According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), approximately 65 percent of construction workers perform tasks on scaffolding each year. Then, consider that fall hazards are the number one cause of death at construction sites, and that between 15 and 20 percent of those involve scaffolds. And falling from scaffolding isn’t the only danger; electrocutions and falling objects are also real concerns.
Obviously, proper use of scaffolding is an essential part of construction site safety. Here are the most important things to keep in mind to ensure the safest possible job sites for your crew.
Scaffold Safety Starts with Training
First, everyone who works on and around scaffolding should be trained by a qualified source in scaffold safety in an OSHA-compliant manner. That’s not just respect for worker safety and a smart business practice, it’s the law.
Training must include instruction in proper use of scaffolding and proper handling of materials on the scaffolding, load-carrying capacities, electrical safety, hazards associated with the type of scaffolding in use, best practices for minimizing risks, and addressing safety issues when they arise.
Additional training should be provided when workers are using a different type of scaffold or the circumstances of risk change. For more information about scaffold safety training requirements, visit the OSHA website.
Erecting Safe Scaffolding
Obviously, a scaffold is only safe if it’s properly erected. This must be done by fully trained, qualified, competent professionals. After the scaffolding is put up, it must also be thoroughly and carefully inspected by a qualified, competent professional. Nobody should begin work on the structure until it has been ruled safe for use.
Inspections should be repeated before new shifts begin. Also, only fully trained, competent professionals should be involved in dismantling, moving, or changing the scaffold.
Additional Tips for Scaffold Safety
- Follow all requirements for use of grab line systems, guardrails, and personal fall arrest systems
- Inspect personal fall arrest systems for wear and damage before use
- Anchor personal fall arrest systems securely where they’ll prevent a fall exceeding 6 feet
- Be mindful of the scaffold’s maximum intended load
- All workers must wear hardhats when on, beneath, or near a scaffold
- Encourage workers to wear quality non-slip work boots
- Consider mandating the use of tool lanyards on scaffolding
- Teach workers to be constantly aware of who’s above, below, and next to them
- Ensure supervisors keep an eye out for unsafe practices
- Create a company culture where workers can comfortably report unsafe practices
- Enforce rules prohibiting workers from leaving items on the scaffold that are not in use
- Have scaffolding adjusted by a qualified, competent professional as needed to reach new areas; never extend reach on scaffolding by standing on boxes or ladders; avoid stilts unless guardrails are high enough to offer adequate protection
- Don’t use a scaffold that appears damaged, tampered with, incomplete, or otherwise not entirely safe and fully assembled
- Don’t use scaffolding coated in mud, snow, ice, or wet leaves; clean the surfaces off thoroughly before use; keep in mind that worn wood planks can be slippery when wet
- Avoid use of scaffolding in inclement weather
- Prohibit climbing on the scaffold frame