The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark The Legal Examiner Mark search twitter facebook feed linkedin instagram google-plus avvo phone envelope checkmark mail-reply spinner error close
Skip to main content

KXAN is reporting that a scaffold collapsed at the construction site of the 21 Rio condos in Austin (near the UT campus). All three people on the scaffold were killed.

This incident is another reminder of the critical nature of fall safety systems. Almost a year ago, in the wake of a Washington, DC construction death, I had a post detailing the need for fall safety systems in general, and scaffolding systems in particular.

OSHA has several requirements for scaffolding safety. Initially, it is critical that the scaffolding be constructed properly. OSHA has very detailed requirements for the construction of scaffolds. These requirements include:

  • each scaffold and scaffold components must be capable of support four times the maximum intended load on the scaffold
  • any suspension ropes must be capable of supporting at least six times the maximum intended load
  • the working levels must be properly planked and decked
  • scaffold components manufactured by different manufacturers must not be intermixed unless the components "fit together without force" and the structural integrity is maintained
  • supported scaffolds (as opposed to scaffolds suspended from the roof) must be plumb and braced to prevent swaying
  • for suspended scaffolds, there must be a normal operating brake and an emergency brake or locking pawl that automatically engages when there is an instantaneous change in momentum or an accelerated overspeed

In addition, OSHA has specific guidelines for fall safety systems, which includes a requirement that each employee on a walking/working surface with an unprotected side or edge which is more than six feet above a lower level must be protected by a guardrail system, safety net system or personal fall arrest system. The OSHA rules also specific requirements governing the guardail, safety net and personal fall arrest systems.

It is critical that contractors and subcontractors follow these requirements. Scaffolding accidents and falls almost always result in serious accidents. Thus, following these requirements is critical.


  1. Construction site safety is a life and death matter to the workers and often companies put cost savings ahead of workers. In Hawaii we have several major construction site tragedies each year. In addition to your informative report here I read another by Steve Lombardi, a personal injury lawyer from Des Moines, IA on construction site safety: Construction Site Accidents - Scaffolding collapse in Texas at Austin's 21 Rio Condo Project points to safety changes needing to be made.

  2. Gravatar for Kevin O'Shea

    With regard to the accident in Austin, and the comments made, please remember the following points:

    1. A mast climber is a 'moving platform' not a 'fixed scaffold'

    2. When 1926.451 was enacted mast climbers were not in use in the US.

    3. OSHA defines an 'enclosed platform' as a platform where the leading edge is 14" or less away from the face of the work, negating the requirement for a front handrail if these conditions are met. This is achieved by 'planking' around the building profile. The Austin unit was 'planked' in this way.

    4.The accident was caused by the following scenario. The front edge planking, which sits on top of steel box-section 'slides' which are extended and retracted to allow the unit to pass protrusions such as balconies, was not retracted properly. The unit was driven up, and the two furthest left slides collided with the underside of the balcony, something that would not necessarily be noticed by the operators because of the slow platform speed, the jobsite noise and the fact that the operators were probably around the central 'mast' area while it was moving. This movement continued until a. the slides bent (can be seen on the video), b. the platform twisted at the far left end, (again evident), and finally, c. the bolts holding the platform to the drive unit sheared, causing the platform, and the operators to fall.

    Its also worth mentioning that while within the 'confines' of a 'enclosed platform' there is no requirement to either 'tie-off' or to attach a lanyard from a body harness to the platform itself. In fact it would be very difficult to hang tie-off ropes from the top of the building in this instance because of the protrusions, the balconies and the platform canopies etc.

    This seems to be a training issue. Clearly there should be job specific advice on how to retract and extend these slides, and only those authorized to do so should have been on the platform.

    Question is, did the supplier train the operators properly, and was the progress monitored in return visits.

  3. Gravatar for Brooks Schuelke


    Thanks for the reply. I appreciate you providing this type of information that I hope will make jobsites a little safer.

    There is a lot of potential for lessons learned from this tragedy. The various videos, if nothing else, should provide some unique opportunities in terms of reconstructing what happened.

    Thanks again.

Comments are closed.

Of Interest