Safety with Scaffolding
Whether you’re working in a plant, warehouse or construction site, it’s important that you’re aware of all regulations and ordinances covering the use of scaffolds. Fact is, scaffold requirements may vary. Also, remember that the kind of scaffold varies from one job to another. One thing shared by every job or industry is the hazard that comes with this equipment.
What are the major hazards when working on Scaffolding?
Falls are attributed to the lack of guardrails, improper installation of guardrails and failure to use personal fall arrest systems when required. The OSHA standard requires fall protection must be used when work heights reach 10’ or more. OSHA’s standards represent the minimum level of protection; many general contractors require 100% fall protection at 6’ or greater when working on scaffolds. These contractors are increasing safety margins by exceeding the minimum requirements of the OSHA standards.
Lack of proper access to the scaffold work platform is an additional reason for falls from scaffolds. Access in the form of a secured ladder, stair tower, ramp, etc. is required whenever there is 24” vertical change to an upper or lower level. The means of access must be determined before the erection of the scaffold and employees are never allowed to climb on cross braces for either vertical or horizontal movement.
The proper erection of a scaffold is essential in preventing this particular hazard. Before erecting the scaffold, a number of factors must be accounted for. The amount of weight the scaffold will be required to hold including the weight of the scaffold itself, materials, and workers must be considered. Foundation stability, placement of scaffold planks, distance from the scaffold to the work surface, and tie-in requirements are just a few of the other items that must be considered prior to build a scaffold.
Scaffold Competent Person
A knowledgeable individual who can perform preplanning will reduce the chances of injury and save money for any task. However, when building, moving or dismantling a scaffold, a knowledgeable person, also known as the scaffold competent person, must be present.
A competent person must also inspect the scaffold daily to ensure the structure remains in a safe condition. Improper construction can lead to a total collapse of the scaffold or falling components – both of which can be fatal.
Struck by falling materials
Workers on scaffolds are not the only ones exposed to scaffold related hazards. Many individuals have been injured or killed due to being struck by materials or tools that have fallen from scaffold platforms. These people must be protected from falling objects. OSHA requires that this is done one of two ways. The first is to install toe boards or netting on work platforms to prevent these items from falling to the ground or lower-level work areas. The other option is to erect barricades that physically prevent individuals from walking under work platforms.
Caution or Danger tape is often used in an attempt to keep people away from overhead hazards but is often disregarded or taken down creating possible struck-by hazards. A more robust system such as plastic mesh or wooden barricades is generally more effective and much easier to maintain.
When members of the public could potentially move close enough to be struck by falling objects, creating barriers to prevent them from entering the area where objects can fall is a recognized best practice. Regardless of the type of falling object protection used, it is crucial that other individuals on the worksite are aware of the overhead work.
Once again we look to preplanning and the competent person to assure there are no electrical hazards present during scaffold use. A minimum of 10’ must be maintained between the scaffold and electrical hazards. If this distance cannot be maintained, then the hazard must be de-energized or properly insulated by the power company. Coordination between the power company and the company erecting/using the scaffold cannot be overstated.
Lastly, all employees who work on scaffolds must have documented training. The training topics must include identification and prevention of fall hazards, falling tools and materials hazards, and knowledge of electrical hazards.
Per the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), every employee who works on a scaffold must be trained by a competent or qualified person. This training should include:
- Nature of hazards related to scaffolds like falls and electrocution
- Appropriate use of scaffolds and handling of materials when using them
- Procedures in dealing with different hazards, including the use of personal fall arrest systems and falling object protection systems
Inspections related to the use of scaffolds must start with a survey of your work area. This means checking your workplace for hazards like ditches, debris, earth fills, high tension wires, and unguarded openings. Once you’ve taken note of them, you must eliminate or control them immediately.
Before using scaffolds, you must always inspect them for damage or alterations. NEVER use them when they are defective or damaged in any way. You should also inspect scaffolds if:
- Anything happens that might affect their structure.
- They’re assembled.
- They are changed or altered.
- They’re moved.
- They are taken apart.
The Right Load
Weight supported by a scaffold can make or break accidents in the workplace. That is why you should NEVER exceed the manufacturer’s recommended load rating. Remember, too, that supported scaffolds should be able to support not just their own weight but at least four times the maximum intended load.
You must take special considerations when partially or fully enclosing scaffolds. This is for the reason that wind and weather increase the load supported by scaffolds. Make sure, of course, that ties attaching scaffolds to buildings are secure.
General Safety Tips
The following are do’s and don’ts that apply in using scaffolds.
- Install and use scaffolding accessories based on the manufacturer’s recommended procedures.
- Place scaffolds on stable ground.
- Lock scaffold wheels when in use.
- Remove tools or debris on scaffold platforms.
- Equip all open sides and ends of scaffold platforms with proper guardrails, mid-rails, and toeboards.
- Wear a hard hat when working on or under a scaffold.
- Wear sturdy, non-slip shoes when working on a scaffold.
- Remove anything placed on scaffolds at the end of the work shift.
- Maintain at least a 10-foot distance between scaffolds and electric power lines.
- Avoid striking scaffolds with materials or vehicles.
- Intermix scaffolds, frames and components of different manufacturers.
- Use scaffolds as storage for tools or materials.
- Move scaffolds while they’re in use or occupied.
- Alter scaffolding accessories.
- Use makeshift scaffolds like planks laid across concrete blocks or other materials.
- Work on scaffolds when there’s a strong wind or storm.
- Use ladders or other materials on top of scaffolds to increase their height.
Remember that the height of a scaffold speaks for its own hazard. If you don’t train your workers in the proper use and maintenance of scaffolds, you might have to pay a very high price.
Note: Scaffold types with more than one box checked can use either type of fall protection.
Fall Arrest Systems
When personal fall arrest systems are required for the scaffold you will be working on, thoroughly inspect the equipment for damage and wear. Anchor the system to a safe point that won’t allow you to free fall more than six feet before stopping. Below is a chart showing different types of scaffolds and the fall protection systems required by OSHA: