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Scaffolding Safety and OSHA Regulations

Those in construction and general industry see some of the highest injury and fatality rates.  The use of scaffolding is one of most common causes of these incidents.  According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, each year there are about 4,500 injuries and more than 60 fatalities related to scaffolding.  There’s little surprise that scaffolding violations makes OSHA’s top ten list of most frequently cited violations.  There are various OSHA regulations which apply to different types of scaffolding systems.  Yet the main goal is that the scaffolding structure is safe and secure.  Scaffolding safety includes dedicated actions when planning, building, inspecting, and using scaffolds.

First, let’s discuss scaffold types.

Scaffold Types

According to OSHA, a scaffold is defined as “an elevated, temporary work platform”.  It’s important to take into consideration the type of scaffolding used at the construction site, industry, or manufacturing environments.  There are two types of scaffolds, which include the following:

  • Supported scaffold:  consists of one or more platforms supported by load-bearing poles, legs, frames, or outriggers.
  • Suspended scaffolds:  consists of one or more platforms suspended by non-rigid overhead support. (See this product for rigid rail fall protection.)
    Note that other types of equipment such as scissor lifts and aerial lifts can be thought of as other types of supported scaffolds.

Scaffold users can be placed into three groups: scaffold erector/dismantler, user, and designer.

Next, let’s examine some OSHA scaffolding requirements for fall protection.

Horizontal or Vertical Regulations?

Some OSHA regulations deal with horizontal standards and some deal with vertical standards.  Regulations such as 29 CFR 1926 Subpart M:  Fall Protection involve a broad general horizontal standard which applies to any industry.  On the other hand, 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L:  Scaffolding is a more specific vertical OSHA standard.  Horizontal standards (Subpart M) specify that in the construction industry, fall protection must be present at 6 feet of height.  Vertical standards (Subpart L) specifies that for scaffolding safety, fall protection must be present at a threshold of 10 feet.  When dealing with scaffolding safety, the vertical standard overrules the horizontal standard.

In addition to working height thresholds, there are other OSHA scaffolding requirements to keep workers safe while working on a scaffold.

Scaffolding Fall Protection Solutions

Scaffolding work and scaffold hazards present various fall prevention concerns.  The lack of guardrails, improperly installed guardrails, or failure to use personal fall arrest systems cause falls.  So, the result is worker injury and possibly fatality. The conversation about the responsibility of the worker and protection measures that remain in place is discussed further here: the difference between active vs. passive fall protection.

Employees more than 10 feet above a lower level need protection from falls by guardrails or a fall arrest system, except those on single-point and two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds.  Further, “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)(ii)

Equip scaffolding with toeboards, midrails, and guardrails.  Guardrails are to be between 38 inches and 45 inches in height, and installation of midrails at about half that height.  If any cross brace is used to support the top rail for the guardrail, then cross bracing should reach the height of between 38 and 45 inches.  OSHA requires toeboard installation on work platforms, screens, nets, or barricades.  Why?  The purpose is to prevent items from falling, and thereby protecting workers on lower levels.  In addition, workers access the scaffold platform in the form of a secured ladder, stair tower, or ramp.

Properly installed guardrails provide fall protection compliance on an appropriately decked or planked scaffold.

Workers frequently reach out beyond fall protection barriers for equipment or to complete tasks.  For scaffold safety, workers should use a personal fall arrest system.  A personal fall arrest and active restraint system consists of an anchorage point, body belt or body harness, D-rings, and may include a lanyard, lifeline, deceleration device or a combination of these.  When workers use personal fall arrest systems, they need to know where to anchor.

Let’s turn our attention to some additional considerations dealing with scaffolding preplanning, the erection of a scaffold, and safety training.

Qualified or Competent Person for Scaffolding Safety?

It stands to reason that there is preplanning involved before erecting a scaffold. Some factors to consider are materials and guardrails and scaffold components, foundation stability, placement of scaffold planks, weight of the scaffold itself, weights of workers, and tie-off requirements.

According to OSHA, a qualified person is one who “has successfully demonstrated his/her ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project.”  A qualified person has a solid background, education or degree, in designing safe scaffolding.  A qualified person can perform scaffolding preplanning.  Keep in mind that OSHA states that a professional registered engineer must design scaffolds more than 125 feet in height above the base.

OSHA requires that scaffolding be erected under the supervision of a competent person.  Further, a competent person must be present when building, moving, dismantling, or altering a scaffold.  A competent person is 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 authorization to take corrective measures to eliminate them.”  A competent person has the knowledge to recognize a hazard as well as the authority to correct it.

Inspecting scaffolds is one of the roles of your competent person.  Any alteration or shift of the scaffold can pose a fall hazard.  As a result, inspecting and re-inspecting needs to be done at predetermined intervals.  Your competent person also inspects rigging on any suspension scaffold.

Moreover, for scaffold safety your competent person should determine your scaffolding harness regulations.

Scaffolding Safety and Training

Common scaffold accidents include:

  • slips and falls,
  • being struck by a falling object,
  • scaffold plank collapse or scaffold collapse due to improper construction,
  • and electrocution resulting from electrical hazards.

Proper training is one way to avoid scaffolding accidents.  OSHA 29 CFR 1926.454 safety standard includes scaffolding training requirements. Workers who work while on a scaffold need proper training to recognize each potential fall hazard and scaffold hazard.  Also, it is important for each scaffold user to understand procedures to control or minimize hazards.  Employers must provide documented training by a qualified person.

Scaffolding Alternatives

EDGE’s modular components consisting of platforms, stairs, and ladders provide a safe job site alternative for scaffolding. Assemble the scaffold platform into a variety of configurations, shapes, or sizes to create a custom working platform system.  In an industrial, plant or warehouse, and some construction work settings, a modular scaffolding system serves as a safe and efficient solution.  A rolling scaffold with the benefits of reconfiguration, adding on, and ability for relocation is an option.

Being aware of scaffolding safety regulations and implementing OSHA standards can prevent workplace incidents and keep workers safe.  While this post contains information about some OSHA requirements to ensure scaffolding safety, there are more detailed OSHA scaffolding requirements not included in this post.  Refer to official OSHA documentation for specifics.

Do you need guardrails, toeboards, or midrails?  EDGE can help with your fall protection needs.  Perhaps you’re looking at scaffolding for semi-permanent or longer-term applications.  If so EDGE’s modular work platforms, stairs, and ladders may be a solution. We can also help with crossover ladders and roof stairs. Give us a call today!

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