Boston scaffolding deaths: the blame game

April 10th, 2006 by Julie Ferguson

Mourners gathered at funeral services on Saturday for the two Boston workers who were killed in last week’s scaffolding collapse. Meanwhile, the blame game is in full swing. The city of Boston is reviewing an analysis of the accident submitted by Macomber Builders, the company with overall project responsibility. The union representing one of the workers who was killed is conducting a separate investigation, and the city has appointed top engineering firm Simpson Gumpertz & Heger of Waltham to determine what caused 10 tons of steel to fall on Boylston Street, killing three. The scaffold manufacturer has already weighed in noting that a crane should have been attached to the scaffold while it was being dismantled. The news media has also been digging into the safety records for both companies. As usual, Jordan Barab offers some perspective on the issue. In one post, he talks about how OSHA has responsibility for inspections but is woefully understaffed, and in a follow-on post, he notes that the state is on a voluntary inspection program.
On first blush, it would appear that workers compensation would come into play for any spouses and dependent children of the two deceased workers – the bar for piercing the exclusive remedy provision is very high, and would generally require willful intent to cause injury on the part of the employer. It’s no surprise that the equipment maker was quick to offer an analysis – one of the first places that insurers would look is for any equipment failure so that insurance claims could be subrogated. The deceased passer-by is not beholden by workers comp laws so there would be no restriction on survivors filing suit. Confined Space has something to say about these economics, too.
While all the insurance and legal matters are being disputed, more workers are at risk. Last year, we wrote about the fact that, on average, three construction workers die on the job every day and, as this analysis of N.Y. construction accidents indicates, scaffolding and fall prevention are some of the most frequent sources of violations. Maybe it’s about time we rethought the issue of inspections.