Bad scaffolding setups are proving risky—even if you're not working on them—in New York State, where contractors are facing arrests, criminal charges and, in one case, a $2 million jury verdict for faulty construction.
In New York City, authorities just completed a two-week sweep that found and confiscated more than 70 fraudulent scaffold certification and U.S. Occupational and Safety Administration (OSHA) safety cards and resulted in the arrest of 30 construction workers at sites in Manhattan and Brooklyn. The cards are required to work on scaffolding and for workers at major buildings in the city.
Since 2006, New York City law requires anyone installing, dismantling, repairing, maintaining or modifying supported scaffolds to have a supported scaffold certificate of completion.
The joint operation, by the city's Department of Investigation and the Department of Buildings, also resulted in partial and full stop-work orders at 14 sites for a variety of violations, including unapproved installation of supported scaffolding.
Work Site Arrests
DOI initiated the operation after DOB reported in September that its inspectors had found fraudulent scaffold certification cards at numerous work sites in Manhattan. DOI coordinated a response with its investigators and DOB inspectors visiting 16 work sites in Manhattan, the Bronx, Brooklyn, and Queens. The sweep began Oct. 12 and resulted in arrests at 10 locations.
Three individuals were charged with Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Second Degree, a class D felony; the others were charged with the class A misdemeanor Criminal Possession of a Forged Instrument in the Third Degree.
The individuals arrested include a construction company owner at a Manhattan site who was charged with possessing 32 fraudulent scaffold certification cards that he had manufactured by altering legitimate cards.
Authorities said the forged cards displayed numbers that were never issued and training courses that did not exist; used thin paper instead of plastic; and included typos, among other irregularities. The defendants indicated that they had bought individual bogus cards for between $25 and $450 at various locations throughout the city.
In addition, some work was ordered halted because the scaffolding arrangements differed from approved construction plans. Other sites were busted for lack of workers' compensation insurance or lack of appropriate supervisory personnel on the scene.
New York City's Local Law 52, which took effect in 2006, requires a scaffold user certificate for all supported scaffolds 40 feet or more in height. Valid scaffold certification cards must be obtained from OSHA, OSHA-trained or certified providers, or a provider of a training course reviewed by DOB.
The law requires anyone installing, dismantling, repairing, maintaining or modifying supported scaffolds to have a supported scaffold certificate of completion.
Separately, workers performing construction work at major New York City buildings must also complete an approved course in construction safety approved by OSHA.
"Safety at construction sites is a priority, and this joint sweep underscores the city’s commitment to enforcement," said DOI Commissioner Rose Gill Hearn. "Using fake certifications to bypass required training is wrongdoing that puts workers and the public at risk and will not be tolerated."
Hearn said enforcement of the scaffolding law would continue.
Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said, “Cutting corners on construction projects is not only dangerous, but possibly criminal. Everyone in the construction industry must make safety a priority.
"New Yorkers walk under scaffolding every day on their way into their homes, to work, to school. The integrity of construction scaffolding must be upheld, and I thank DOI and DOB for conducting this investigation.”
Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes said violators of the scaffolding regulations would be "prosecuted to the full extent of the law."
Meanwhile, in Upstate New York, an Onondaga County jury has awarded a Cortland County man more than $2 million in damages stemming from his injuries in a 2010 scaffolding collapse at Binghamton University, local news outlets reported.
Six victims who worked for a roofing company fell five stories. The $2,007,658 verdict for one victim was returned against the contractor managing the project, not the victims' employer.
David Stauber, 42, was one of six workers injured June 2, 2010, when a scaffolding platform slid off its supports and fell five stories to the ground at a BU dorm project. The scaffolding had been erected the day before.
After a week-long trial in Syracuse, the jury returned a verdict Oct. 26 ordering Rochester-based LeChase Construction Services LLC to pay Stauber $2,007,658 for past and future pain and suffering, medical expenses, and lost past and future earnings.
Stauber and the other victims worked for Apple Roofing of Syracuse; LeChase managed the project.
OSHA later cited Apple Roofing and CFI Sales and Service, the Brackney, PA, subcontractor that erected the scaffolds.OSHA found safety chains were not in place on the rigging. LeChase was not cited.
Stauber's attorney, Aaron Ryder, said his client still suffered the effects of traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder from the accident.
LeChase had no immediate comment Thursday (Nov. 1).