The pandemic is not an excuse for lax safety standards

Just a quick glance at headlines across the construction industry reveals a clear picture of a troubling situation. Despite COVID-19 prompting the shutdown of many projects, dangerous accidents at construction sites continue.

The construction worker safety conversation has become all but lost amid discussion of the pandemic. But the continued existence and spread of COVID-19 is not an excuse for employers to ignore their worker safety responsibilities.

Trainings must continue if possible

Things are hectic right now. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has acknowledged that fact. Recent enforcement guidance from the agency, however, makes it clear that is not an excuse for employers to ignore safety requirements.

While OSHA recognizes local closures mean certain mandated training may not be possible, the agency says it expects employers to make “good faith compliance efforts” to meet OSHA standards. That includes both annual and recurring:

  • Audits
  • Reviews
  • Trainings
  • Assessments

In addition, employers that cannot complete these requirements should take care to ensure workers are not exposed to hazards for which they were not properly trained to handle.

Businesses that use this pandemic as an opportunity to ignore safety mandates may end up with a citation.

Protecting construction workers

Employers have a responsibility to ensure workers are operating in a safe environment. Part of that responsibility is making sure safety training thresholds are met.

Construction remains one of the most dangerous professions, with workers exposed to injury and fatality risks not seen in many other industries. Adequate training is one of the key pillars to addressing this longstanding issue, one advocacy group argues.

Employers that neglect this all-important aspect of running a safe business ultimately put all their workers at risk. And it is those workers who might pay the ultimate price.

How can workers stay safe on scaffolding?

So far in 2020, there have been many news stories of people being seriously injured after falling off scaffolding. Some scaffolding collapses are caused by high winds; other collapses may be caused by improper setup or other hazards. No matter the cause, people who must work on scaffolds should exercise utmost precautions to stay safe on the job.

Tips to help you stay safe

Knowing how dangerous scaffold work can be, it’s prudent to take precautions. Here are a few suggestions:

  1. Wear proper work clothes – your work boots and attire may never be more important than when you are working in risky conditions high off the ground. Sturdy shoes with good tread on the soles could save your life.
  2. Be aware of tripping hazards – Pick up tools and keep work area clear of debris.
  3. Watch the weather – Strong winds and storms can play a role in creating dangerous work conditions where you could lose your balance, or the scaffolding could become unsteady.
  4. Understand guardrails – Guardrails going awry is one of the leading causes of scaffolding accidents. If someone is working on a scaffold 10 feet or more above a lower level, guardrails must be used.
  5. Check your safety harness – When working on a scaffold, you need to have a fall-arrest system. Are you wearing your safety harness? And is it installed and connected properly and in good working condition?

Don’t be a statistic

The U.S. Department of Labor Statistics reported an increase in fatal falls of 26% over a six-year period from the years 2011 to 2016. The top industry for these falls was construction. In the construction industry, the increase in fatal falls was much worse at 45% than in other industries.

Taking extra precautions when working on scaffolds could keep you from being injured, and it could also save your life.

How does New York’s Scaffold Law protect workers?

Everybody knows the construction industry is dangerous due, in large part, to the great heights at which individuals must work. It is for this reason basic safety laws exist. The workers deserve to be protected.

Yet according to the most recent Deadly Skyline report, falls remain the top cause of fatalities on construction sites. In addition, fall protections account for the most frequent construction site violation cited by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

All of this underscores the continued need for the Scaffold Law.

Why is the Scaffold Law important?

As the Center for Justice Democracy points out, workers themselves generally have little control over things like equipment and the implementation of safety measures on a site. These workers are instead relying on other parties to look out for their well-being.

The Scaffold Law, which is unique to New York, actually dates back to the late 1800s. Essentially, it requires property owners and contractors to provide basic fall protections for workers on a construction site. That can include things like proper guard rails, secure attachment mechanisms, the availability of personal safety equipment and thorough training.

If a party fails to make the site safe for the construction workers, they can be held liable for related falls that occur as a result. In this way, victims are able to hold those in power accountable for their neglectful actions.

Campbell & Associates recently won scaffold case

We recently utilized the Scaffold Law on behalf of a 35-year-old painter of industrial tanks who was required to scrape and paint the interior surfaces of large holding tanks at a Chautauqua County business but was not provided with proper scaffolding or fall protection equipment. He unfortunately fell and suffered a serious shoulder injury that required surgery and continues to cause him pain and limitations.  Once we gathered all the evidence, a Supreme Court justice found the defendants to have been in violation of the law and they settled for $825,000.

What does Scaffold Law allow in compensation?

When a construction worker falls and suffers an injury, the Scaffold Law allows them to file a personal injury lawsuit against a contractor or site owner that failed to provide a safe environment. Families of those who tragically die in such falls may also consider legal action. Compensation could include damages such as:

  • Lost wages
  • Pain and suffering
  • Loss of companionship (often referred to as consortium)
  • Medical care costs

All the law asks is that responsible parties take basic steps to ensure workers on a construction site are protected from preventable falls. The high number of fall protection violations coupled with continuously high fall fatality figures suggest many of these third parties are simply not taking safety seriously enough.

Protecting yourself from ladder accidents on a work site

If there is a serious fall injury on a construction site, it is very likely the result of an incident involving a ladder. Consider this troubling finding from one study conducted by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC): Of all construction worker fall injuries that required treatment at the emergency room, 81% involved a ladder.

Ladders themselves are all but unavoidable on construction sites. Contractors and property owners have a responsibility to ensure this equipment is safe for workers to use. If they drop the ball, where does that leave individual workers?

How to help protect yourself

As a construction worker, you aren’t in charge of overseeing and enforcing a site’s safety measures. You can, however, do a few things to help minimize your injury risk when you do have to use a ladder. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has some suggestions, including:

  • Make sure you are using the correct type of ladder for the specific task.
  • Have the ladder visually inspected for potential issues before use, such as damaged side rails, slick substances or defects hidden beneath stickers.
  • If you find a defective ladder, clearly mark it as not safe for use.
  • Be conscious of the weight load – that means your own weight, plus any tools you need.
  • Don’t use a metallic ladder near open electrical components such as power lines.

Also, be mindful of the height at which you’re working. Most nonfatal injuries that required ER treatment involved a fall of 10 feet or less.

Following up on a ladder fall

A work injury can be devastating, especially if it requires time away from the job. This can have a long-term impact on your health, finances and overall well-being.

If you suffered an injury in a ladder fall, there are steps you can take to secure support. That includes potential compensation for medical care, lost wages and even pain or suffering.