Today we are going to talk about scaffold safety. On Monday, our local construction community was rocked by tragedy following a scaffold collapse. Three workers, Anderson Almeida, Jose Luis Lopez-Ramirez and Jose Erasmo Hernandez, were killed and another worker, Elmer Guevera, received serious injuries when they fell from a mast climber that collapsed while being dismantled at a downtown Raleigh construction site. Apparently, a portion of the support structure failed near the fifth floor causing the mobile scaffold platform to crash to the ground. The investigation into the accident has just begun, so it’s too early to comment on exactly what caused the mast climber to collapse. Construction Data would like to express our condolences to the families of the workers who died and wish injured worker a full and speedy recovery.
Tragic events like Monday’s accident are a somber reminder of exactly how dangerous construction work can be. I found an old statistic from OSHA stating approximately 2.3 million construction workers, roughly 65 percent, work on scaffolds. The 2.3 million number is old since it is far less than 65 percent of the 6.353 million construction workers today. If the 65 percent still holds true, more than 4.1 million construction workers do some work on scaffolds. That’s a lot of folks working on scaffolds potentially being exposed to a number of hazards such as falls, electrocutions and falling objects.
Because the OSHA standards for scaffolding in construction are extremely detailed, we can’t cover all the rules and requirements for each specific type of scaffold and every situation. Instead, we’ve created a general list of do’s and don’ts for scaffold safety in construction. You can find all of the OSHA standards for scaffolds in construction here.
Get properly trained before using a scaffold. Training must be done by a “qualified” person and includes identification of electrocution, fall and falling objects hazards and the procedures for dealing with those hazards. Training must also include the proper use of the scaffold, how to handle materials and the load capacities of the scaffold.
Get retrained when additional hazards present themselves due to changes at the jobsite or if the type of scaffold, fall protection or falling objects protection changes. You can also be required to receive additional training if your boss feels that your initial training was not adequately retained.
Before getting on a scaffold check to make sure that a “competent” person has inspected the scaffold before the work shift and that it is safe to use and in proper working order. Scaffolds can only be erected, dismantled, altered or moved under direct supervision of a “competent” person by trained personnel. If you are ever unsure regarding the safety of a scaffold check with a supervisor before use.
Be mindful of coworkers working above and below you at all times, as well as others working on the scaffold. If you witness improper use on or around a scaffold you should stop what you are doing and notify a supervisor.
When personal fall arrest systems are required for the scaffold you will be working on, thoroughly inspect the equipment for damage and wear. Anchor the system to a safe point that won’t allow you to free fall more than six feet before stopping. Below is a chart showing different types of scaffolds and the fall protection systems required by OSHA:
Note: Scaffold types with more than one box checked can use either type of fall protection.
Leave anything on the scaffold at the end of your shift. This includes any building materials or tools that you may have been using on the scaffold while you were working. These items could potentially be blown off the scaffold or cause tripping hazards for the next person using the scaffold.
Overload the scaffold. Part of proper training includes being informed of the maximum intended load of the scaffold you are working on as well as its load-carrying capacities. In most instances, scaffolds should be capable of supporting at least four times its maximum intended load.
Use boxes or ladders to increase your work height. If you can’t reach an area you should request that your supervisor have the scaffold platform raised. Don’t use stilts unless the guardrails on the scaffold have been extended to a height that is equal to the height of the stilts.
Use the scaffold if it appears that it is damaged in any way, has been tampered with or if there are components missing such as planking, guardrails, toeboards, debris nets or protective canopies. Notify a supervisor immediately to get the scaffold in proper working order and inspected by a “competent” person. Never tamper with or attempt to repair a scaffold unless you have received training in scaffold erection.
Walk on scaffold planking covered in ice, snow or mud. Worn wood planking can also be extremely slippery when wet. All snow, ice, mud and other debris such as wet leaves should be thoroughly removed before using the scaffold. You should also avoid using a scaffold during adverse weather such as heavy rain, sleet, ice snow or strong winds.
Climb on any portion of the scaffold frame not intended for climbing. Always use a fixed ladder, internal access stairway or built-in ladder to access the working platform. There should always be a handhold above the scaffold platform. Never climb with any materials or tools in your hand, they should be hoisted up to the scaffold separately.
Note: OSHA defines a “competent” person as “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”. A “qualified” person is “one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his/her ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project”. [29 CFR 1926.450(b)].
Work Smart. Be Safe.