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Scaffold Safety

Learning Objectives

  • Identify common types of supported and suspended scaffolds.
  • Identify who is qualified to design, construct, and inspect scaffolds.
  • Identify the key design and construction requirements for scaffolds, including the maximum intended load.
  • Identify the hazards posed by working on scaffolds, including instability or collapse, falls, being struck by falling objects, overloading, and electrocution.
  • Identify the requirements and controls that protect against falls, falling objects, and electrical hazards.
  • Identify conditions that prohibit scaffold use.
  • Identify inspection criteria for scaffolds.

Available in English

25 minutes

Mobile Ready

5-Min Reminder

The Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) reports that scaffolding accidents attribute to an estimated 9,000 injuries and 79 fatalities annually.

Scaffolds are widely used throughout the industrial world for construction and maintenance, typically, to give employees access to heights ranging from a few feet to over several hundred feet.  

OSHA defines a scaffold as “any temporary elevated platform and its supporting structure used for supporting employees or materials.”

No matter how safe or sturdy a scaffold may look, it can only support a specific weight capacity specified by the manufacturer. Workers must recognize terms associated with capacity limits when working with scaffolds. OSHA requires each scaffold and scaffolding component to be capable of supporting, without failure, its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load.

Let’s run through some basics on scaffold safety.

Scaffold Hazards

  • Falls
  • Falling objects
  • Electrocution
  • Overloaded scaffolds

Scaffold work is prohibited:

  • During storms or high winds unless a competent person determines it is safe, and a personal fall arrest system or wind screen is provided;
  • Where snow, ice, or other slippery materials exist;
  • Where scaffold foundation is not firm (sand or mud).

To protect against falling objects, such as tools, debris, and other small objects, employees working on scaffolds must wear a hardhat. They must also be provided additional protection through the installation of toeboards, screens, or guardrail systems, or through the erection of debris nets, catch platforms, or canopy structures that contain or deflect the falling objects.

When the falling objects are too large, heavy or massive to be contained or deflected by any of those measures, the objects must be placed away from the edge of the surface from which they could fall, and be secured as necessary to prevent falling. If these measures cannot be taken, the area below the scaffold must be barricaded, and employees must not be permitted to enter the hazard area.

Follow these required housekeeping practices to prevent falls and injuries:

  • Keep work levels clear of trash and debris.
  • Keep work areas orderly and free of tripping hazards.
  • Don’t use “makeshift devices”, such as boxes and barrels to increase working level height.

Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falling to that lower level. Employers are also required to provide fall protection for employees erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds where the installation and use of such protection is feasible and does not create a greater hazard.

Depending upon the type of scaffold or powered platform used, personal fall arrest systems used on scaffolds must be attached by lanyard to a vertical lifeline, horizontal lifeline, or scaffold structural member. Again, according to the specific scaffold type, these fall arrest systems are either anchored to substantial members of the building or structure or are anchored to the scaffold or platform itself. The system will usually consist of a body belt/harness attached by a lanyard to a vertical or horizontal lifeline, or to a structural member of the scaffold.

It is critical that workers wear personal fall arrest protective systems when provided by employers, as a last line defense against the potential hazards of working at height, on scaffolding.

A guardrail system provides a vertical barrier designed to prevent employees from falling off a scaffold platform or walkway to lower levels. Guardrails are generally the most common type of fall protection used on elevated work surfaces. Because of the extreme danger of falls facing employees, OSHA requires that guardrail systems must be installed along all open sides and ends of platforms, and must be installed before the scaffold is released for use by employees other than erection/dismantling crews.

A good rule to follow, is to encourage workers to visually inspect scaffolding for safety concerns before trusting the structure—if it looks unsafe, it probably is. And, if when working on scaffolding a worker encounters a situation that presents a fall hazard, it is important that the worker note the situation and report it immediately. The same is true if a worker notices structural degradation, that’s if the scaffolding looks unsound for some reason, perhaps in missing a critical linkage or supporting board.

Stay aware, and never take your scaffold safety for granted.

Course Outline
  • Introduction
  • Common Scaffold Types
  • Design, Construction and Capacity Requirements
  • Scaffold Hazards and Controls
Regulations
  • 29 CFR Part 1926, Subpart L, Scaffolds: 1926.451, 1926.452, 1926.454
  • 29 CFR Part 1926, Subpart L, Scaffolds: Appendices A - E
  • 29 CFR Part 1910, Subpart D, Walking and Working Surfaces: 1910.28, 1910.29
  • Scaffolding and Access Industry Association (SAIA)
  • American National Standards Institute (ANSI) A-10.8 (1988) Scaffold Safety Standard for Construction
  • ANSI/SSFI SC-100 (2005) Standard for Testing and Rating Scaffold Assemblies and Components