Scaffold safety is built from the ground up

By: Mark Stromme

Publication: Construction Regulatory Alert

Date Posted: 01/09/2019

Construction companies use scaffolding when performing masonry work, remodeling, painting, and other tasks that require working at height.

Employees must have training to meet OSHA’s construction standards for scaffolding to set up and use scaffolds for this type of work.

OSHA Compliance for Construction Activities
OSHA Compliance for Construction Activities

This publication explains complex Part 1926 regs in easy-to-understand language. It takes you beyond the construction regulations and provides you with information on how to comply and implement them.

Specific training elements

1. Introduce OSHA’s requirements.

OSHA’s regulations on scaffolds in the construction industry are in subpart L of 29 CFR part 1926. The rules apply to all scaffolds used in construction. OSHA’s training requirements are outlined at 1926.454. (General industry activities such as window washing and building maintenance are covered by the same construction industry requirements.)

Trainer’s note: Identify the activities in your workplace that involve the use of scaffolds.

Scaffold Safety

2. Emphasize the need for training.

When you work with scaffolds, you need to know how to protect yourself from electrical hazards, fall hazards, and falling object hazards. Workers must learn about the scaffold’s load capacities, how to handle materials on the scaffold, and how to use the scaffold.

3. Discuss electrical safety.

It’s not uncommon for construction activities to take place near power lines. Workers must keep safe distances between energized lines and conductive material that’s handled on (or is part of) the scaffold.

These clearances must be maintained when scaffolds are erected, used, dismantled, altered, or moved. For example, the minimum clearance distance for power lines at more than 50 kilovolts (kv) is 10 feet plus 0.4 inches for each 1 kv over 50 kv. When workers weld while they are on suspended scaffolds, extra precautions must be taken to prevent welding current from arcing through the suspension wire rope.

4. Clarify fall protection requirements.

Falls are an obvious concern. Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falling. The two types of fall protection are the personal fall arrest system (PFAS) and the guardrail system. Different types of scaffolds require different types of fall protection.

5. Describe the PFAS.

The PFAS must meet the requirements in the regulation on fall protection (part 1926 subpart M). When used on a scaffold, the PFAS must be attached to a vertical or horizontal lifeline or to a structural member.

Trainer’s note: Provide additional training on any PFAS that your employees will need to use.

6. Explain guardrail systems.

In general, guardrail systems must be installed along all open sides and ends of platforms. There are requirements for how high the top rail must be above the platform surface, and for the use of midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, and solid panels as part of a guardrail system.

7. Outline falling object protection.

In addition to wearing hardhats, each employee on a scaffold needs to be protected from falling hand tools, debris, and other small objects. Toeboards, screens, or guardrail systems can be installed. Debris nets, catch platforms, or canopy structures can be used to contain or deflect the falling objects. Large or heavy objects must be secured away from the edge. The area below the scaffold may use a barricade to keep people out of the hazard area.

8. Emphasize scaffold load limits.

Serious injuries can result if the planking or scaffold support gives way. It’s crucial to stay within the scaffold’s load limits. The regulation details the requirements for constructing scaffolds so they’ll support their intended loads. Generally, each scaffold and scaffold component must be able to support, without failure, its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load applied or transmitted to it.

Scaffolds must be designed by a qualified person. OSHA defines a qualified person as “one who, by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his/her ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project.”

Scaffolds must be erected, moved, dismantled, or altered only under the supervision and direction of a competent person who is qualified in these activities. Only experienced and trained employees who have been selected by the competent person can do this type of work.

OSHA defines a competent person as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.”

These provisions help to ensure the scaffold is designed and built to safely handle the intended loads.

Trainer’s note: Familiarize the trainees with the load limits of the scaffolding at the jobsite. Give examples of the materials and equipment that they’ll be able to bring onto the scaffold.

9. Highlight proper material handling procedures.

We’ve already discussed falling object protections. Any materials that are taken onto the platform must be handled properly. Don’t allow debris to accumulate on platforms. If materials start to pile up above toeboards, the scaffold may need additional falling object protection.

It’s also a good practice to secure any liquid or powdery materials to guard against spills. Loads of materials being hoisted up to workers must be controlled with tag lines or equivalent measures.

Take extra precautions in windy conditions. During storms or high winds, a competent person must determine if it’s safe for employees to be on the scaffold. Another weather-related consideration prohibits employees from working on scaffolds covered with snow, ice, or other slippery material (except to remove these materials).

10. Cover scaffold inspection requirements.

Before each work shift, a competent person must inspect scaffolds and scaffold components for visible defects. An inspection is also required after any occurrence which could affect a scaffold’s structural integrity.

Any damaged or weakened scaffold parts must be immediately repaired or replaced, braced to meet the regulation’s provisions, or removed from service until repaired.

11. Describe safe access to scaffold platforms.

Scaffold platforms that are more than two feet above or below a point of access must be accessed using ladders; ramps; walkways; integral prefabricated scaffold access; or direct access from another scaffold, structure, personnel hoist, or similar surface. Workers can’t use scaffold crossbraces to access a platform.

12. Caution the trainees about trying to increase the scaffold platform’s working height.

Makeshift devices (boxes, barrels, etc.) must not be used on top of scaffold platforms to increase the employees’ working level height.

Ladders can only be used on large area scaffolds. A large area scaffold is a scaffold erected over the entire work area (e.g., a scaffold over a room’s entire floor area).

13. Discuss the requirements for erecting, dismantling, and moving scaffolds.

Only trained and experienced employees are allowed to erect and dismantle scaffolds.

Scaffolds are not to be moved horizontally while employees are on them, unless they have been specifically designed for this purpose by a registered professional engineer.


Working on scaffolding can often be hazardous. Ensure your employees receive the proper training and instruction so they can go home safe and sound.

Common scaffolding hazards

  • Falls from elevation, due to lack of fall protection.
  • Collapse of the scaffold, caused by instability or overloading.
  • Being struck by falling tools, work materials, or debris.
  • Electrocution, due to the proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines.

About the author
Mark Stromme - EH&S Editor

With a background in monitoring Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and Department of Transportation (DOT) regulations, he currently specializes in the OSHA 1926 construction and 1910 general industry regulations.

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