When scaffolds are not erected or used properly, falls from elevation can occur. About 2.3 million construction workers frequently work on scaffolds. According to OSHA, protecting these workers from scaffold-related accidents would prevent an estimated 4,500 injuries and 50 fatalities each year.
It’s very important everyone working around scaffolds is familiar with scaffold safety requirements. Employees who erect or work on scaffolds should be properly trained. To make sure that happens, develop an effective formal Scaffold Safety Program (SSP).
First, as a short review, let’s cover some scaffold basics.
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A scaffold is defined as an elevated, temporary work platform. The three basic types of scaffolds are described below:
Workers on scaffolds can be divided into two groups, erectors/dismantlers and users.
Erectors and dismantlers: Erectors and dismantlers are those workers who are mainly responsible for assembling and disassembling scaffolding. This is done before other work can continue, and/or after work has been completed.
Users: Scaffold users are those whose work requires them, at least some of the time, to be supported by scaffolding. Employers are required to have a qualified person provide training to each employee who uses the scaffold. The training should teach employees to recognize the hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used. They should also understand the procedures to control or minimize those hazards.
Here are a few of the hazards:
You can learn more about basic scaffold safety by taking OSHAcademy course 604 Scaffold Safety.
A Scaffold Safety Program (SSP) may be thought of as a plan of action to accomplish a safety objective related to work with scaffolds. An effective SSP is designed around the processes, procedures, and practices normally assigned to employees and integrates safety-related decisions and precautions into them. Construction contractors must initiate and maintain safety programs as may be necessary to comply with CFR 1926.451, Scaffolds.
Now let’s talk about the critical components to help ensure a successful scaffold safety program.
The scaffold safety program is never going to be successful unless the company has an effective safety culture. Believe it or not, OSHA actually has a pretty good definition for a safety culture. OSHA defines culture as "a combination of an organization's, attitudes, behaviors, beliefs, values, ways of doing things, and other shared characteristics of a particular group of people."
It's important to understand that, from the employer's point of view, the company's corporate culture is something to be managed. However, if you ask an employee to define culture, he/she will likely tell you it's just "the way things are around here."
The success of your company's scaffold safety program also depends on the willingness of top management to demonstrate a long-term serious commitment to protect every employee from injury and illness on the job.
Managers will invest serious time and money into effective safety management by developing safety policies, programs, plans and procedures. They will also display leadership through effective accountability and recognition of behaviors and results.
For the SSP to be truly successful, employers must understand that the simple expression of tough-caring safety leadership (being tough about safety standards while working with scaffolds because they care about each worker’s safety) a result in enormous benefits. The ability to perceive leadership opportunities improves the company's potential to succeed.
Tough-caring leaders also assume their workers, at all levels of the organization, are good people trying to do the best they can with the skills they have.
Accountability ranks right at the top with management commitment as a critical ingredient in a company's scaffold safety program. When you are held accountable, your performance is measured against specific criteria and consequences (discipline or recognition) are administered appropriate to the level or quality of performance. Employers have a responsibility to provide everything workers need to do the job safely. If employers don't do that, then justification for discipline is not established.
It’s important to understand employers should make sure adequate physical resources (tools, equipment, machinery, materials, etc.), training, time to do the job, and supervision have been provided before they consider administering discipline for non-compliance while working on a scaffold.
Safe scaffold erection and use should begin by developing a SSP that includes at least the following elements:
It’s important to create a written plan that clearly states policies, rules, responsibilities, etc. This will help reduce confusion, conduct training, and develop effective processes.
Policies and work rules should concentrate on:
Sources of information for policy development and work rules include OSHA and ANSI standards, scaffold trade associations, scaffolding suppliers, and safety and engineering consultation services.
The scaffold should be capable of supporting its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load to be applied or transmitted to the scaffold and components. Suspension ropes should be capable of supporting six times the maximum intended load. Guardrails should be able to withstand at least 200 pounds of force on the top rail and 100 pounds on the midrail. On complex systems, the services of an engineer may be needed to determine the loads at particular points.
You cannot contract away the responsibility for selecting the right scaffold for your job. But if you do contract for scaffolding:
If you select your own scaffold, begin by reviewing the written requirements (blueprints, work orders, etc.) to determine where scaffolds should be used and the type of scaffolding needed.
Make sure scaffolds you select meet all government and manufacturer design and use requirements. Consider that scaffolds are generally rated light, medium and heavy duty.
Account for any special features of the building structure in relationship to the scaffold, including distinctive site conditions. Consider the following when selecting scaffolds:
Controlling hazards and exposure to hazards while working on scaffolds are fundamental controls for protecting workers. The ANSI/ASSP "Hierarchy of Controls" has been developed as a systematic strategy to implement feasible and effective controls.
Hazard Controls. The first three controls change or eliminate a hazard to reduce risk to an acceptable level. Consider these controls first.
Exposure Controls. When elimination, substitution, or engineering controls do not reduce risk to an acceptable level, include one or more of the following exposure controls to reduce risk to an acceptable level.
The idea behind the hierarchy is that the controls at the top of the list are potentially more effective and protective than those at the bottom. Following the hierarchy normally leads to the implementation of inherently safe work. The risk of illness or injury should be substantially reduced.