Safety is a top concern when working at height. For instance, around 4500 scaffolding-related injuries occur in the construction industry every year—resulting in roughly $90 million in lost workdays and other associated costs such as potential fines and increased insurance premiums.
These accidents are often preventable, thereby making a bit of preparation incredibly valuable.
There are many ways for employers to protect their employees from scaffolding-related accidents, including providing adequate training to their workers.
The following scaffolding safety tips will allow employers and employees to prevent hazards and accidents while on the job site.
First of all, personal protective equipment (PPE) is a must when working in any industrial or construction setting, especially at height.
Many scaffold-related injuries involve falling objects, so wearing a hard hat can go a long way toward preventing serious injury. Non-slip footgear and fall arrest equipment are also essential when working on platforms.
Scaffolding materials and designs are made with specific load-bearing capabilities in mind. Choosing components that aren’t sufficient for the types of loads you intend to use in your work will pose a serious risk to employees. Platforms may crack, break, or otherwise collapse entirely, causing severe injuries for anyone working in the vicinity.
Each industry has its regulations and standards to follow, and those may vary from state to state (or even city to city). Many of those regulations involve scaffolding, so it’s important to know what the laws in your area dictate before setting up platforms.
You could prevent an accident and, at the very least, avoid liability for failing to meet prescribed standards. In addition, you should train your workers to recognize and minimize the associated risks and hazards of the type of scaffolding that you’re using.
Before setting up your work platforms, you must inspect all of your materials before construction. Make sure none of the parts you use have any defects or damage that could compromise the structural integrity of your scaffolds.
Also, all parts should be sourced from the same manufacturer and designed to be used together. Mismatching parts can pose a significant scaffolding hazard and lead to structural failure.
Follow instructions provided by the manufacturer when building your scaffold. Check the types of bracing and fasteners and ensure that you’re building the scaffold according to the manufacturer’s exact specifications—do not take shortcuts nor create your own design.
When building your scaffold, you also want to ensure the area is completely safe. A level ground surface works best (if possible), and you should try to avoid intersecting with power lines on your way up.
Whenever you build, move, or dismantle a scaffold, OSHA regulations require a competent person to be present and supervise. A competent person is someone who has received OSHA-approved training and the accompanying title.
Be sure to check for the following:
After the scaffold has been erected, the need for inspections doesn’t go away. The area should be checked over regularly for hazards, defects, debris, or other factors that could cause a problem.
A good time to perform these inspections is at the start of the workday to ensure the area is clear for that day’s shift. Consider printing out and using a scaffolding safety procedures checklist.
Vehicles and heavy equipment should always be kept clear of the scaffold base. Setting up barriers can keep the whole structure from toppling. It may be necessary to have heavy equipment nearby. In those situations, make sure the equipment has clearance.
Tools and equipment should be kept organized and put away after use. At the end of each day, check that there are no tools or materials left on the platform—clutter could lead to trip and fall injuries, or they may pose a hazard for those working on lower levels.
When working at height, you want to make sure the working conditions are safe. Working during harsh weather conditions or other environmental hazards can increase the risk of serious injury. For instance, high winds could risk injury to those working on the scaffold. If a storm has brought down a power line, that could also create a scaffolding hazard.
Learn how Scaffolding Solutions mitigated high wind concerns when installing scaffolding on an aviation hangar.
Being fully licensed—and working with licensed contractors—helps prevent injuries since everyone working on the site is aware of the potential hazards and the best ways to avoid them. The process of becoming licensed often involves education and training, which helps your team work safely.
Those who scale your scaffolding should exercise proper safety techniques when doing so. One tip is to make sure employees always have at least three points of contact with the structure at all times, meaning either one hand and two feet or two hands and one foot.
In addition, some parts of the scaffold, such as cross braces, shouldn’t be used for climbing—they’re not usually designed to support sheer weight on their own.
Scaffolding tags help identify whether or not a scaffold is safe to use. A competent person (as defined by OSHA) must inspect and tag the scaffold structure. There are three different types of scaffolding tags:
Green scaffold tags—If you see a green tag on a scaffold, it means it’s been inspected and safe for use. After the initial inspection is complete, it should be attached to all access points.
Yellow scaffold tags—Yellow tags indicate special requirements for safe use, i.e., the scaffold has been modified in some way to meet existing work requirements, and it could present a safety hazard to all users.
Red scaffold tags—If you see a red tag, it means there is danger, and the scaffold is unsafe for use. These tags are often used when the scaffold is in the process of being erected or dismantled.
Proper education and training are central to using scaffolding systems safely. Whether you plan to have your personnel erect a scaffold or hire someone else, they need to be fully qualified and trained to do so safely.
Taking the time to train your staff members on identifying scaffolding hazards and proper safety precautions when working at height and making sure they have ready access to tools and PPE can go a long way toward preventing accidents and minimizing liability.