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Workers dangle 500 feet in the air after scaffold malfunctions

Window washers' lives may depend on the safety of their scaffolds. As workers clean windows many stories above street level, properly manufactured and maintained scaffolds are critical for their safety. Recently, two maintenance workers who were on the scaffolding saw firsthand what can happen when it fails. Fortunately, the workers were not injured during a dramatic rescue that transfixed onlookers. The scaffolding accident shows the dangers that window washers and others in the service business face.

The two workers were trapped when the scaffold broke as they were servicing window-washing equipment outside the top of the Hearst Tower. The work platform that was connected to the scaffolding appeared to snap in the middle. The workers were left dangling 500 feet in the air.

They were already strapped in with safety lines, and rescue workers dropped them additional safety harnesses. Meanwhile, emergency crews removed windows on the 45th floor, toward the top of building, and brought the workers in through the open space. The workers were not injured and received a medical evaluation after the rescue. City and state investigators are examining what caused the equipment to fail.

Six years ago, two window washers were involved in a similar incident when their equipment failed, with far more serious results. In their case, the scaffolding structure fell 47 stories to the pavement. One window washer was killed. The other received serious injuries. He later filed a claim against the company that maintained the window washing scaffold. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration issued the company three violations for improperly installing parts that supported the bed of the scaffold.

Source: The New York Times, "2 Scaffold Workers Rescued From Outside 45th Floor," Marc Santora, June 12, 2013

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