7 Ways to Improve Scaffolding Safety

Topics: Loss Control

Summary: Falls are the leading cause of workplace injuries and even deaths in the construction industry. Learn more about common scaffolding hazards, OSHA safety regulations, and tips to keep workers utilizing scaffolding safe from accidents and falls.

This article was also published on ForConstructionPros.com.

The Importance of Scaffolding Safety for Construction Workers

Scaffolding is used on construction or renovation worksites as a temporary structure to support and allow workers to perform their duties. Scaffolds are used to gain access to heights. Proper scaffolding is usually built out of steel and is durable enough to safely hold the full weight of construction workers and any required equipment. The most common types of scaffolding are Supported, Mobile and Suspended. The basic components of scaffolding are tubes, couplers and boards.

However, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) reports that over 62% of construction workers are exposed to heights where their center of gravity is more than five feet off the ground. Working at heights of any level increases these workers’ risk of injury from falling. And in 2020, 3,250 workers suffered injuries due to scaffolding.

Common Scaffolding Hazards

scaffolding safety for construction workers
A few of the most common scaffolding hazards include:
  • A lack of fall protection/guardrails leading to falls from an elevated height
  • Overloading or instability of the scaffold causing it to collapse
  • Workers being struck by falling items from the scaffold, such as tools, materials or debris
  • Proximity to overhead power lines leading to the risk of electrocution
  • Improper safety measures when raising and dismantling scaffolding
  • Planks slipping or breaking
Falls are the leading cause of death for construction workers, and 86% of deaths in the construction industry are due to scaffolding. Why is this number so high? Several factors contribute to the higher risk of scaffolding falls, such as:
  • Lack of fall protection for the worker and no fall protection program in place
  • Inexperienced or untrained workers who cannot identify common fall hazards
  • Unstable work surfaces with no guardrails or wheels left unlocked on a mobile scaffold before a worker climbs the platform
  • Workers left alone on scaffolding during off hours

Scaffolding Safety: OSHA Regulations and Employee Training

OSHA has had a standard in place for scaffolding safety since 1971, and it has been updated several times throughout the years. This rule spells out the safety standards that regulate the design, construction and use of scaffolds in the construction industry. It explains fall protection systems and describes the training any employees using scaffolding should undergo before they are permitted to use them.

Employers are responsible for ensuring compliance with OSHA’s regulations, and workers should be properly trained and familiarized with them. Some of the rules the OSHA standard states that employers must comply with include:
  • Weight capacity requirements for all scaffolds
  • Scaffold platform construction requirements
  • Criteria for supported scaffolds and suspended scaffolds
  • Access and use requirements
  • Fall protection requirements
  • Falling object protection
OSHA also offers training courses on scaffold safety. In 1996, when OSHA revised its scaffold standards, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics found that 25% of workers received no training on scaffold safety. Training is key in protecting workers from debilitating accidents due to scaffolding.

Scaffold Accident and Fall Prevention Tips

Scaffolding accidents can lead to serious injuries and, in some cases, even death. Workers can fall from an unstable scaffold, planking giving away or from unsafe working conditions, such as working outside on scaffolding during inclement weather. Without proper safety measures in place, scaffolding can be a hazard to the employees utilizing it and to others working nearby.

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A few essential scaffolding safety tips to follow include:

1. Perform an inspection before use

OSHA requires the general contractor in section 1926.451(f)(3) to have scaffolds and scaffold components inspected for visible defects by a competent person before each work shift and after any occurrence which could affect a scaffold's structural integrity. 29 CFR 1926.32(f) states: "’Competent person’ means one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions, which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

Before allowing workers to mount scaffolding, perform a thorough inspection to ensure all components are secure, tight and undamaged. All vertical and horizontal members shall be fastened together with a coupler or locking device to form a positive connection. The locking device shall be of a type that has no loose parts. Check for things like missing or damaged guardrails, ties or connectors and that legs, posts, frames and uprights are on baseplates and mudsills. Inspect metal components for bends, cracks, holes, rust, welding splatter, pits, broken welds, and non-compatible parts. Ensure workers have safe access and are not using cross-braces as a ladder for access or exit.

2. Use fall protection

Make sure that guardrails are in place and secure. Workers should also wear personal protective equipment, including hard hats, harnesses and lanyards when working at heights. OSHA requires workers to wear a full-body harness (one part of a Personal Fall Arrest System) when working on a suspended scaffold more than 10 feet above the working surface.

3. Follow load capacity guidelines

Never exceed the maximum load capacity of the scaffold. OSHA states that “each scaffold and scaffold component must support without failure its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load applied or transmitted to it.” Additionally, make sure to distribute weight evenly and not overload one side of the scaffold.

4. Ensure the scaffold is secure

Scaffolds should be restrained by tying, bracing or something equivalent to these means. Scaffolds must also be securely fastened to the building structure to prevent movement or tipping. Guys, ties, and braces are used to provide additional support for workers when using scaffoldings to prevent tipping. It should be installed according to the scaffold manufacturer’s recommendation or when the base reaches a height ratio of 4:1.

5. Maintain a safe work area

Warning signs should be placed around the scaffold to alert workers and pedestrians of potential hazards. Additionally, keep the work area free of clutter and debris and quickly clean up any spills that could cause slippery surfaces near the scaffold.

6. Use proper access

According to OSHA, employers must provide access when the scaffold platforms are more than two feet above ground or below a point of access. Safe and secure access to the scaffold by using ladders or stairs should be used, not items like boxes or other unstable objects.

7. Trained workers

All employees need regular training by a qualified individual to ensure they can recognize the common scaffolding hazards and understand how to minimize them. Training should include sessions on the specific hazards, including falls, falling objects, and electrical concerns, as well as how to properly use the scaffold and handle materials once on it. Only trained workers should be allowed to use scaffolding.

In conclusion, 10 OSHA scaffolding inspection and safe use procedures include: fall protection, guardrail height, cross bracing, mid-rails, footings, platforms, guying ties and braces, capacity, training and inspections. Taking these precautions can prevent employee accidents, minimize downtime, and improve the overall efficiency of a construction project.

Loss Control Services from AmTrust Financial

AmTrust’s Loss Control Department offers a variety of workplace safety resources designed to help your organization take a proactive approach to reduce incidents on the job. Contact us to learn more information about how to improve employee safety.

This material is for informational purposes only and is not legal or business advice. Neither AmTrust Financial Services, Inc. nor any of its subsidiaries or affiliates represents or warrants that the information contained herein is appropriate or suitable for any specific business or legal purpose. Readers seeking resolution of specific questions should consult their business and/or legal advisors. Coverages may vary by location. Contact your local RSM for more information.

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