The Basics of Scaffold Safety (Part 1)

Drive through any major city and, wherever construction is taking place, you will see cranes and scaffolding. Scaffolding allows workers to do what they need to do at the right height without having to expose them to unnecessary risk. Scaffolding can, however, be a hazard unless it is set up used properly. OSHA estimates that 60 people die each year from scaffold accidents. A proper understanding of scaffold “how-to” and safety is essential.

OSHA defines a scaffold as: “an elevated, temporary work platform” which, of course, includes a number of different structures.

  1. A supported scaffold – This is the scaffold that most of us visualize when we are talking about scaffolding. This is a “structure” that is put together from the ground up. Platforms of wood or whatever else is approved, is supported with rigid beams, frames and/or poles.
  2. A suspended scaffold – Unlike the supported scaffold which goes from the ground up, the suspended scaffold is suspended from the top down. The working platform are essentially “hung” with flexible (rope, wire, etc…) from an overhead support.
  3. Lifts – This “scaffold” (we don’t usually think of this type as a real scaffold per say) is movable. In this category we include “cherry pickers”, forklift baskets and boom trucks.

Identifying the hazards

  1. Collapse or failure – if the scaffolding has not been properly installed, put together correctly and/or test adequately, there is a danger that one or more parts of the structure will fail. This may be a vertical frame or support that wasn’t adequately attached or welded, it may be a plank that was rotting or cracked or any number of other structural failures.
  2. Debris and falling objects – Because the nature of scaffolding work is “tiered” there is an increase danger of overhead debris, tools, etc… falling from the platform or work area overhead.
  3. Electrical Hazards – Because scaffolds are most commonly erected around buildings that are supplied with electrical power, there is the added danger of electrocution from overhead power lines.
  4. Slips and Falls – Because scaffolding work is work that is elevated, workers are in danger of slipping and falling off the scaffolding. Basic issues of fall protection and fall arrest come into play with this particular form of hazard.