You can’t go far in a New York City without seeing scaffolds. Sometimes stretching dozens of stories high, scaffolds allow construction workers to work on the outsides of buildings. In New York, Labor Law 240 (Scaffold Law) gives construction workers injured in scaffold accidents a right to recover compensation.
Created in 1885, the law is one of “absolute liability” or strict liability, which means that workers can’t be blamed for a scaffold accident, even if they were at fault in the accident. As the Center for Justice & Democracy at New York Law School states, “…workers have little or no control over equipment on the worksite and are hardly in a position to protect themselves from danger.”
Worst Scaffold Accidents in History
When you consider how deadly scaffold accidents can be, it’s easy to see the need for the Scaffold Law. A look at some of the worst scaffold accidents in history reveals the need for legal protection for construction workers.
Willow Island Scaffold Collapse
In West Virginia in 1978, the scaffolding inside the cooling tower of a power plant collapsed. Workers on the scaffold fell 170 feet. There were 51 deaths and no survivors in the scaffold collapse. At the time, it was the fourth deadliest non-mining occupational accident in the state’s history. The scaffold was set up in such a way that workers placed a new level on top of freshly poured concrete, which meant the scaffold got higher and higher with each passing day. A later investigation revealed that some of the concrete poured the previous day had not yet hardened. Investigators also found that some of the anchor bolts weren’t in place at the time of the collapse.
Beijing Scaffold Collapse
China has long been associated with catastrophic work-related accidents. The country’s weak labor protection laws mean that construction workers have few safety protections. This often leads to serious accidents that could have been prevented with stronger safety laws. In 2016, a scaffold collapse at a power plant cooling tower killed 74 workers. Around 500 rescue workers were called in to sort through the wreckage left behind by the collapsed scaffold, which reached up the side of the 545-foot high tower. In some parts of China, as well as other places around the world, workers still use bamboo scaffolds that can reach hundreds of feet high.
Golden Gate Scaffold Collapse
When San Francisco’s famous Golden Gate Bridge was constructed between 1933 and 1937, building crews and construction companies factored in anticipated worker deaths as part of the “cost” of building such a massive structure. Three months before the bridge was scheduled to open in 1937, a temporary scaffold collapsed as workers tried to remove it. NPR reports that 12 men fell 220 feet into the water, with just two survivors.
Cardiff Scaffold Collapse
Design flaws were responsible for a scaffold collapse that caused 30 tons of scaffolding to crash hundreds of feet to the ground in Cardiff, Wales in 2000. According to reports, the only reason no one was hurt was because the collapse occurred in the middle of the night. One report states, “A major catastrophe was avoided only because the street was deserted after midnight.” Close circuit television caught the scaffold collapse, which happened during winds that reached 87 miles per hour. Additionally, an investigation revealed that 70 percent of the ties meant to hold the scaffold in place were never put in place. Experts described the collapse as “an accident waiting to happen.”
Multiple Fatal Scaffold Accidents in Two Days
In 2017, two construction workers died in two separate and unrelated scaffolding accidents in a 48-hour period. While these accidents didn’t involve a scaffold collapse, they show just how dangerous this type of work can be for construction workers. In one accident, a construction worker fell 35 feet from a scaffold while operating a forklift cage that collapsed. In a different accident, a construction worker fell from the 29th story of a scaffold onto the first level after he missed the clipping to a security hook. Inspectors found that the site had nine construction-related violations.
Labor Law 240 (Scaffold Law) Protects Construction Workers
Without strict workplace safety laws like Labor Law 240 (Scaffold Law), construction workers would have a more difficult time getting the compensation they deserve following a scaffolding accident. As history shows, construction sites used to be even more dangerous for construction workers. And as scaffolding accidents around the world reveal, not every part of the world has the same type of strict scaffold laws as New York. Any construction worker injured in a scaffold accident or collapse should work with a construction accident lawyer to protect their right to receive the compensation they deserve.
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Prior results cannot and do not guarantee or predict a similar outcome with respect to any future case. Recoveries always depend upon the facts and circumstances of each case, the injuries suffered, damages incurred, and the responsibility of those involved.