Safe, OSHA-Compliant Scaffold Usage Procedures: A Brief Guide

Every construction professional, from builders to hands and everyone in between, wants their work sites-and particularly, their scaffolding - to be completely safe. Additionally, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, or OSHA, has set a number of safety-minded standards and rules for scaffolding that construction sites must adhere to. Despite sharing the same general goals as OSHA-to work safely and without suffering an accident - many construction experts struggle to implement scaffolding safety guidelines and/or continually update their sites to comply with these measures. In other words, OSHA scaffolding regulations are sometimes frustratingly studied or even forgotten by construction professionals.

To improve the safety of every construction site, help to increase OSHA guideline compliance, and make rule adherence as simple as possible for construction professionals, let's take a look at some key OSHA scaffolding specifications and how they can be adhered to!

For reference, the information summarized in this piece can be found, in full, here.

Basic Scaffolding Protection: Fall Reduction Measures, Guardrails, and Each of Their Specifics

The first-and perhaps the most significant-way OSHA regulates construction scaffolding is by setting safety standards related to the basic protection of workers. These standards attempt to reduce the frequency of work site injuries, and when accidents are encountered, the standards help to minimize their severity. The key protection guidelines specified by OSHA, as well as how they can each be adhered to, are as follows:

--Employees 10 feet or higher from stable footing-meaning the ground and/or another building floor-must be protected by a "guardrail or a fall arrest system." Similarly, those using single-point and two-point scaffolding must be protected by both of the mentioned safety mechanisms.

The purpose of this specification is obvious, and determining whether or not scaffolding is compliant is rather simple. However, the guardrail and fall arrest systems must also be implemented with respect to several OSHA standards, which will be detailed next.

--Scaffolding toprail height, regardless of its manufacture and installation date, must be between 38 and 45 inches. Midrails must be installed exactly halfway between the toprail and the platform. Finally, toe boards must be at least three and one half inches high, and also, should bear some of the platform's weight.

Again, these are rather straightforward guidelines. However, one should be sure to verify the measurements of each rail, to guarantee that they meet the requirements. Moreover, should a rail become inhibited or altered for some reason, and subsequently fail to meet OSHA standards, it's imperative that one repair it sooner rather than later.

Scaffolding Build and Weight Capacity

In addition to the already-mentioned protection dimensions, scaffolding must also adhere to several OSHA-specified composition standards, including:

--Scaffold footing must be fully covered with appropriate flooring.

Again, this one is as simple as they come, but it's important to quickly repair scaffolding in the instance that its flooring is damaged; failing to do so will violate OSHA specifications, and in turn, be very dangerous.

--Scaffolding must be able to support several times its maximum load.

Per the official OSHA guidelines, typical scaffolding must be able to support four times its maximum load, while suspension scaffolding must be able to support six times its maximum load.

This one is admittedly difficult to verify, and it's unlikely that anyone-a safety-minded construction professional or an OSHA inspector alike-will march an elephant on top of scaffolding to test it. However, it's a good idea to assure the integrity of scaffolding by using quality materials when building it, buying from reputable companies (either the materials or pre-made scaffolding), and frequently verifying its continued build strength and weight management abilities.

Competent Persons and Their Employees

OSHA specifies that persons in charge of setting up, maintaining, verifying the quality of, and/or moving scaffolding (and directing a team of individuals to do so) must be "competent." The long-winded OSHA definition of a competent person can be found in the specified guideline resource, but essentially, this refers to a person capable of identifying and adapting to common-sense scaffolding safety.

While OSHA indicates that one of these individuals should be present during scaffolding installation and movement, it's actually a good idea to have him or her on-site during all hours of construction. This way, should something go wrong (or if an adjustment is required), the competent person can both aid the situation and testify that he or she was in fact on-site.

Engineers and Qualified Persons

OSHA also specifies that engineers and qualified persons (different from competent persons) should be on site in a number of instances. Again, it's recommended that the latter be present most of the time, to direct employees as they use scaffolding (and especially to train employees about safe scaffolding use). Qualified persons are described as, more or less, those who possess a degree, certificate, qualification, and/or ample experience that sets them apart from others and allows them to provide information and assistance in nearly all matters related to scaffolding.

Engineers should design and note the ins and outs of scaffolding, with respect to the project at hand. Moreover, should any questions relating to scaffolding use and design arise, a qualified and/or competent person should contact the corresponding engineer to request assistance, if unsure of how to proceed.

These tips are sure to help each and every construction professional comply with OSHA regulations; however, these aren't quite all the scaffolding requirements set forth by the government agency, and a full summary can be found here.

Jessica Kane is a professional blogger who writes for Scaffold Store, the favorite and trusted scaffold supplier of the largest contractors.