Safety guides and audits to make your job as a safety professional easier

General Requirements

Guardrails keep workers safe.


When OSHA revised its scaffolds standard back in 1996, the Bureau of Labor and Statistics (BLS) showed that 25% of workers injured in scaffold accidents had not received any scaffold training. Also, 77% of scaffolds were not equipped with guardrails to keep workers safe.

OSHA estimates that informing scaffold workers about the safety precautions while working on scaffolding can save as many as 60 lives and prevent 4,500 accidents every year.

In a recent BLS study, 72% of workers injured in scaffold accidents say the accident was caused by either planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object.

This module will take a closer look at the general requirements that will help prevent these accidents and others while working on or around scaffolding.

Competent Person

A competent person must oversee scaffold selection, erection, use, movement, alteration, dismantling, maintenance and inspection.

According to OSHA, a competent person means “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 competent person must oversee the scaffold selection, erection, use, movement, alteration, dismantling, maintenance and inspection. Employers will need to make sure only trained and experienced personnel are working on the scaffold. On the other hand, employees will need to be knowledgeable about the type of scaffolding to be used in various work environments, and the proper care and use of fall protection equipment.

Employee training should focus on the proper erection, handling, use, inspection, removal and care of the scaffolds. Training must also include the installation of fall protection, such as guardrails.

frame scaffold
Workers must be protected from falling and from being injured from falling objects.

Fall Protection

Guardrails must be installed on all scaffold platforms in accordance with OSHA 1910.451 and at least consist of top rails, midrails and toeboards.

Fall Protection Systems

Workers on suspended scaffolds must use a fall protection system to protect them against scaffold failure. This system will usually consist of a full body harness, lanyard, rope grab, independent vertical lifeline and an independent lifeline anchorage. Remember, fall protection is only as good as its anchorage. The anchorage points are independent points on structures where lifelines are securely attached. These points must be able to support at least 5,000 pounds per employee.

Protection from Falling Objects

Workers and others located at lower levels need to be protected from objects falling off scaffolds using the following methods:

  • Toeboards. Toeboards must be installed on platforms higher than 10 feet above lower levels, at least 3½ inches high, and strong enough to withstand a force of at least 50 pounds applied downward or outward.
  • Panels and screens. if you need to pile material higher than the top edge of a toeboard, install panels or screens to keep the material from dropping over the edge.
  • Canopies. Make sure canopies won't collapse or tear from an object's impact.

Solutions to Common Hazards

There are several things an employee can do to protect themselves from the common hazards mentioned in Module 1:

  • Scaffold must be sound, rigid and sufficient to carry its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load without settling or displacement. It must be erected on solid footing.
  • Unstable objects, such as barrels, boxes, loose bricks or concrete blocks must not be used to support scaffolds or planks.
  • Scaffold must not be erected, moved, dismantled or altered except under the supervision of a competent person.
  • Scaffold accessories such as braces, brackets, trusses, screw legs or ladders that are damaged or weakened from any cause must be immediately repaired or replaced.
  • Scaffold platforms must be tightly planked with scaffold plank grade material or equivalent.
  • Synthetic and natural rope used in suspension scaffolding must be protected from heat-producing sources.
  • Employees must be instructed about the hazards of using diagonal braces as fall protection.
  • Scaffold should be accessed by using ladders and stairwells.
  • Scaffolds must be at least 10 feet from electric power lines at all times.
ladder access
Ladders or stairways are acceptable ways to reach scaffold platforms that are more than two feet above the access point.
Photo courtesy: NIOSH/John Rekus

Access to Scaffolds

Workers must have safe access to scaffolds and scaffold platforms. They can use ladders or stairways to reach a platform that is more than two feet above or below the access point.

Here are some other examples to access a scaffold safely:

  • integral prefabricated scaffold access frames
  • direct access from another scaffold
  • personnel hoists
  • ramps
  • walkways


This first video is an example of significant fall hazards while working on a scaffold.


Before beginning this quiz, we highly recommend you review the module material. This quiz is designed to allow you to self-check your comprehension of the module content, but only focuses on key concepts and ideas.

Read each question carefully. Select the best answer, even if more than one answer seems possible. When done, click on the "Get Quiz Answers" button. If you do not answer all the questions, you will receive an error message.

Good luck!

1. A _____ must oversee the scaffold selection, erection, use, movement, alteration, and inspection.

2. Guardrails must be installed on all scaffold platforms.

3. Which of the following is something an employee can do to protect themselves from scaffolding hazards?

4. Stairways need to be used to reach a platform that is more than _____ below or above the access point.

5. Scaffolds must be at least _____ feet from electrical power lines at all times.

Have a great day!

Important! You will receive an "error" message unless all questions are answered.