When working at height, safety is a top concern. In the construction industry, for instance, about 4500 scaffolding-related injuries occur every year, resulting in roughly $90 million in lost workdays (not to mention other costs that may be incurred).
These accidents are often preventable, making a bit of preparation incredibly valuable. Continue reading for a list of scaffolding hazards and tips to prevent them.
There are many ways for employers to protect their employees from scaffolding-related accidents. Additionally, employees themselves have a responsibility for their own safety.
The following are several tips employers and employees can follow to prevent scaffolding 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 of the injuries that occur on scaffolds 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 important 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 serious injuries for anyone working in the vicinity.
Each industry has its own regulations and standards to follow, and those regulations may vary from state to state (or even city to city).
Many of those regulations involve the use of 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, you’ll avoid liability for failing to meet prescribed standards.
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 major scaffolding hazard and lead to a structural failure.
Follow any instructions provided by the manufacturer when building your scaffold. In particular, check that you are using the right types of bracings and fasteners. Jury-rigging these components is not an option since it could compromise the entire structure. It’s also recommended that you include guard rails when building your scaffold and use materials from quality manufacturers.
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.
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 make sure the area is clear for that day’s shift.
Vehicles and heavy equipment should always be kept clear of the scaffold’s base. Setting up barriers to prevent collisions with the base can keep the whole structure from toppling. In some cases, it may be necessary to have heavy equipment nearby. In those situations, make sure the equipment has enough 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 when other environmental hazards are present can increase the risk of serious injury.
For instance, high winds could pose a risk of injury to those working on the scaffold. If a storm has brought down a power line, that could create a scaffolding hazard as well.
Being fully licensed—and working with contractors who are licensed as well—prevents injuries since everyone working on the site is aware of the potential hazards present and the best ways to mitigate them. The process of becoming licensed often involves education and training, which in turn 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.
Central to using scaffolding systems safely is training. Whether you plan to have your own personnel erect a scaffold or hire someone else to, 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—as well as making sure they have ready access to tools and PPE—can go a long way toward preventing accidents and minimizing liability.