The Number 1 most frequently violated standard on OSHA’s list for fiscal year October 1, 2009, through September 30, 2010 was: Scaffolding, general requirements, construction (29 CFR 1926.451).  Working with heavy equipment and building materials on the limited space of a scaffold is difficult.  Without fall protection or safe access, it becomes hazardous.  Falls from such improperly constructed scaffolds can result in injuries ranging from sprains to death. 

Scaffolds must be constructed according to the manufacturer’s instructions.  Guardrail systems should be installed along all open sides and ends of platforms.  If workers on a construction site are exposed to vertical drops of 6 feet or more, OSHA requires that employers provide fall protection in one of three ways before work begins: 

  • Placing guardrails around the hazard area.
  • Deploying safety nets.
  • Providing personal fall arrest systems for each employee. 

Most times the nature and location of the work will dictate the form that fall protection takes.  There are several types of scaffolding: 

  • Suspended scaffolds – Those that are suspended with ropes or other non-rigid means from overhead structures equipped with methods to permit platform to be raised and lowered.
  • Supported scaffolds – Those with one or more platforms that are supported by beams, brackets, poles, legs, frames, or similar rigid supports.  Frame scaffolds are the most common type.
  • Other scaffolds such as hydraulic scaffolds on bucket trucks. 

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict provisions in place for scaffolding use, but when construction companies are more concerned with producing quick results than ensuring the safety of their workers all too often they try to work around these regulations.  Depending on the size of the scaffolding, OSHA requires that:

• Scaffolding be moved, constructed, and altered by a competent person who has had significant training in the erection of scaffolding.
• A frame must be able to support four times its weight.
• Guard rails be used to block access to areas where the plank extension over the end support is less than 12 inches.
• Horizontal security and vertical tie-ins be placed every 20 feet.
•  The space between scaffolding planks not go beyond one inch.   The use of ties, bracers, and outriggers.  

When the safety requirements put in place by OSHA are not followed, injuries can easily occur.   The most common causes of scaffolding accidents are:

• Improper construction of the scaffolding.
• Improper inspection of the scaffolding.
• Inadequate securing of the scaffolding deck.
• Inadequate guard rails, toe boards, screens, and safety netting. 

These oversights can lead to injuries from being hit by falling objects, to slipping and falling off the scaffolding,  to planking or support giving away.   According to a Bureau of Labor Statistics study, 72 per cent of workers were hurt  in scaffolding accidents in one of these ways.  The study also reports that an average of 88 deaths occur each year as a result of scaffolding accidents.  Regretably, these injuries and deaths could have been avoided if only proper safety regulations had been followed. 

Tomorrow’s “Top Ten List to Avoid” subject is the #2 violation and #1 highest penalties assessed: Fall protection, construction (29 CFR 1926.501).  In the meantime, stay safe! 

Source: OSHA