Top Ten Tips For Staying Safe on Workplace Scaffolding

Scaffolding is the ingenious construction of supports and walking planks that line the perimeter of a structure. This building might be partially or wholly constructed as workers walk along the scaffolding for exterior access. Because scaffolding can be constructed into countless configurations and heights, OSHA or the Occupational Safety and Health Administration requires several rules to be followed by both employers and employees. Be aware of these top ten tips when you’re about to work on any scaffolding project.

1. Only Work on Verified Scaffolding

Scaffolding is initially built for a project that can last for weeks or months. Before anyone steps onto the planks, the entire configuration requires an initial verification. Depending on the region and scaffolding size, the inspector may need a certificate or engineering degree. These inspectors may also bring other professionals to the site in order to back up their verification process. If there’s no verification of a new configuration, don’t start any work above the ground. Any weak points on the scaffolding can be dangerous underfoot.

2. Heed the Capacity Limits

In general, scaffolding must support its capacity along with four times this value in order to be safe. The structure should have an advertised capacity based on the number of people and weight in pounds. Ideally, it supports at least one worker and his or her gear to perform the job. Larger configurations hold several people that walk along its length most of the day. Never try to add just a few pounds over the maximum limit on a scaffolding section, however. Dangerous circumstances may be the result.

3. Use Guardrails

Scaffolding is merely a mixture of planks and a frame so guardrails make up the extra support that’s necessary to keep it structurally sound. As of January 2000, guardrails must be between 38- and 45-inches tall. Hold onto the guardrails as much as possible because wind gusts, balance mishaps and other issues can cause falls. Every open side of the scaffolding must have a guardrail. There are no exceptions. The rails should also be made of strong metal that’s permanently affixed to the scaffolding’s framework.

4. Avoid Clutter

Structures with scaffolding in place are constantly busy with workers, equipment and supplies moving to various locations. Each working space, however, cannot be cluttered with a lot of debris. Supplies, tools or personal items cannot dot the scaffolding because they become hazards to anyone trying to maneuver around the area. If you see any clutter along a plank, point it out so that the issue can be resolved. When debris strikes the scaffolding, such as stucco or drywall pieces, every effort should be made to clean up the area before moving forward with the project.

5. Wear Fall Protection

Every construction site has slightly different rules when it comes to fall protection. You might be working only a few feet off of the ground. In these cases, fall protection isn’t always necessary. Working several stories up in the air, however, requires harnesses and proper attachment to a sturdy component. Fall protection doesn’t mean that guardrails are optional either. Both safety mechanisms must be part of a construction site so that workers concentrate on the project instead of inherent dangers surrounding them.

6. Daily Inspections are Mandatory

Although your scaffolding may have passed with flying colors during the initial inspection, the structure remains in place for weeks and months. It’s possible for the structural components to break down overnight in very subtle ways. Staying safe on the worksite means that you must wait for a daily inspection before starting the morning’s tasks. A foreman or other official will look over the scaffolding and verify that it’s safe to work on before the day’s shift. Don’t assume that the scaffolding is safe because any minor issue can turn into a serious problem.

7. Point Out Suspension Rope Faults

When scaffolding is supported by suspension ropes, these elements must be constantly verified for stability. After a morning inspection, every worker on each plank should periodically look at the ropes. If they appear to be breaking down or unraveling at any location, immediately notify your supervisor. These ropes have intricate weaves that can break down from weathering and normal, wear-and-tear conditions. At some point, the ropes might fail. Keeping an eye on the ropes will only make you feel better and contribute to the safety of the entire project.

8. Don’t Work on Ice-Covered Scaffolding

Scaffolding is almost always exposed to the elements. If icy conditions persisted overnight, the planks will probably have slippery surfaces. Verify any icy conditions and notify your supervisor of these hazards. Don’t attempt to work on a slick surface. Your work shoes may have the best soles in the industry, but no safety gear is immune to ice’s slippery features. The scaffolding must be warmed to remove the ice, or your work will need to be put off until later in the day.

9. Always Wear Hard Hats

Most of the heavy-duty work is often performed within a structure rather than on the scaffolding itself. With this fact in mind, you might believe that wearing a hard hat isn’t necessary. In most cases, you’re required to wear a hard hat at any point during the workday. Any dropped items along the structure’s edge can easily strike workers. Your head is a valuable asset so keep it protected. 

10. Use Caution During Welding

With some exceptions, qualified workers can weld along a scaffolding plank. It’s critical to take the proper precautions during this work, however. Secure your tools and point the flame away from any flammable objects. If the scaffolding becomes affected by the wind, stop your work until it’s safe to resume it. Being observant about your surroundings is critical during any scaffolding work.

Be a voice of reason as you work each day by pointing out any concerns. Everyone must pitch in to keep the crew safe. Noticing one broken or out-of-place item can save a life at some point. Keeping these rules in mind will only help you have s successful and safe workday.

Jessica Kane is a writer for OSHA Campus Online, a provider of affordable online OSHA training courses that are accepted nationwide!

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