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‘I don’t think we can prevent it’: Scaffolding regulations exist, enforcement lacks

Published: Feb. 21, 2022 at 7:11 PM EST|Updated: Feb. 21, 2022 at 10:01 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - A scaffolding collapse that missed tragedy by near seconds, caused hearts to drop and big clean up in downtown Charleston last month.

A Live 5 News investigation reveals, while there are hundreds of standards and regulations, enforcement remains an issue.

City regulations vs. the State

The construction site at 103 Sottile St. where the structure collapsed, exists within city limits and is subject to city inspections. But the city does not issue permits for it.

“Scaffolding isn’t part of the building code or city purview,” City of Charleston building manager Ken Granata explained following the crash. “We don’t inspect those things nor have the expertise to inspect them.”

“That would be unusual for a municipality to try and do those kinds of inspections,” safety consultant and adjunct at Colorado State University Pueblo, Jerry Purswell, said.

That responsibility would fall on the Occupational Safety and Health organization or OSHA.

South Carolina is a state-run OSHA, under the direction of the Department of Labor, Licensing, and Regulation (LLR), but has the same regulations as federal OSHA.

It lists hundreds of scaffolding standards under section 1926 Subpart L.

According to one standard supported scaffolding, which is the kind found at this particular site, “shall be attached to supporting framework” (1926.452 (g) (1)).

“It doesn’t give a particular resistance again against any type of wind force. So , it’s not specified that way but it just says it should be attached securely and leaves it there,” Purswell said.

One of the only state standards relating to wind states workers should not be on scaffolding if there are high winds or storms unless it is deemed safe and there are wind screens and wind screens are not to be used if the structure is not secured against the anticipated wind forces (1926.451 (f) (12)).

The state also requires a quote “qualified person” to design, maintain and check scaffolding throughout the construction project.

Granata says the city can’t prevent another scaffolding from collapsing.

“We could definitely minimize it. I think the city’s obligation currently is, to be a participant in everyone making sure the construction site, both the workers and visitors and equipment and materials, are safe,” he said.

Granata says, if a city inspector sees something, they can still report to OSHA.

‘Nothing really surprises me anymore.’ Owner of construction company weighs in

“Safety comes down to the contractor or project manager. They’re running that site,” Granata said.

The owner of Anchor Restoration Construction, who agreed to an off-camera interview, told Live 5 Investigates that he had never experienced anything like the collapse.

“It’s typically because of Mother Nature. I’ve been on projects where we had big, big cranes and you have to set them down. So they don’t destroy stuff,” Randall Sizemore said. “It’s not the norm by any means. You know, you do what you can make it safe, follow the guidelines. Get the job done and hopefully don’t have anything like this happen again.”

Sizemore said the scaffolding is provided by his company. Anchor Restoration Construction does not have a contractor’s license under the South Carolina Secretary of State’s website.

No specific contractor’s license is required for scaffolding work, according to OSHA. This also applies to the maintenance and transportation of cranes, exterior siding and construction of pedestrian bridges, among other projects.

There is thorough training for scaffolding work, from design to maintenance throughout a construction project, according to Sizemore and Purswell.

However, who a “qualified person” can be remains generic under OSHA guidelines.

Lack of Resources: “They really they have their plate full.”

“There’s many more workplaces that would be due for investigations if we set the threshold lower. OSHA does not have manpower to do that and hasn’t ever I don’t think ever in their existence since the 1970 act that created them, had that kind of manpower to investigate everything that happens,” Purswell said. “They really they have their plate full.”

An OSHA a spokesperson confirmed that the department was not investigating this case. That would only be “triggered by an employee’s exposure to a hazard.”

OSHA performs planned inspections based on “objective or neutral selection criteria.”

According to South Carolina’s OSHA there are 17 safety compliance officers and another 10 health compliance officers for the entire state.

Rare, but it has happened before

Scaffolding collapses due to wind
Scaffolding collapses due to wind(Live 5 News)

Federal OSHA records indicate there have been five scaffold collapses nationwide due to wind since 2005, resulting in three deaths and three injuries.

It also reports of the top ten most frequently cited standards following a workplace inspection, scaffolding ranks number four.

From October 2020 to September 2021, South Carolina issued 53 citations totaling $68, 985 for construction scaffolding violations.

(GFX ATTACHED)

Citations issued by SC OSHA for scaffolding violations
Citations issued by SC OSHA for scaffolding violations(Live 5 News)

Purswell says cases like this one are rare.

While more can be done, how things are done might not change because it doesn’t happen often enough to make the investment worthwhile.

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