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Course 803 - Scaffold Safety Program Management

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

Fall Protection on Scaffolds

According to OSHA, falls are among the most common causes of serious work related injuries and deaths in the construction industry. Employers should set up the work place to prevent employees from falling off of overhead platforms, elevated work stations or into holes in the floor and walls.

Fall protection is more than the equipment you use. Fall protection is what you do to eliminate fall hazards, to prevent falls, and to ensure workers who do fall, don't die. To do that:

  • ensure everyone has a role to play in preventing falls;
  • identify and evaluate fall hazards;
  • eliminate fall hazards, if possible;
  • train workers to recognize fall hazards;
  • use appropriate systems and methods to prevent falls and to protect workers if they do fall;
  • inspect and maintain fall-protection equipment before and after using it; and
  • become familiar with the employer's fall protection program.

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

Workers on scaffolds should wear hard hats when falling objects are a hazard, which is the case in most scaffold work. Unless company policy otherwise directs, there is no requirement to wear a hard hat if there is no hazard from falling objects.

1. When should fall protection equipment be inspected?

a. After using it
b. Before and after using it
c. Daily prior to work
d. At least weekly

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fall protection
Guardrails are necessary on scaffolding to prevent accidents.
(Click to enlarge)

Guardrails should be installed on all scaffold platforms in accordance with required standards if more than 10 feet (3.1 m) above the ground or floor. Guardrails should at least consist of top rails, midrails and toeboards.

Guardrail height - The height of the toprail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service after January 1, 2000 must be between 38 inches (0.97 meters) and 45 inches (1.1 meters). The height of the toprail for scaffolds manufactured and placed in service before January 1, 2000 can be between 36 inches (0.91 meters) and 45 inches (1.1 meters).

Crossbracing - When the crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a toprail, it must be between 38 inches (0.97 m) and 48 inches (1.2 meters) above the work platform.

Midrails - Midrails must be installed approximately halfway between the toprail and the platform surface. When a crosspoint of crossbracing is used as a midrail, it must be between 20 inches (0.51 meters) and 30 inches (0.76 m) above the work platform.

Release - To ensure adequate protection, install guardrails along all open sides and ends before releasing the scaffold for use by employees, other than the erection and dismantling crews.

Exceptions - Guardrails are not required, however, in the scenarios below.

  • when the front end of all platforms are less than 14 inches (36 cm) from the face of the work
  • when outrigger scaffolds are 3 inches (.8 cm) or less from the front edge
  • when employees are plastering and lathing 18 inches (46 cm) or less from the front edge

Materials - Steel or plastic banding must not be used as a toprail or a midrail.

2. At what height are guardrails are required for scaffolds?

a. above 4 feet
b. 6 feet higher
c. at least 8 feet
d. more than 10 feet

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Protection from Falling Objects

fall protection

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are more than 42,400 workers are struck by falling objects and injured in the United States. When an employee is exposed to falling objects, the employer must ensure that each employee wears head protection. In addition, the employer must protect employees from objects that could fall from scaffold platforms, holes, openings to a lower level.

Engineering controls. Lower-level or ground-level workers and pedestrians can be protected using engineering controls such as mesh, toeboards, canopy structures, floor hole covers, nets, screens, intermediate vertical members or solid panels can be used to safeguard employees and the public at lower levels.

Administrative controls. Ground-level safety can also be provided by using administrative controls such as policies prohibiting entry into the fall hazard areas, barricades and signs, and by the proper placement of materials, tools and equipment on scaffolding.

3. Which of the following is an example of an administrative control used to protect workers and pedestrians at ground level?

a. Canopy structure
b. Mesh screen
c. Solid panel
d. Warning sign

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Personal Fall-Arrest Systems

Workers on suspended scaffolds should use a fall arrest system as protection against the failure of the scaffold or its components. This system will usually consist of a full body harness, lanyard, rope grab, independent vertical lifeline and an independent lifeline anchorage.

Anchorage: It is important to remember that fall protection is only as good as its anchorage. The anchorage points are independent points on structures where lifelines are securely attached. These points should be able to support at least 5,000 pounds per employee and preferably 5,400 pounds for a fall of up to 6 feet or 3,000 pounds for a fall of 2 feet or less.

Harness: The full body harness is a belt system designed to distribute the impact energy of a fall over the shoulders, thighs and buttocks. A properly designed harness will permit prolonged worker suspension after a fall without restricting blood flow, which may cause internal injuries. Rescue is also aided because of the upright positioning of the worker.

Lanyards. Personal fall-arrest systems used on scaffolds should be attached by a lanyard to a vertical lifeline, horizontal lifeline, or structural member that will hold at least 5,000 pounds. A lanyard connects the safety harness to the rope grab on the lifeline. Materials should be made of 5⁄8-inch nylon rope or nylon webbing. Lanyards should be kept as short as possible to limit fall distance or rigged such that an employee can never free fall more than 6 feet.

Rope Grabs. Rope grabs contain a cam device that locks onto a lifeline when there is a hard tug or pull on the lanyard. Care should be taken to ensure that rope grabs are properly connected to lifelines so the cam will work correctly. Rope grabs should be placed at the highest point on the lifeline to reduce the fall distance and unintentional disengagement.

Lifelines. Retractable lifelines (single or dual) are wound on reels and automatically extend or retract to take up slack in the line as the worker moves about. A sudden extension in the line activates a locking mechanism that typically includes a deceleration device. Some self-retracting lanyards can be set to restrict the distance traveled and so can also function as part of a properly designed fall restraint system.

Double Self Retracting Lanyards/ Lifelines. Commonly known as 100% tie-off, "Y" type, twin leg, or double lanyards; these energy absorbing lanyards can be used to provide continuous fall protection while ascending, descending, or moving laterally. With one lanyard leg attached, the worker can move to a new location, attach unused lanyard leg, and disconnect attached leg. This procedure is repeated until a new location is reached. (DBI SALA)

4. Lanyards should be kept as short as possible to limit fall distance or rigged such that an employee can never _____.

a. fall more than 2 feet
b. free fall more than 4 feet
c. free fall more than 6 feet
d. fall more than 10 feet

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Fall Restraint Systems

fall protection
This worker is using a fall restraint system.

Fall restraint systems prevent the user from falling any distance. To determine the force needed to restrain a worker, consider the force that would be generated by the worker walking, leaning, or sliding down the working surface. The system consists of a body belt or harness, an anchorage, connectors, lanyards, lifelines, and other devices.

For a restraint system to work, the anchorage must be strong enough to prevent the worker from moving past the point where the system is fully extended, including an appropriate safety factor.

OSHA has no specific standards for restraint systems, however, in a 1995 letter of interpretation, OSHA suggested that, at a minimum, fall restraint systems should have the capacity to withstand at least 3,000 pounds of force or twice the maximum expected force that is needed to restrain the worker from exposure to the fall hazard.

Positioning Systems

OSHA defines a positioning device system as a body belt or body harness system rigged to allow a worker to be supported on an elevated vertical surface, such as a wall, and work with both hands free while leaning.

  • Body belt or body harness systems are to be set up so that a worker can free fall no farther than 2 feet. 29 CFR 1926.502(e)(1).
  • Body belts or harnesses must be secured to an anchorage capable of supporting at least twice the potential impact load of a worker’s fall or 3,000 pounds, whichever is greater. 29 CFR 1926.502(e)(2).


While sitting or kneeling on a fixed deck plank attached to a fabricated frame scaffold, a worker was pulling a 16-foot 2x4 off the bucket of an excavator. There were no guardrails at the working level. When the other end of the 2x4 slipped off the bucket, the employee did not let go of his end, and was pulled off the deck. He fell 16 feet to the ground, sustaining facial fractures and other injuries.

5. Fall restraint systems should have the capacity to withstand _____ of force or twice the maximum expected force.

a. at least 3,000 pounds
b. at least 4,000 pounds
c. at least 5,000 pounds
d. at least 6,000 pounds

Check your Work

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