Does Your Scaffolding Fall Short of OSHA's Standards?

Scaffolds rise high in more ways than one: They frequently make the list of most-cited OSHA standards.

Scaffolding is a necessity for construction work that must be completed at height. But injuries happen when a scaffold collapses or a worker fall off it.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration has rules around scaffolding to prevent these injuries — but they are ignored so often that scaffolding standards appear regularly on the agency's annual list of the most frequently cited standards.

While a complete review of OSHA's scaffolding safety regulations is a must, here are some reminders on how contractors can make sure their employees are safe when using scaffolding.

Use the right fall protection system. Anyone working 10 feet or higher above a lower level on a scaffold must generally be protected from falls by either a personal fall arrest system or guard rails. Workers using single-point and two-point adjustable suspended scaffolding must use both.

Don't overload a scaffold. According to OSHA, scaffolding must be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to exceed the manufacturer's stated capacity. Contractors should not use a scaffold to store extra tools or material or overload them with too many workers.

Make sure scaffolding footings are on stable, level ground. Don't set up scaffolding so it's resting on frozen, muddy or soft ground. It also shouldn’t rest on concrete blocks or anything else that can shift while employees are working on the scaffolding.

Check and re-check assembly. Ensure that all wheels and castors are locked, platforms are fully decked or planked with gaps of no more than 1 inch, all sections are pinned or secured and that the front face of the scaffolding is no more than 14 inches from the work. In general, all assembly must be supervised by a competent person. 

Provide an access ladder. Workers are not permitted to climb on the cross braces that are part of the scaffolding's structure, so employers must provide a ladder.

Secure tall scaffolding. If the scaffolding is four or more times taller than the width of its base, installers must tie the scaffolding off or secure it to the building or another comparably stable structure.

Train all scaffold workers. OSHA requires that anyone who will be working on scaffolding be trained by a qualified person on the types of hazards he or she might encounter and how to avoid them.

This OSHA guide to safe scaffold use offers a quick review of scaffolding regulations. OSHA also offers safety checklists for different types of scaffolds.