The Importance Of Scaffold Safety Training

It is estimated that in today’s construction industry, an incredible 2.3 million construction workers perform some type of work on scaffolds, which is roughly 65% of the construction workforce. With so many workers exposed to hazards from scaffolds, scaffold safety needs to be a priority.

There are numerous types of scaffolds, including supported, suspended, and rolling. Scaffolds are crucial in the construction industry, and save both time and money when used properly.  However, there are several concerns that employers and employees alike must be aware of when erecting, working on, or disassembling any type of scaffold. This article will focus on the four main hazards associated with worker injuries or deaths associated with scaffolds.

Hazards That Are Preventable With Scaffold Safety Guidelines

Falls – Injury or death from falls can be attributed to such things as a lack of guardrails, improperly installed guardrails, or failure to use personal fall arrest systems when required. According to the OSHA standards, fall protection on scaffolds must be used when working at heights of 10’ or more.  However, many safety conscious general contractors and project owners require 100% fall protection at 6’ or greater, including work performed on scaffolds. This is stricter than what the standard requires. Always remember that the OSHA standards are a minimum requirement and more stringent scaffold safety rules can be applied by general contractors or others in authority.

Lack of proper access to the scaffold work platform is an additional reason for falls from scaffolds.  Access in the form of a secured ladder, stair tower, ramp, etc. is required whenever there is a 24” vertical change in elevation to an upper or lower level.  The means of access must be determined before erection of the scaffold, and employees are never allowed to climb on cross braces for either vertical or horizontal movement.

Scaffold collapse – Scaffold collapse often occurs due to improper construction, so the proper erection of scaffolds is of critical importance in preventing this particular hazard. When building, moving, or dismantling a scaffold, a knowledgeable person, also known as the scaffold competent person, must be present. The competent person must consider the weight the scaffold will be required to hold, including the weight of the scaffold itself, the materials, and the workers. The competent person must also consider other items before building a scaffold, such as foundation stability, placement of scaffold planks, distance from the scaffold to the work surface, and tie-in requirements, to name a few.

A knowledgeable individual who can perform scaffold safety preplanning will reduce the chances of injury and save money for any task.However, scaffold collapse does not necessarily mean the entire structure crashes to the ground.  Collapse can be as simple as a falling plank that did not overlap at a support, but the end result can be just as devastating. Therefore, it is important to remember that each scaffold component is an intricate part of an entire system and is only as strong as its weakest link. This is why a competent person must also inspect the scaffold daily to ensure the structure remains in a safe condition.

Struck by falling materials – Injuries and deaths due to scaffolds are not only limited to the workers on the scaffold. Many individuals have been injured or worse because they were struck by materials or tools that have fallen from scaffold platforms. Toe boards or netting must be installed on work platforms to prevent loose items from falling to the ground or lower level work areas when there is a hazard to employees walking or working below. Housekeeping on and around scaffolds is also an issue that must be addressed on a constant basis.

It is also crucial that other individuals on the work site are aware of overhead work being performed.  Barricades that physically prevent individuals from walking under work platforms must be erected and signs warning of the hazards need to be posted. Caution or Danger tape is often used in an attempt to keep people away from overhead hazards. But too often, the tape is disregarded or taken down creating possible struck by hazards. A more robust system such as plastic mesh or wooden barricades is generally more effective and much easier to maintain; however, the requirement to warn individuals of the hazard does not relieve others of being aware of their surroundings. It is also vital that employees heed the warning signs and know that there will be consequences for ignoring them. These consequences can come in the form of disciplinary action if they are lucky or a serious injury or worse if they are not.

Electrocution – Once again we look to scaffold safety preplanning and the competent person to assure there are no electrical hazards present during scaffold use. A minimum of 10’ must be maintained between the scaffold and electrical hazards. If this distance cannot be maintained, then the hazard must be de-energized or properly insulated by the power company. Coordination between the power company and the company erecting / using the scaffold cannot be over-stated.

And finally, all employees who work on scaffolds must have documented training. Scaffold safety training topics must include identification of fall hazards, falling tools and materials hazards, and knowledge of electrical hazards.

Scaffold safety and use starts form the ground up. Only safe work conditions and actions will prevent unnecessary injuries when working on these ever changing structures.

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