Scaffolding Safety 101: Essential Tips for Construction Sites

Construction sites help create the infrastructure that we have today. We wouldn’t have towering buildings and multi-story homes without workers experienced with scaffolding. These structures allow workers to reach new heights while performing all kinds of essential tasks for building, maintenance and repairs. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), about 65% of all construction workers perform some work on scaffolds every year. They’re a staple on construction sites for all kinds of projects.  This is why following safety procedures is so important. Here’s what you should know.  Dangers of Scaffoldings  The most common cause of injury attributed to scaffolding is falls. This is because scaffolding can be structurally unstable due to certain weather conditions like wind or rain. Problems can also occur if the parts are not properly secured or attached during assembly. Besides falls, improper planking is another big issue that can lead to injury. Some common planking issues include:  • Wear and tear due to exposure to the elements. • Improper or incomplete inspections. • Overloading of people or equipment. Each of these has the potential to cause bending or breaking.  Safety Standards Already in Place  OSHA already has a detailed outline of safety procedures for construction workers to follow. These safety guidelines include directives, letters of interpretation, possible solutions, and training. The directives establish specific inspection procedures to help unify the enforcement of safety standards. The letters of interpretation do not provide a mandate for which materials you can use for scaffolding. However, the material chosen must be capable of supporting its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load applied or transmitted. OSHA also provides a Construction Pocket Guide that provides a list of hazards and solutions for the top 10 most frequently cited standards in construction. They also provide documents that review existing safety standards, such as the Safety Standard for Scaffold Use document. For more information about these safety procedures, visit OSHA’s official websiteTips for Staying Safe  Before using scaffolding, it’s important to receive training from a highly qualified person. First, you may want to check out the instructor’s background and credentials to ensure you are getting the proper training. During training, the instructor should go over the proper use of scaffolding, how to handle certain materials and the load capacity. Make sure you pay attention and retain the information. If any new hazards come up in a future job, be sure to get retrained. In addition to training, be sure the scaffolding is inspected by a competent professional before use. Another important thing to remember is to always wear a hard hat when working on or under a scaffold. Along with a hard hat, you may want to invest in some sturdy work boots.  Additional Tips to Follow  • Use proper base plates and adjustable screw jacks on solid ground to ensure a good foundation. • Inspect all the equipment before use and replace any damaged parts. • Secure the scaffolding to the structure at a 4-to-1 base ratio. • Follow the capacity standards given by manufacturers and brace scaffolding according to their recommendations. • Use guardrails, mid rails, and toe boards on all open sides and ends of platforms above 10 inches. • Double-check the setup of the scaffolding before each shift. • Do not remove any parts without permission. • Provide and use proper ladder access to all levels. What Not to Do While it’s important to understand the proper safety procedures to follow, here are some things you shouldn’t do when using scaffolding.  First, don’t leave anything on the scaffold once your shift has ended. This can include any personal items, such as a wallet, or any tools you used during the shift. These items can become a trip or fall hazard for the next person working. Also, don't overload the scaffolding, because it can cause damage to the structure. This is why it’s vital to stay up-to-date on the loading capacity guidelines given to you during training. Weather conditions also create hazards when using scaffolding. If the conditions are wet or icy, don’t walk on the platforms. Planking is often very slippery when wet. Furthermore, if wind reaches 20 miles per hour in winter weather, workers should not be permitted to work on scaffolding until temperatures warm up. If the scaffolding appears damaged in any way or is missing parts, do not use it. Instead, let a supervisor know about the issue. This way, it can be properly taken care of to minimize any chance of injury. When using the scaffold, make sure you don’t climb on any portion that is not intended for climbing purposes. Be sure to use a ladder or built-in access when moving to a different level. Also, don’t climb with tools in your hand. Stow them properly to avoid harming yourself or others.  Remember Safety First With Scaffolding  Construction sites contain many hazards, and the improper use of scaffolding is among the most common causes of injury. This is why OSHA has put in place a set of safety standards for construction workers to follow. Along with following these standards, being properly trained, wearing safety equipment and carefully inspecting scaffolding before use should also be practiced to maintain safety when using scaffolding. 

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Evelyn Long

Evelyn Long is the editor-in-chief of Renovated, an informational resource for construction professionals. She writes on green building, construction...

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