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13 Common Causes of Scaffolding Collapse at Construction Sites

Common Causes of Scaffolding Collapse at Construction Sites

Construction is one of the most dangerous occupations in the United States. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), construction and extraction jobs had 951 occupational deaths in 2021 alone — the second highest after the transportation and material moving sectors.

Scaffolding collapse is a leading cause of injury and death for construction workers. The BLS reported that scaffolds and staging accounted for 119 deaths or 14% of fatal falls between 2003 and 2013. 

These statistics are unfortunate because scaffolding accidents are almost always preventable. While there is an inherent risk of falling whenever someone is working from a height, there are many safety measures construction companies can take to minimize that risk and protect their workers.

If you were injured or lost a loved one due to a scaffolding collapse,  experienced scaffolding accident lawyers in New York can explain your legal options and advise whether you can seek compensation. Read on to learn about common causes of scaffolding collapse, how to prevent such accidents, and what to do after a fall.

What Does New York State Law Say About Scaffolding Safety?

New York law acknowledges how dangerous construction occupations can be and has special protections in place for workers. 

Construction companies, employers, contractors, managers, and property owners have a duty to ensure worker safety. More specifically, Section 240 of the New York State Labor Law requires contractors and owners to take adequate safety measures to prevent scaffolding, staging, pulleys, ropes, and similar devices from causing falls and serious injury.

If they failed to provide safety measures and equipment, they would be strictly liable for a worker’s injuries. Strict liability means that someone is legally responsible for an act they committed regardless of their intent or state of mind at the time. 

However, even if your employer took safety measures, they may still be liable for your injuries if those measures weren’t sufficient or if they were negligent or reckless. A New York scaffolding accident lawyer can review your case and advise whether you can claim compensation from your employer.

13 Common Causes of Scaffolding Collapse Accidents

Common causes of scaffolding accidents in New York include:

  1. Negligent manufacturing
  2. Unsafe scaffold design
  3. Failure to properly secure, support, stabilize, or fasten scaffolds
  4. Lack of overhead protection
  5. Lack of guardrails
  6. Malfunctioning brakes
  7. Defective pulleys
  8. Defective fall safety systems
  9. Overloaded scaffolding
  10. Improper scaffold maintenance
  11. Old, rotted, or rusty scaffolds
  12. Bent, damaged, or otherwise compromised scaffolds
  13. Violations of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) guidelines

Many of these causes come down to negligence by a construction job site supervisor or manufacturer. Whether you are a construction worker who was injured at work or a pedestrian injured by falling scaffolding, a New York scaffolding accident lawyer can help you understand your rights, gather evidence, and file a claim to hold the negligent party responsible. 

Other Scaffolding Bad Practices 

Scaffolding collapse isn’t the only dangerous and potentially fatal type of accident related to scaffolds. Other common hazards include electrocutions and accidents due to the use of makeshift scaffolds.

Electrocutions on Scaffolding

Many scaffolds have a metal framework. Metal is an electrical conductor, so electrocution is always a risk on construction sites, which nowadays have many electric wires and extension cords. The risk of electrocution is particularly high when the site is wet due to rain, sleet, or snowfall or when construction crews use wet saws to make concrete or tile cuts.

Unfortunately, many construction workers suffer severe injuries or death due to electrocution every year. According to the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), 77% of the 325 contract worker electrocutions reported between 2012 and 2016 involved construction workers.

Makeshift Scaffolding

In some cases, the construction company or site owner recognized the need for scaffolds but used improper materials to create makeshift scaffolding, often because they were cutting corners to save money. 

This practice is illegal under New York State Labor Law and often results in accidents and injured people. In fact, it can be more dangerous to use makeshift scaffolds than to not use scaffolds at all.

Common examples of makeshift scaffolds include:

  • Stacking barrels, lumber, rocks, debris, or other materials for workers to climb and stand on
  • Putting workers on forklifts or bucket loaders and elevating them to the desired height
  • Repurposing concrete footing frames as scaffolding by nailing them to the building under construction or another structure

Common Injuries from Scaffolding Collapse and Scaffolding Accidents

Construction activities and scaffolding falls, in particular, can cause catastrophic and disabling injuries. Examples include:

  • Broken bones
  • Crushing injuries
  • Scarring or disfigurement
  • Loss of limbs
  • Internal organ damage
  • Neck and back injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Nerve damage 
  • Paralysis
  • Traumatic brain injury (TBI) 
  • Knee and shoulder injuries, including partial or total replacement
  • Death 

What to Do After a Scaffolding Accident

If you have been injured in a scaffolding accident, it’s essential to act fast to protect your health and legal interests. Here are the steps you should take after a scaffolding incident:

  • Seek immediate medical attention: Call an ambulance or ask someone else to do it. Scaffolding collapse can cause severe injuries, so you should seek medical help as soon as possible. Do this even if you feel fine — some internal and brain injuries don’t always present symptoms at first.
  • Inform your supervisor: Let your supervisor know that you’ve had an industrial accident, preferably on the day of the accident or the next day at the latest.
  • Document the scene: If possible, take photos and videos of the scene of the accident, including the scaffolding and any surrounding structures.
  • Gather your medical documentation: Request and keep copies of all medical paperwork related to the accident to document your injuries.  
  • Contact a construction accident attorney in New York City: Talk to an experienced scaffolding accident lawyer as soon as possible. There are important legal deadlines to meet if you plan to seek compensation. Acting fast and seeking legal advice early are key.

Injured in a Scaffolding Collapse? Talk to a New York Scaffolding Accident Lawyer Today

At William Schwitzer & Associates law firm, we know how devastating construction accidents can be. A single fall can cause severe injuries, permanent disability, and even death. 

If you or a loved one have been injured in a scaffolding collapse or a related incident, we can help. Our experienced scaffolding accident attorneys have over 80 years of combined trial experience and have been protecting the rights of injured construction workers for decades.

We can review your case, explain your legal options, and advise whether you can seek compensation for your injuries, lost income, and psychological suffering. If you are eligible to seek compensation, we can support you at every step. 

Our lawyers can explain the steps to take after a construction site accident to help you recover and support your claim. 

Call (212) 683-3800 or contact us online for a free case evaluation with William Schwitzer & Associates law firm.

Scaffolding Accidents FAQ

How Common Are Scaffolding Accidents? 

Scaffolding accidents are some of the most common incidents in the construction industry. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), scaffolds and staging accounted for 119 fatalities or 14% of fatal falls between 2003 and 2013. This is unfortunate because scaffolding accidents are usually preventable with adequate safety measures and equipment.

What Is a Common Hazard Associated with Scaffolds? 

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), common hazards related to scaffolds include falls, tip-overs, scaffolding collapse, electrocutions, and impact by falling materials. Construction companies, employers, managers, contractors, and site owners should take adequate safety measures to ensure worker safety and prevent scaffolding accidents.

How Can We Prevent Scaffolding Accidents?

Measures to prevent scaffolding accidents include using high-quality scaffolding materials and equipment, following industry safety guidelines, inspecting scaffolding before use, and maintaining scaffolding properly. It’s also essential to train workers on how to properly build, inspect, use, and dismantle scaffolding. 

About The Author

John C. Merlino, ESQ.

John C. Merlino, ESQ.

John C. Merlino is a zealous legal voice for injured construction workers. A senior managing member of the firm, Mr. Merlino was born and raised in Brooklyn, to immigrant parents. Mr. Merlino learned the importance of educating our clients of their rights and being a strong-compassionate advocate. Mr. Merlino, along with his mentor William Schwitzer, are among the most respected Construction Site Accident Lawyers in the State of New York.