Falls from heights are a leading cause of death and disability on construction sites. According to OSHA, falls cause one-third (1/3) of all construction-related deaths. Workers who survive long falls are often left with a lifetime of chronic pain and disability. In my practice, I’ve had numerous clients who suffered severe injury from falls on construction or industrial sites. I’ve seen many types of falls from heights. Yet, one piece of equipment has been involved in far too many disabling falls — The Scissors Lift.
A young man died when 50 mile per hour winds toppled the extended lift from which he was working. The death was easily preventable with just a little safety planning. No worker should be required to use a lift outside in bad weather. Too often, deaths like this one go unmentioned. This time, the event made national news. It involved a college student working for the athletic department of a major university. What are a few easily preventable scissors lift falls I’ve seen as an attorney?
- Case Number 1: The scene was a large construction project on Redstone Arsenal in Huntsville. The contractor was using extended, moving scissors lifts to erect the metal ceiling. A lift toppled because the concrete floor below was uneven. The worker fell almost 30 feet. He survived but was left permanently and totally disabled. The accident could have easily been prevented. Yet, the safe use of lifts was never addressed prior to the fall.
- Case Number 2: Two electrical workers were required to use an extended scissors lift while installing wiring in the ceiling of an industrial plant in Decatur, Alabama. The two workers notified management and asked that nearby moving equipment be stopped and secured. Management at the plant chose not to stop or lockout nearby equipment. A crane struck the lift sending the men to the floor below. Both suffered tremendous injuries requiring multiple surgeries. One of the workers was left totally disabled.
- Case Number 3: A worker was required to use a scissors lift while dismantling an old industrial facility. While working in the ceiling from the extended lift, a fire suddenly occurred around him. Yet, the lift was stuck in position. And, the fire extinguisher had been removed. The worker faced a bad choice – jump or risk being burned in the fire. He jumped from 15 feet in the air. He suffered injuries to his back and legs requiring several surgeries.
All these injuries were easily preventable by management. The solution starts with an Activity Hazard Analysis. What is an activity hazard analysis? It’s a simple process to evaluate the work for safety before putting your workers in potential harm. And, it’s a simple process that every company should perform before starting specific tasks, before using machinery, or before putting workers in a difficult position. It’s a process that would have identified the hazard in every case I mentioned BEFORE the injuries occurred. A little advance safety planning can prevent needless deaths, injuries, and claims.