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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.
  • 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.


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 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.

Protection from Falling Objects

Hard hats should be worn to protect against falling objects. Mesh, screens, intermediate vertical members or solid panels should be used to safeguard employees and the public at lower levels. Ground-level safety can be further provided by erecting canopies; by prohibiting entry into the fall hazard area by policy, barricades and signs; and by the proper placement of materials, tools and equipment on scaffolding.

fall protection

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.

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.

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (Continued)


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. A competent person should decide the most appropriate connection.

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)

Personal Fall-Arrest Systems (Continued)

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.


While sitting or kneeling on a fixed deck plank attached to a fabricated frame scaffold, a worker was pulling a 16-foot long 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.


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. Which of the following actions should you take to help ensure an effective fall protection program?

2. Workers on scaffolds should wear _____ when falling objects are a hazard, which is the case in most scaffold work.

3. Ground-level safety around scaffolds can be provided by which of the following methods?

4. Anchorage points should be able to support at least _____ per employee.

5. Lanyards should be kept as short as possible to limit fall distance or rigged such that an employee can _____.

Have a great day!

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