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August 18, 2022

The keys to proper scaffold safety

While it may feel like you’re working in the clouds, these are critical steps to take to keep your head out of them and your team safe.

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For years, contractors have used scaffolds to work at elevated areas, both inside and outside buildings. Although there are different systems available for working at heights, the basic premise is the same: keep employees safe.

The scaffolding standards as outlined by OSHA (29 CFR 1926.451) address a wide range of specific requirements, including suspended scaffolds, pump jacks, and traditional scaffolds. Suspended scaffolds are those you see used by window washers on high-rise buildings. For these, there are specific requirements regarding the counterbalance, outriggers and additional safety lines. Pump jacks are light weight scaffolds used by siding installation contractors. As with all scaffolds, the support is extremely critical.

In all cases, employee safety is the main priority. Each scaffold should be fully equipped to provide the employee with a safe working platform, with guardrails between 38 and 45 inches from the work platform, with a mid-rail in between. A toe board (four inches) should also be installed if there is any possibility of tools or debris falling on employees working below the scaffold. Footings should be level, and the scaffold should be anchored at intervals to ensure that it does not collapse.

The most cited OSHA violation regarding scaffolds is the potential for falls. OSHA requires that anytime an employee is working at an elevated height above 10 feet, they need proper fall protection. This may include guardrails, personal fall arresting systems (PFAS), or safety netting. This is important when discussing which type of scaffolding system is going to be used. Welded frame scaffolding systems are typically five feet high, so using two modules with leveling screw jacks exceeds the 10-foot rule and fall protection is necessary.

Another frequently cited OSHA violation is using the cross bracing to access the work platform. Employees should be provided with attachable ladders to access the work area. Although some welded frame scaffold systems appear to have pre-engineered ladders designed in the cross bracing, these are not ladders and employees should not use them as such.

Additionally, scaffolds should be inspected frequently during the workday. Rain, snow, wind or other weather conditions may alter the stability of the system and should be corrected prior to employees accessing the work platform. Rain or snow may make the ground soft or uneven. Screw jacks and foot plates should be used to level and stabilize the scaffold system, as well as spread the weight load.

If the scaffold is wrapped to protect the employee, wind can add significant pressures, pulling the scaffolding away from the structure, or pushing it into the structure. In either case, the system should be checked prior to employees accessing the scaffolding. Conduct regular safety checks during the workday as the weather changes.

Scaffolds should be considered a “tool” to assist employees working at heights. Keeping your scaffolding in good working order is extremely important, and regular inspections can prevent employee injuries. Should you have any questions or want to discuss this topic further please reach out to your local MMA safety consultant today.