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A scaffold is a (usually temporary) elevated platform erected for staging workers and materials at heights above the ground. A scaffold can be as simple as a boar d laid between two ladders –not a very safe one! Most scaffolds used for construction work are fairly complex structures. Workers need to know how to erect and dismantle them, and how to work with them safely. Unsafe scaffolds account for 40% of the top 10 OSHA citations on construction jobs and represent one of the most dangerous conditions for workers.

Scaffolds are engineered to work as a system. If one or more component fails, workers’ safety is jeopardized. In some cases entire scaffolding structures have collapsed, leading to injuries and even deaths. Planks or handrails can fail, or improperly connected joints can break loose. Workers can trip or lose their balance even on a properly constructed scaffold, and without the necessary safety precautions in place, they can be hurt. You don’t have to fall very far to be seriously injured. Scaffold accidents can often be traced to untrained, improperly trained, or improperly supervised workers. Makeshift scaffolds, overloaded planks and platforms, out-of-level bases, and unwise shortcuts lead to injuries.

Training workers and supervisors in the proper erection and use of scaffolding is important in maintaining a safe work site. OSHA has established requirements and guidelines for the scaffolds used in construction, repair and demolition work. Separate standards have been developed for crane or derrick suspended platforms.

One of OSHA’s first requirements is that a “competent person” be present for almost all scaffold operations. The competent person has primary responsibility for supervising and directing the work of erecting, dismantling, or altering the scaffolding. He or she must be able to identify hazardous working conditions and be given the authority to make corrections promptly that will correct the defects and eliminate the work hazard. This person must:

  • Know the requirements applicable to the types of scaffolds being used on the job
  • Determine the fall protection requirements for the erection and dismantling the scaffolds
  • Inspect the scaffolds and all components for unsafe conditions
  • Supervise all scaffold erection, dismantling or altering
  • Be qualified to identify and correct unsafe conditions related to the scaffolding
  • Determine the feasible, safe access for persons erecting and dismantling scaffolds
  • Decide if it is safe or unsafe to work on the scaffolds during high winds or storm conditions

Scaffolds play an important role on many construction sites. But by their very nature, scaffolds are among the primary causes of falling injuries, which causes them to be among the leading OSHA violations.

Below are some suggestions for items that should be included in a Scaffolding Safe Practices Checklist:

Access

  • Maintain safe access ways to the scaffolds and all platforms
  • Do not climb cross-braces to reach a scaffold platform
  • Use ladders or stairways to access platforms more than 2 feet above or below the access point.

Components

  • Be sure that the appointed competent person inspects the scaffold/scaffold components before each work shift.
  • Repair or replace damaged components immediately; do not use them in the scaffold
  • Do not alter or modify factory-made components
  • Do not mix components of different brands of scaffolds

Erecting, Dismantling and Moving

  • Allow only trained and experienced workers to erect and dismantle scaffolds
  • Keep the scaffold level, plumb, and square
  • Do not use makeshift outriggers or unstable objects to attempt to level a scaffold
  • Planking used must be sound and meet OSHA requirements
  • Do not attempt to roll a scaffold alone while on it

Fall Protection and Falling Objects

  • Be sure the proper guards are in place to keep workers, tools, equipment, and materials from falling
  • Deploy the fall protection system that matches the scaffolding in use
  • Use ropes and buckets, etc., to hoist and lower items to and from the platforms
  • Do not use makeshift methods to increase the working height of a scaffold
  • Do not work on slippery or icy platforms
  • Use planks and platforms of the correct length for the scaffold – not too short nor too long

Inspection

  • Regularly inspect the scaffold and its components to identify any unsafe conditions or components

Work Environment

  • Be aware of hazards on and around the scaffold such as electric lines that might contact the scaffold, the workers or their tools, slippery or icy planks or platforms, and stormy weather or high winds.
  • Have weather or job conditions/operations affected the base on which the scaffold is built?
  • Have other trades modified the scaffold or its anchorage in any way?
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