Increase Scaffold Safety

Being safe requires paying attention and using the right equipment.

By checking scaffolds for key problems and having them corrected, injuries and fatalities caused by falling can be prevented. To prevent falls, you need to check scaffolds for stable supports, braces, rails and platforms and make sure you are using scaffolds safely.

Safe Supports and Bracing

Scaffolds should bear on mudsills and base plates or other firm supports. The supports should be capable of bearing the scaffold without settling or moving out of place. Don't allow workers to use barrels, boxes, loose bricks, or concrete blocks to support a scaffold. A scaffold becomes unstable once its height reaches 4 times its width. If the scaffold is 4 times as high as its base is wide, outriggers should be installed to increase the scaffold's width.

An alternative to installing outriggers is to tie the scaffold to the structure under construction to keep it from tipping. If guys or ties are used, they should be installed on the horizontal member closest to the 4:1 width-to-height point. There should be a guy or tie every 20 feet up for scaffolds up to 3 feet wide and every 26 feet up for scaffolds more than 3 feet wide.

The frames must be locked together with braces so they can't separate. The cross braces should be long enough to keep the scaffold plumb, level and square. Scaffold parts from different manufacturers shouldn't be intermixed unless they fit together perfectly and provide the necessary structural integrity.

Safe Rails and Platforms

If the scaffold is 10 feet or higher above a lower level, top rails, midrails and toeboards should be installed on all open sides of the scaffold platform. Toeboards at least 3 1/2 inches high should be fastened along the edge of the scaffold to help keep construction materials and tools on the scaffold from falling off and hitting workers below. Construction materials, such as bricks and lumber, shouldn't be stacked higher than the toeboard. Rails should be made from 2x4s or the equivalent, and they should be 38 to 45 inches high. The rails should be able to withstand 200 pounds being thrown against them. Midrails should be halfway between the top rails and the platform.

Platforms should consist of undressed 2x10s that have been properly inspected and graded. The maximum allowable gap between planks is 1 inch. The ends of the platforms must be cleated, be restrained or extend at least 6 inches over the centerline of support. If a platform is more than 10 feet long, the ends shouldn't extend over their supports more than 18 inches. If a platform is 10 or fewer feet long, the ends shouldn't extend over their supports more than 12 inches.

Safe Access and Use

An attachable ladder or other means of access is required when the distance from one surface to the next is more than 2 feet. Employees and trades should have safe access to the scaffold; they shouldn't have to use the cross braces to enter or exit the platform. The ladder should be positioned so that the bottom rung isn't more than 2 feet above the worker's starting point.

Don't allow excessive debris and equipment to accumulate on or around the scaffold. Workers should have pulleys for pulling tools and equipment up and down the scaffold, leaving their hands free to climb access ladders. Don't allow anyone to work on scaffolds during storms or in high winds, and don't allow anyone to move a scaffold while workers are on it unless it's been designed for that purpose.

OSHA requires that a "competent person" (someone who can identify hazards and is authorized to take prompt action to eliminate them) inspect scaffolds each day before workers use them and after anything happens to the scaffolds that could undermine their integrity. Damaged scaffold parts should be repaired, replaced or removed from service.

For more information about scaffold safety, visit www.osha.gov. For more information regarding the jobsite fatalities caused by falling from scaffolds, visit www.bls.gov.

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