What happens when scaffolding fails and falls? What factors increase the risk to construction workers and others who are required to work on scaffolding? Scaffolding failures are common workplace hazards that result in falls, and they are a leading cause of death for construction workers. Scaffolding can fail when it is improperly constructed or maintained, or when its maximum carrying capacity is exceeded.
In 2016, 384 construction workers died in falls, which represented 38.7% of the total number of 991 construction related fatalities for the year. In light of this, it is not a coincidence that improperly constructed or maintained scaffolding was the fourth most common OSHA violation in 2017. Approximately 65% of construction workers in the US operate on scaffolds, and last year roughly 34% of slips, trips, and falls on construction sites occurred on scaffolds. These incidents can occur when natural hazards from ice or water build up, or when debris from saws or welding equipment is improperly removed from the structure.
Another common cause of fatalities involves failure to adhere to OSHA regulations that require fall protection for scaffolds greater than 10 feet high. These requirements mitigate workplace hazards, including falls from height and blunt force injuries caused by falling objects. Another behavior that increases the risk of these injuries is the failure to adhere to standards for mitigating workplace hazards, such as removing construction materials and tools from the scaffolding properly.
The leading cause of scaffolding failure is lack of oversight, which is a factor in 92% of accidents. A lack of toeboards contributes to 85% of accidents, while failure to equip the scaffold with guardrails is a factor in 77% of accidents. Improper bracing and installation contribute to 45% of accidents, and poor design contributes to 35% of scaffold accidents. When a scaffold is improperly constructed or poorly designed, it negatively affects the carrying capacity of the structure. Thus, workers may feel safe when in reality they are walking right into a workplace hazard.
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