From Way up Here

More than 2 million construction workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, work on scaffolds every day. Scaffold accidents cause thousands of injuries and are involved in many job-site fatalities each year. In a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study, 72 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed the incident either to the planking or support giving way, the employee slipping and falling, or a falling object striking the employee. Fortunately, with the proper awareness, training and adherence to Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) regulations, these types of accidents can be prevented.


There are two main types of scaffolds: suspended and supported. OSHA defines suspended scaffolds as platforms suspended by ropes or other nonrigid means from an overhead structure. Supported scaffolds consist of one or more platforms supported by outrigger beams, brackets, poles, legs, uprights, posts, frames or similar rigid supports. Employees and employers should be familiar with the various types of both.


Suspended scaffolds include two-point or swing stages and the following scaffold types: single-point adjustable, catenary, multipoint adjustable, interior hung suspension, needle beam, multilevel and float or ship. 


Supported scaffolds include frame or fabricated frame, manually propelled, portable, caster or wheel-mount supported, pump jack, ladder jack, tube and coupler, and pole.


Additionally, there is a series of specialty scaffolds designed for specific types of work, such as plasterers, decorators and bricklayers square scaffolds, as well as roof-bracket scaffolds.


It is imperative that employers provide proper training on the specific type of scaffold workers are expected to work on for a given task. Workers need retraining when changing the types of scaffolds, fall protection, falling object protection, or other equipment. Similarly, when it’s clear that workers have forgotten their training, they should be retrained.


Once workers have been properly trained and are ready to begin work, they should conduct a visual inspection to identify hazards (e.g., electrical wires in the proximity or improperly erected scaffolding). It is important that a competent person has inspected the scaffold before it is used. Also, workers should ensure that they are using the proper type of scaffold for the job and all load capacity limits must be adhered to. 


Some simple safety precautions should be followed when working on or with scaffolds. Wear a hard hat or other approved head protection. Proper footwear with nonslip soles and a personal fall-arrest system must also be worn whenever required. While working on the platform, workers must look out for people on the scaffold and on the ground below. Toe boards and other protective measures must be in place to prevent being struck by hazards. Employees must also avoid sudden movements and must not reach too far beyond the edges of the platform. Often, his is how workers fall.


Workers have a duty to keep the scaffold platform clear of debris and unnecessary materials because they create a much greater risk for slips, trips or falls as well as items being knocked off the scaffold and striking someone below. Materials and equipment should never be left on the platform at the end of the work day. 


Finally, outdoor scaffolds should never be used in stormy or windy weather, and scaffolds covered with ice or snow should never be used. Workers should consult their supervisor if questions arise regarding whether a scaffold is safe to use.


Workers should avoid hitting or bumping the base of a scaffold with anything. In the event that a scaffold is hit or bumped, workers must stop using the scaffold immediately. Work can only commence once it is deemed safe for use again by a qualified person.


For more information and additional resources regarding scaffold safety, visit www.osha.gov.

About the Author

Tom O'Connor

Safety Columnist

Tom O'Connor is safety and regulatory affairs manager for Intec, a safety consulting, training and publishing firm that offers on-site assistance and produces manuals, training videos and software for contractors. He has significant experience...

Stay Informed Join our Newsletter

Having trouble finding time to sit down with the latest issue of
ELECTRICAL CONTRACTOR? Don't worry, we'll come to you.