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Rules loopholes, language barriers contribute to work accidents

Not long ago we posted about a scaffolding accident in Raleigh that resulted in three construction workers being killed when the platform that they were on collapsed. As the investigation continues into what caused the accident, the information it uncovers reveals that while construction sites in North Carolina are safer than they were even a few years ago, work remains to be done to reduce the risk of construction site injuries and deaths.

One possible shortcoming that the investigation has revealed is that the rules used to govern the use of scaffolding on high rise buildings have not kept pace with changes in the technology used. The scaffolding used in the accident in Raleigh was of a "mast climber" design that was introduced in the 1980s, but for which no OSHA specifications or regulations yet exist. Falls from mast climber scaffolding have caused 18 construction worker deaths in 12 known accidents nationwide since 1990.

Another area of concern relates to training of construction workers, particularly those who do not speak English as their first language. Many such workers speak Spanish, but in some cases the lack of availability of Spanish-language training materials may present problems in properly training such employees to properly assemble and use the equipment they are given.

Lastly, even when OSHA rules exist that is no guarantee that companies will consistently comply with them. The company that employed the men killed in the Raleigh accident, for example, had been cited by OSHA for serious violations on four occasions, including one concerning the mast climber scaffolding that collapsed in Raleigh.

The combination of lack of rules, language barriers and safety violations means that working in construction, although safer than it once was, remains a hazardous occupation that can lead not only to workers' compensation claims but in some cases to legal claims as well.

Source: The Charlotte Observer, "Scaffolding collapse points up risks, lack of OSHA rules," Martha Quillin, March 28, 2015

Secondary Source: WRAL, "Records: Subcontractor on fatal scaffolding collapse has spotty safety record," Amanda Lamb, Leyla Santiago, March 25, 2015

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