United States Scaffolding

Scaffold Industry News

Atlanta ScaffoldingIn February of 2009, an Alabama appeals court ruled against the family of a Mexican worker, Luis Martinez Silva, stating they were not entitled to the benefits from his death in a scaffolding accident. This was an unprecedented case in ruling that because the worker's dependents lived outside of the United States, they were not eligible to receive the death benefits a result of his scaffolding fall on a jobsite in Alabama. Though hefty, the weight of the ruling in this case extends far past this one family, essentially affecting millions of people in the United States and around the world.

An estimated 20% of deaths in the workplace occur on construction sites, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Many accidents on the jobsite are caused due to scaffolding falls or malfunctions. Considering Latinos hold 17.4% of all construction jobs, this demographic is involved with scaffolding related accidents much more than others. Although Latinos make up a significant portion of workers that are injured in scaffolding accidents, many Latinos never report non-fatal injuries. The pressing question is simply: Why?

Immigrant workers are the most likely to become injured or die in a scaffolding accidents primarily due to the lack of training. Latinos can be hired at a cheaper rate and are not likely to complain about less-than-ideal work conditions. Since contractors and developers do not have to spend the time and money on training, they boost their bottom line. Immigrant workers often work off-the-books for non-unionized, smaller construction companies. In addition, there is usually a language barrier between immigrant workers and their higher-ups, preventing essential communication about safety hazards and lack of knowledge about the job at hand. Most significant, however, is that many immigrant workers are illegal, providing them little room to complain about job conditions and/or necessary training.

There are a couple regulations that must be enacted to rectify this dire situation. First, contractors and developers must be held solely responsible for scaffolding accidents and injuries on the jobsite when it is found they have been negligent in providing proper safety training and equipment to workers. This includes quality scaffolds, hoists, harnesses and other safety equipment. Likewise, proper training, including OSHA training, must be required of workers to ensure their certification and competency with scaffolding.

The only state currently enacting this type of regulation is New York, which began mandating the above and holding contractors and developers financially responsible if found to be negligent. Since being enacted, the Labor Law Sec. 240, or the Scaffold Law, has earned New York one of the lowest rates of occupational fatalities. The success of this type of regulation dictates how necessary regulations such as this actually are in preventing scaffolding related injuries and fatalities.

The other regulation that must be made is to entitle the family of a deceased immigrant worker to receive their death benefits. Like the family of Luis Martinez Silva, many families do not receive the benefits when their immediate family members die on the jobsite because they are dependents living outside of the United States. In actuality, the way this worker's compensation law works in many U.S. states, the law saves the construction company money when a worker dies on the job as opposed to being injured, as injured workers must be compensated while recovering. In what world does this seem right: That a family cannot receive the money they need to live when their father or husband dies in the U.S., yet the construction company reaps the benefits of saving money when this same worker dies?

In regards to scaffolding and jobsite accidents in the construction industry, it is time for a much-needed change. There must be a call to arms for new laws that make the industry responsible for the proper scaffolding training and equipment. Likewise, the families of workers who are the victims of wrongful deaths on the jobsite should be compensated, just as their husband or father would be if he were injured. Until ultimate responsibility is placed on someone's shoulders, immigrant workers and their families will continue to live life with the scaffold hanging in the balance.