Top 5 Scaffold Violations and How to Avoid them

Break the pattern of falls from scaffolds by changing bad habits.

Falls are the leading cause of death in the construction injury, and according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, falls from scaffolds make up 15 percent of them. It’s probably no coincidence, then, that in 2017, the third most-common OSHA violation was 29 CFR 1926.451 — general requirements for scaffolds.

RELATED: Does Your Scaffolding Fall Short of OSHA's Standards?

The list of top OSHA violations relating to scaffold safety (covered in standard 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L) rarely changes from year to year. Workers fall from scaffolds because of a lack of guardrails or because they decide to use a cross brace as a ladder. Falls also occur because of planking trip hazards, failure to use the proper fall arrest PPE or because someone decided to cut corners and a scaffold became unstable.

Source: OSHA Most Frequently Cited Series Violations Construction Industry FY 2017
Source: OSHA Most Frequently Cited Serious Violations Construction Industry FY 2017


1. 451 (g)(1) Fall protection above 10 feet

OSHA standards require that a scaffold have guardrails to protect employees working above 10 feet from falling to the next level.3 Yet many falls occur because a guardrail wasn’t installed or someone didn’t install it properly.

scaffolding not safe
What's wrong here? No guardrails. 

Photo Credit: OSHA Directorate of Training and Education

Fall protection above 10 feet also calls for the use of personal fall arrest systems. But some workers decide they don’t need guardrails or fall arrest PPE — or the company fails to provide them. Workers also may take down guardrails temporarily — for instance, to load materials onto the scaffold — and forget to replace them.

Another problem happens when erecting or dismantling a scaffold; either process may take away guardrails. With no guardrails in place, workers should pay special attention to anchoring the fall arrest equipment. Scaffold manufacturers have warned that a scaffold does not meet the strength requirements for an anchor point. OSHA stipulates that anchorage points used for fall arrest equipment must support at least 5,000 pounds per attached employee and remain independent of anchorage points used to support or suspend platforms.

2. 451(e)(1) Safe access above two feet

Shortcuts are always tempting. If a ladder hasn’t been installed, workers sometimes climb up the smooth end frame cross brace. Or they carry tools and materials while climbing a ladder to save a trip or a few seconds.

scaffolding not safe 2
What's wrong here? Using a cross brace as a ladder.

Photo Credit: OSHA Directorate of Training and Education 

Workers should install ladders while erecting each tier of the scaffold. Steps and ladders used for climbing from one level to another must have slip-resistant treads and extend at least three feet above the platform level.

Carrying tools in a tool belt or pouch and moving material by other methods allows the worker to maintain three points of contact while climbing, reducing the chances of falling.

3. 451(b)(1) All working levels shall be planked

In the rush of moving a scaffold and getting the job done, mistakes happen. Leaving a gap between planking and decking sets up a trip hazard. Workers can eliminate the trip hazard and the chance of receiving a citation by limiting the space between planks and decks to 1 inch or less.

Every platform on all working levels of a scaffold requires full planking or decking between the front uprights and the guardrail platforms.

4. 451(g)(1)(vii) Protection by personal fall arrest systems or guard rail systems

Section G of the 1926.451 standard spells out the type of fall protection (guardrails with a specific toprail capacity, personal fall arrest systems, or both) employers must provide for each type of scaffold and how the guardrails must be installed.

5. 451(c)(2) Firm foundation for scaffolds

Supporting the combined weight of workers, materials and tools requires a level, firm foundation. Anything that shifts the balance, such as two legs sinking into soft soil, can cause the scaffold to tip.  

Outside work demands close attention to the soil type, compaction and grade. Ideally the scaffold should rest on well-compacted, level gravel or crushed rock.

Instead of cobbling together support for the scaffold by placing bricks, pieces of lumber or a chunk of rock under a leg, use 2” x 10” mudsills or baseplates for any type of soil. At least two consecutive support legs should rest on the mudsill.

scaffolding not safe
Proper installation of scaffold base plate and mudsill.

Photo Credit: OSHA Safety and Health Topics 

When using a scaffold inside, make sure the floor will support the weight of the scaffold, workers, tools, and materials.

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