Learn what to do if you’re injured in a ladder or scaffolding accident at work
Ladder and scaffolding mishaps are among the most alarming and prevalent accidents in workplaces across North Carolina. As essential tools in various industries, from construction to painting, they bring with them an elevated risk of falls, injuries and even fatalities.
Despite stringent safety guidelines, accidents still occur, leaving workers with potentially life-altering injuries. For those affected, it’s essential to recognize that, following such misfortunes, they may be entitled to workers’ compensation benefits, offering a crucial safety net during their recovery period.
Ladder accident statistics
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 500,000 people are treated for ladder-related injuries in the U.S. every year. These accidents cost an estimated $24 billion annually and result in a number of injuries and illnesses.
Falls from heights frequently lead to head and neck injuries, spinal cord trauma, paralysis, and more. In the most serious cases, people can die from ladder falls. In fact, there are more than 300 ladder-related fatalities each year.
Many ladder injuries happen on the job. Statistically speaking, roofers are the most likely to experience them; they make up 46% of fatal falls in the entire construction industry, according to the CDC. However, many types of workers can suffer from these working-at-height accidents.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), there were 161 ladder deaths at work in 2020. There were also 22,710 nonfatal ladder injuries.
Common jobs that require ladders and scaffolding
Construction workers and roofers aren’t the only ones at risk of accidents involving ladders and scaffolding. Other common workers include:
- Construction workers
- Gutter installers
- Tree trimmers
- HVAC technicians
- Building inspectors
- Shipbuilders and repairers
Common injuries that result from falls from ladders and scaffolding
Injuries involving falls from ladders and scaffolding are often severe and require extensive medical care and rehabilitation. The most common injuries include:
- Cuts and abrasions
- Dislocated joints
- Bruises and contusions
- Internal injuries
North Carolina scaffolding tragedy
Two North Carolina construction companies, Friends Masonry Construction (FMC) and Old North State Masonry (ONSM), were penalized after a scaffolding accident on East Morehead Street in Uptown Charlotte claimed the lives of 3 workers when it collapsed. The companies were cited for not properly inspecting the scaffold for defects, not having it repaired after it was previously damaged and weakened, and not constructing it in accordance with its intended design. The workers’ families are entitled to death benefits under North Carolina law after this tragic and preventable accident.
Top reasons for ladder and scaffolding accidents at work
Ladders and scaffolds can become safety hazards for a number of reasons, some of which are preventable and include:
- Improper setup or placement
- Use of damaged or faulty equipment or the wrong size ladder for the job
- Lack of proper training or ignoring safety protocols
- Overreaching or carrying heavy loads while on the ladder/scaffolding
- Unstable or uneven ground conditions
- Weather conditions like wind, rain or snow
- Being struck by falling objects or tools
- Lack of or improper use of safety equipment, such as harnesses or guardrails
- Rushing or skipping safety steps due to tight deadlines
- Equipment defects or manufacturer flaws
According to statistics from the BLS, movable ladders are by far the most dangerous type of ladder. Of the 161 ladder-related workplace deaths in 2020, a full 105 took place on a movable ladder.
Should I go to the ER if I fell off a ladder?
If you’ve fallen off a ladder, it’s a good idea to get checked out by a doctor. Occupational injuries resulting from a fall can take a while to become evident or cause complications. You might have something like internal bleeding that has no symptoms initially but can seriously impact your health and safety.
There are also symptoms that are immediate red flags after a fall from a ladder. If you experience any of the following, make a trip to the emergency room:
- Persistent light-headed or dazed feeling
- Severe pain in the back, neck or shoulders
- Numbness or weakness in the arms and legs
- Loss of consciousness
It’s also a good idea to visit a doctor because it creates a paper trail for your accident. If you wind up needing to file for workers’ compensation, a documented injury is part of the required paperwork.
Workers’ compensation in North Carolina
North Carolina has a robust system in place for workers’ compensation. If you don’t already know, workers’ comp is a special type of insurance purchased by employers for the sake of injured employees.
A worker doesn’t have to prove anyone was at fault for their accident to get compensation. In fact, in most cases, a worker is entitled to compensation even if they caused the accident that led to their injury.
By law, any business in North Carolina that employs 3 or more people must have workers’ comp insurance. However, there can be exceptions in certain industries, such as agriculture, logging operations and domestic housekeeping.
There’s also an exception for independent contractors. If you’re an independent contractor, you’re considered self-employed, not employed by a business. This means that you aren’t eligible for workers’ compensation. However, you might still be able to file a personal injury lawsuit if someone else’s negligence was the cause of your injury.
Who may be at fault if a ladder collapses at work?
If you’re an independent contractor who’s suffered an injury at work, you still might have legal options for recovering compensation if someone was at-fault for the accident. The following parties may be potentially liable:
- Employer for not providing safe equipment or for failing to maintain equipment properly
- Manufacturer if the ladder had a design or manufacturing defect
- Maintenance team if they failed to identify or report an issue with the ladder during routine checks
- Third-party contractors if they provided or were responsible for the ladder’s maintenance and setup
Determining fault requires a thorough investigation of the incident. A work injury attorney can help with this process and advise you as to which parties may be liable.
Types of compensation available through North Carolina workers’ comp
There are 3 broad categories of workers’ comp benefits:
- Medical benefits (hospital bills, surgeries, medications, assistive devices, rehabilitation therapy, etc.)
- Lost wages or disability benefits up to two-thirds of your average income
- Death benefits paid out to the immediate family, including funeral expenses and lost income replacement
Compensation laws can be rather complicated. For example, there are multiple classifications for disabilities that include “partial” vs “total” and “temporary” vs “permanent.” Your classification will determine the amount of disability that you receive.
An attorney can help estimate your potential benefits to ensure you don’t accept a “lowball offer” that’s insufficient to cover your future medical and financial needs.
Steps for filing a workers’ comp claim in North Carolina
To get workers’ comp benefits, eligible workers need to take certain steps and adhere to all deadlines. Here’s the general process for filing a workers’ compensation claim:
- Seek medical attention, and be sure to mention that the accident occurred at work.
- Notify your employer of your injury within 30 days of the accident, preferably in writing.
- File a claim by submitting Form 18 to the North Carolina Industrial Commission.
- Contact a workers’ compensation attorney if your claim is denied or you’re suffering from a serious injury to ensure your rights are protected.
Again, if you have any questions about this process, a workers’ compensation attorney can be invaluable in your case. They can help you extend deadlines, figure out which documents to fill out, and maximize your potential benefits. They can also help if you’ve been misclassified as an independent contractor and not an employee.
Employer responsibilities pertaining to scaffolding
There are still certain responsibilities that your employer is expected to fulfill in terms of workplace safety. Failure to do so can open the door to everything from Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) citations to third-party lawsuits.
So, what are an employer’s duties when it comes to ladders and scaffolds? Here’s a common list of fall prevention measures:
- Inspection. Ensure that scaffolding is inspected by a competent person before use and at regular intervals thereafter.
- Training. Provide proper training to workers on how to safely erect, disassemble, move, operate, repair, maintain and inspect scaffolding.
- Safety equipment. Equip scaffolds with guardrails, midrails and toeboards. Also, provide workers with appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats, non-slip footwear and harnesses when required.
- Load capacities. Ensure that scaffolding is sturdy and can bear the weight of workers, tools, materials, and any other loads without risk of collapse.
- Maintain safe distances. Ensure scaffolding is at least 10 feet away from power lines to avoid electrocution risks.
- Follow standards and regulations. Adhere to standards set by agencies such as OSHA or any other relevant local or national safety bodies.
- Communication. Ensure that workers are informed about potential hazards and how to report unsafe conditions.
- Emergency protocols. Have emergency protocols in place in case of incidents, ensuring workers know the procedures and evacuation routes.
Contact an experienced Charlotte work injury attorney
If you’ve been injured in a ladder or scaffolding accident at work in Charlotte, contact the experienced workers’ compensation attorneys at Wilder Pantazis Law Group to help with your claim. We can give you an idea of how much your claim should be worth and handle the negotiations with your employer’s insurance company, so you can be sure you’re getting the full compensation you deserve.
Don’t hesitate to contact our firm with questions about your case. We offer free consultations, so you have nothing to lose and everything to gain.