Scaffolding systems are strictly regulated with numerous laws. The vast majority of these laws come from OSHA, but some are set forth by state governments as well to help fill in gaps in compliance.
New laws are often passed, and regulations may change over time. As such, it’s important to be up to date on scaffolding safety guidelines, which cover everything from the construction and design of a scaffold to who provides training for employees working at height.
The following guidelines and rules are especially relevant to working on scaffolds:
These scaffolding safety guidelines, which come directly from OSHA standards, are explored in greater depth in the sections below.
Scaffolding systems need to be designed and built a certain way to be deemed safe. Different regulations apply to different types of scaffolding systems—such as supported scaffolds versus suspension platforms—but the general premise is the same: make sure the structure is secure and safe to use.
On supported scaffolds, OSHA requires guardrails to be installed at heights over 10 feet in most circumstances. Guardrails must be between 38 inches and 45 inches in height, with midrails being installed at about half that height.
When used to support the top rail for the guardrail, cross bracing should reach the required height of between 38 and 45 inches.
The top rails on guardrails must not be built from steel or plastic banding. It should be sturdy enough to stop a fall.
Planking installed on a scaffold must be able to support at least four times its intended load, plus its own weight, without failure. It shouldn’t deflect more than 1/60 of its length between supports.
Platforms should be built from solid wood or fabricated planks.
When the height-to-base ratio of a supported scaffold is more than 4:1, guying, ties, or other restraints are required to keep it from tipping over. Restraints should be installed every 20 vertical feet for widths less than three feet or 26 feet for widths over three feet.
Horizontal braces should be installed at each end and no more than 30 feet from one end.
A scaffold needs to support up to four times the intended load to be placed upon it. Weights placed upon the scaffold must never exceed the intended load or maximum capacity, whichever is lower.
Given the risks associated with working on scaffolds, it’s important to keep them well maintained at all times.
Central to maintenance and the safe use of scaffolding are frequent inspections. An inspection must be performed by a qualified person at the start of every shift and after any incident that may impact the structural integrity of the scaffold.
For instance, if the scaffold is moved or damaged, it should be inspected to make sure it is safe to use.
A qualified person is defined as someone who has received the training and education needed to perform specific tasks. Typically, this means they have either received a degree or certification or have otherwise proved their ability to solve related problems by extensive knowledge or experience.
Inspections on scaffolds must be performed by a qualified person.
Individuals working at height are just as much responsible for their safety as their employers. That said, there are some items that employers must provide for their employees to secure their safety.
Anyone working at over 10 feet in height must have either a fall arrest system or guardrails. One or two-point suspension scaffolds require both per OSHA regulations. Personal fall arrest systems consist of harnesses, belts, snap hooks, lifelines, D-rings, and anchorage points.
Additional personal protective equipment (PPE) may be required by state laws. It is typically the employer’s responsibility to provide that equipment.
Employees must wear hard hats while on the worksite to protect them from falling objects, such as tools, debris, and so forth. In addition, OSHA standards require the installation of toeboards, screens, nets, or barricades to catch falling items.
Employees must be trained by a qualified person on the hazards associated with working at height as well as on the procedures used to mitigate those risks. Those who assemble, move, repair, maintain, inspect, or operate scaffolds must also be trained by a competent person.
Retraining is required whenever the employer feels an employee lacks the needed proficiency or knowledge to work safely, or in instances where no training has taken place after changes to the worksite.
Of course, this is just a sampling of scaffolding safety guidelines. More rules apply to specific types of scaffolds (such as suspension systems or aerial lifts), access requirements for employees who are dismantling or erecting a scaffold, and access methods, to name a few.
Maintaining compliance with these standards is often a matter of industry expertise. Contractors who specialize in scaffolding design and erection tend to be current on these laws and regulations.