapses, those who were injured placed the blame on either the planks or supports giving way. Usually this occurs because of workers overloading the planks with occupants or materials, which may also cause instability and further damage to workers and the surrounding area. Additionally, worker slip-and-falls and struck-by accidents are commonly cited as primary concerns.

Exacerbating this concern is the mere fact that, in the late 90s, when the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) reviewed its standards for scaffoldings, it found more than 1 in 4 workers had not received adequate training. Worsening the issue, over 75% of all scaffolds in use didn’t have guard railing installed to help protect their workers from falling.

It is believed that mere adherence to regulatory safety standards might prevent more than 4,000 scaffolding collapses every year, in addition to preventing more than 50 fatalities from ever occurring.

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Essential Elements of Safe Scaffold Construction

In 2015, the University of Tennessee at Knoxville’s Environmental Health & Safety program published an in-depth analysis of elements essential to the safe use of scaffoldings in construction. This included:

  • Appropriate Construction – In order to mitigate the risk of a scaffold collapsing or falling, employers should always ensure scaffolds are constructed in compliance with OSHA’s safety standards regarding its strength and structural integrity. This means all scaffolds should be:
    • Completely planked
    • Able to support their own weight in addition to four times their intended weight
    • No more than four times the minimum base dimensions in height without the use of special precautionary measures
  • Proper Access – Restriction of access both to and from a scaffold to other surfaces, especially those with various different inclines.
    • Ramps and walkways located 6 feet above the lower level should have guardrails installed.
    • No ramp should incline more than 20 degrees off the ground.
  • Competent Persons – Both supervisors and workers on site should be appropriately trained and routinely monitored. Competent persons will be required for all of the following:
    • Managing the workers who construct, alter, move or disassemble scaffolds.
    • Determining the level of safety a scaffolding will provide for workers in severe weather conditions.
    • Training all workers accordingly for the work they will be completing
    • Conducting routine inspections on the scaffolds for noticeable defects prior to every shift as well as following any accidents which could affect the scaffold’s structural integrity

OSHA Updates & Continued Scaffold Safety

Numerous revisions to OSHA’s safety standards for scaffoldings made in 1996 addressed the governance of their construction, design, and use, with the intent of aiding in the prevention of electrocutions, falls, falling objects, overloading, and structural instability. Additionally, it covered a wider variety of scaffolds, provided employers with additional choices for fall protection systems for use by workers, and ensured that workers who construct and disassemble scaffolds receive suitable fall protection were feasible.

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