Who Is Legally Responsible for Scaffold Accidents?
According to statistics from the U.S. Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the number one cause of deaths in the construction industry. In 2014, one out of five worker deaths were in construction accidents. Falls contributed to 359 out of 899 total worker deaths in 2014, or 39.9%. Of these, scaffolding accidents were the third-most common cause. Injuries sustained from scaffolding falls are typically life threatening. In many cases, scaffold accidents result from someone else’s negligence.
EMPLOYER REQUIREMENTS THROUGH OSHA
As is the case for every industry, OSHA has workplace requirements to ensure worker safety on the job. OSHA requires all construction employers to abide by certain safety standards when dealing with scaffolding. These standards include specific guidelines as to the safety of scaffoldings:
- Personal fall arrest systems
Employers must train employees to properly erect, disassemble, move, operate, repair, and maintain scaffoldings on the job. Employers must also teach employees to inspect scaffolds and recognize potential work hazards associated with them. The OSHA requirement that places the responsibility of employee training on employers is important in many scaffold accident lawsuits. If a poorly trained employee makes a mistake erecting a scaffold and it collapses, causing injury or wrongful death, the courts can hold the employer responsible for failing to fulfill its OSHA training requirement.
Before each shift and after any event that may affect the structural reliability of a scaffold, a “competent person” must examine the scaffold and inspect its components for defects. These include the ropes on suspended scaffolds and synthetic ropes used for top rails and mid rails. A competent person is someone who can identify hazards in the scaffolding, both existing and reasonably predictable, and take prompt action to eliminate them. If an employer fails in any of the duties that OSHA outlines and a scaffold accident injury occurs, the courts will hold the employer responsible.
For example, an employer may not provide its employees with the proper personal fall arrest equipment. According to OSHA, each employee working from more than 10 feet in the air must have a guardrail or fall arrest system in place to protect them from falls. On single- and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds, each employee needs both forms of protection. A lack of these systems will point to a breach of the employer’s duty to care for the safety of workers.
OTHER RESPONSIBLE PARTIES
Scaffold accidents are not always the employer’s fault. Sometimes it is due to a faulty piece of equipment from the manufacturer, a negligent employee, or a combination of factors. Pennsylvania follows comparative negligence rules in personal injury accidents, meaning that the courts will assign percentages of fault to all involved parties. This rule makes it possible for injured employees to obtain compensation even if they are partially at fault for a scaffold accident.
If a manufacturer’s mistake causes a scaffold accident, the injured workers or their families can sue the manufacturing company for negligence through the rules of product liability. In a product liability case in Pennsylvania, a victim must prove that a product is dangerous beyond the reasonable consumer’s expectations or that a product is one with a probability of harm that outweighs the cost of taking precautions (the “risk-utility” standard). Lawmakers have reinstated Pennsylvania’s product liability laws multiple times, making it important for victims to seek the advice of a personal injury attorney in Philadelphia, PA.
If a worker was partially responsible, such as for inattention at the time of the accident, the courts will divide fault between the employee and the defendant. The courts will then subtract the plaintiff’s percentage of fault from the total compensation won. Hiring a talented personal injury lawyer is important for scaffold and other workplace accidents, especially if workers’ compensation laws are also involved.