Willie was a construction worker, according to the Center for Construction Research and Training. Sometime last year he fell 20 feet from an unsecured scaffold. He was part of a crew that was installing metal frames on the outer wall of a residential building when the tragedy occurred. The scaffold Willie was on was not tied-off and began to lean away from the building as he worked. He fell to the ground after falling from the second story, hit his head, and died a short time later.
Almost nine out of every ten scaffold-related deaths (86 percent) happen on construction sites according to the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH). About 2.3 million construction workers frequently work on scaffolds, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA); which adds that protecting workers from scaffold accidents would prevent an estimated 4,500 injuries and 50 fatalities every year.
Not long ago, a Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) report disclosed that more than 70 percent of scaffold accident injuries are caused by:
- Scaffold support or planking giving way, either due to defective or damaged equipment or improper assembly, leading to falls and injuries to those below
- Slipping or tripping while on a scaffold due to such factors as slippery surfaces, and unsafe incline or insufficient planking, leading to falls where guardrails, a safety harness, or proper training were lacking.
- Falling objects hitting either a worker on a scaffold or those below.
Other scaffold accidents can involve improper placement of scaffolds and equipment too close to power or other utility lines, leading to electrocution.
Some recommendations to prevent scaffold falls, according to the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA):
Solutions to Keep Those On and Near Scaffolding Safe
- Scaffold must be stable and of sufficient quality to carry its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load without settling or displacement, and be erected on solid footing.
- Unstable objects (barrels, boxes, loose bricks or concrete blocks) must not be used to support scaffolds or planks.
- Scaffold must not be erected, moved, dismantled or altered except under the supervision of a competent safety professional.
- Scaffold must have guardrails, midrails and toe boards.
- Scaffold accessories which are damaged (braces, brackets, trusses, screw legs or ladders) or weakened for any reason or cause, must be repaired or replaced immediately.
- Scaffold platforms must be tightly planked with scaffold plank-grade material.
- A competent safety specialist must inspect scaffolding and, reinspect the structure at designated intervals.
- Rigging on suspension scaffolds must be inspected by a safety person before each shift and after any occurrence which may affect structural integrity.
- All rope (synthetic and natural rope) used in suspension scaffolding must be protected from heat-producing sources.
- Employees must be instructed about the hazards of using diagonal braces as fall protection.
- Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electric power lines at all times.
If the scaffold that Willie the metal frame installer was on had undergone daily inspections, its safety devices that failed may have been caught. And Willie might still be going home to his family at the end of each workday. Don’t let this happen to you.
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