Think about the above statement for a moment. Every day hundreds of workers trust the scaffold platform they’re working on is safe enough to hold their weight and stay steady-enough for them to work... but that's not always the case. In fact, on June 30, 2019, three men were seriously injured when a scaffold collapsed during the construction of a condo.
estimates that about 65% of all construction workers perform work on scaffolds every year. Although they’re regularly used, scaffold accidents have contributed to an estimated 9,000 injuries and 79 fatalities annually, per OSHA.
Common hazards associated with scaffolds include falls from elevation, due to lack of fall protection, the collapse of the scaffold, being struck by falling tools, and electrocution from power lines.
No matter how safe or sturdy a scaffold may look, it can only support the weight capacity specified by the manufacturer.
To protect workers, OSHA has created specific safety practices and requirements in 29 CFR 1926.451
for General Requirements for Scaffolding.
OSHA's scaffolding standard defines a competent person as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions, which are unsanitary, hazardous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”
Each scaffold or scaffolding component must be capable of supporting, without failure, its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load.
All scaffolds must be rated by the manufacturer to withstand the maximum load capacity. They determine the rating by the frame and cross-bracing design of the scaffold and its plank requirements.
What are some of the highlights from the OSHA scaffolding standard?
- Fall protection or fall arrest systems - Each employee more than 10 feet above a lower level shall be protected from falls by guardrails or a fall arrest system, except those on single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds. Each employee on a single-point and two-point adjustable suspended scaffold shall be protected by both a personal fall arrest system and a guardrail (29 CFR 1926.451(g)(1)).
- Guardrail height - The height of the top rail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service after January 1, 2000, must be between 38 inches (0.9 meters) and 45 inches (1.2 meters). The height of the top rail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service before January 1, 2000, can be between 36 inches (0.9 meters) and 45 inches (1.2 meters) ( 29 CFR 1926.451(g)(4)(ii)).
- Inspections - Before each work shift and after any occurrence that could affect the structural integrity, a competent person must inspect the scaffold and scaffold components for visible defects ( 29 CFR 1926.451(f)(3)).
Here are the do’s and don’ts when using a scaffold, as noted per OSHA.
- Do inspect the scaffold before use and mark with tag, label, or sign.
- Do follow OSHA standards for scaffold safety, including personal fall arrest system requirements.
- Do use 3-point climbing
- Do stay off scaffold during loading or unloading
- Do replace guardrails after loading or unloading
- Do use 3-point climbing
- Do exit mobile scaffolds before moving
- Do always wear full protection to avoid accidents
- Don’t walk on scaffold planking covered in mud, water, snow, or ice
- Don’t use a scaffold if it appears to be damaged in any way
- Don’t allow debris or materials to collect on the scaffold
- Don’t overreach outside the guardrails
- Don’t stand on ties, guardrails, or extensions
- Don’t overload the scaffold. Proper training includes being informed about the max intended load of the scaffold you’re working on, as well as its load-carrying capacities
- Don’t climb on any portion of the scaffold frame not intended for climbing
Always inspect scaffolds and ensure workers are trained to recognize terms associated with capacity limits.