Scaffold Safety

Using the right tool for the job is an essential part of safe and professional performance.  We would not want colleagues to try lifting a pallet of materials when a forklift is appropriate; in the same line, we would not want to use a ladder when a scaffold is the right tool for the job.  Whether or not a worker knows if a scaffold is appropriate for a given task comes down to a couple of factors.

One factor may be common sense, although it is not something to rely on when workforce wellbeing is at risk.  Another factor that we can control is training.  After all, the small investment in training is significantly less than the days that injured employees could miss.  That training begins with everyone involved understanding the right scaffold to use. Training must be part of every company’s and professionals’ daily routine.

The time for education is before climbing or stepping. Communication and verification that each worker understands the appropriate tools, equipment and processes are essential to productive task completion, a good and healthy work day, as well as being part of a successful team. The safety first culture assists long term organizational accomplishment and financial stability.

Are you using the right scaffold?

Common Scaffold Categories

Four common categories of scaffolds include frame, mobile, scissor lifts, and suspended.

None of these is a one-size-fits-all solution.  Understanding the differences ensures that we have the right scaffold available for employees to use.

Frame scaffolds are the most common type of scaffold.

They are easy to use, can be used in many environments and for many types of work, and are reasonably priced.  Because of their versatility, they can provide working platforms a few feet above the ground, or stacked several stories high for larger or higher projects.

Mobile scaffolds, like a Baker scaffold are also quite common.

They can be repositioned much more easily than a frame scaffold because of their wheels or casters, which can be particularly useful for painters.  They eliminate the need to have multiple sections of scaffolding, allowing employees to focus on accomplishing the job instead of assembling and disassembling the scaffolds.  This also frees more space for your employees to work, as well as for any other employees or trades working in the area. 

Employees may sometimes find Baker-type scaffolds too convenient and inappropriately “surf” the equipment to move, which may expose workers to unnecessary fall risks.

Scissor lifts are a type of mobile scaffold.

There seems to be widespread confusion that Scissor lifts are aerial work platforms –they are NOT. According to a letter of interpretation issued by OSHA on August 1, 2000, for 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L Scaffolds Used in Construction, OSHA’s Director of Construction states the aerial lift standard specifically references the ANSI 1969 consensus standard. Aerial lifts are represented by booms and/or articulating booms that have a “bucket” for workers to access tasks.

Because scissor lifts do not fall within the definition of an aerial lift in the 1969 ANSI standard, OSHA explains that scissor lifts do meet the definition of a mobile scaffold, and thus must meet the requirements of 1926.452(w) – mobile scaffolds.  Scissor lifts are particularly ideal for situations when work will be performed at multiple heights since employees can efficiently and safely adjust their working height, reposition the lift as needed, as well as have a platform to move within, store tools and materials.

Suspended scaffolds are essentially hanging platforms from which employees work.

Ropes, wires, or other non-rigid means are attached to an overhead structure, such as a support beam.  Depending on the type of scaffold, they also can be raised or lowered to allow employees to complete tasks at various heights.  Because they are suspended, they are usually less stable than scaffolds erected on the ground, and are prone to moving when associates are working on them.  Suspended scaffolds are commonly used on high rise buildings for exterior maintenance and window washing.

There are many requirements and standards that apply to scaffolds under 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L – Scaffolds Used in Construction.  General industry used to have its own requirements, but in OSHA’s Final Rule on Walking-Working Surfaces from 2016, they reduced the confusion of having two sets of standards by updating the industry standards to state that the construction standard applies to general industry too.

Training Requirements

Associates who erect, dismantle, repair, and inspect scaffolds must be trained by a competent person on scaffold hazards; correct procedures for erecting, disassembling, inspecting, and repairing the type of scaffold that is used; design criteria; maximum intended load capacity and intended use of the scaffold; and any other requirements that apply.

Employees working on scaffolds must also be trained by a qualified person.  Training must include recognizing and controlling hazards, including electrical, fall, and falling objects; proper use of the scaffold; proper handling of materials on the scaffold; the scaffold’s maximum intended load and the load-carrying capacity; and any other requirements that pertain.

This means that only trained colleagues can work on scaffolds.

When employees use the right equipment for the job, and use it properly, they create a safer work environment for themselves and for everyone else in the area.  Companies keep associates safer by providing the right equipment, training, and clearly communicating and verifying safe work practices.

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