Scaffolding Safety: How To Protect Your Team From A Scaffold Accident

construction workers on scaffolding

Exercising proper safety precautions when using scaffolding is a major consideration for workers, supervisors, and project managers alike. Unfortunately, scaffolding incidents are fairly common, and there is no way to guarantee that no accidents will happen. However, there are still steps you can take to keep your team safe and your project on track. 

In this article, we’ll discuss the important safety measures you must take. Plus, we’ll detail how you remain compliant with OSHA while using scaffolding on your job site. Then, we’ll explore how inclement weather impacts your scaffolding and when conditions become unsafe.

If you are ready to learn more about scaffolding safety on the job site, then you are in the right place. Let’s get started!

Common Scaffolding Hazards

The first step toward scaffolding safety is to understand the biggest dangers to your workers

According to data from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) based in Washington, D.C., there were 54 fatalities that occurred in 2009 from using scaffolding and staging incorrectly.

72 percent of workers injured in scaffolding accidents, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), claimed that the reason for their accident was the result of problems with planks or required scaffold supports giving way. Slipping from work platforms without proper fall protection and being caught between falling objects also contribute to scaffold-related accidents.

The data provided by both OSHA and BLS suggests that workers need to pay more attention to the safety standards to help reduce and possibly accidents related to scaffold use.

Demonstrating your team’s observance of these standards can also lower any required premiums you currently pay for scaffolding insurance or other related construction project insurance. With the right scaffolding safety measures, you can lower your premiums and protect your workers from injuries.

What Is Scaffold Planking and Uplift?

With the proper planking, you can ensure scaffolding safety and limit the chance of an uplift

Over the past five years, nearly 13% of our Scaffold & Construction Access practice claims were directly related to scaffold planking uplift caused by the wind. These claims account for nearly 10% of all incurred losses within this practice and average about $17,000 per claim. With such an impact on frequency and severity, we wanted to explore why uplift is so dangerous. 

“During a recent claims review, we identified that over the past five years, a significant number of claims have been caused by wind dislodging scaffold planking and causing it to strike a 3rd party’s property or person,” explained Tres Whitlock, Gallagher’s National Director & Area President, Crane & Scaffold Practice. “We are now working with our Risk Engineering team to help increase awareness of the driver of this claim and develop mitigating strategies for our clients.”

By taking the necessary steps, you can significantly reduce the risk of an uplift occurring. In the next sections, we’ll explore a few strategies you can use to implement scaffolding safety measures on-site.

Wood vs. Metal Planking

Depending on your job site, you may be more inclined to use wood or metal planking for your scaffolding

metal scaffold plank

Wood planking has been a tried and true scaffold board option for decades. However, in today’s innovative world, aluminum decking has proven to be very reliable and increasingly popular. Today, we’re going to explore some of the pros and cons of wooden vs. metal planking in regard to scaffolding safety.

We asked James McNamara, third-generation owner of Safety Scaffolds based in New Jersey and co-chair of the SAIA-Supported Scaffold Council, about his experience with wind risks and how he secures his scaffold planking.

“The decision to utilize wood plank vs. metal decking in terms of preventing uplift almost invariably comes down to the project’s specific needs,” McNamara explained. “As wood planking has historically been used when providing access solutions, the industry has developed a myriad of ways to install and secure such a platform. You could wire a plank running perpendicular across the top of the deck or use wire alone. You could also cleat them or secure the deck with plywood nailed fast to the face.”

McNamara followed up his analysis of wood planking with an overview of aluminum decking and its place in the industry.

“Metal decking, on the other hand, is newer to the industry and can be less forgiving. While the engineering behind such products gives the erector and the end-user peace of mind regarding structural integrity and uplift prevention, there are often fewer options in terms of design and layout. That said, the benefits of metal decking, such as strength, rigidity, wind latches, lifespan, and the fact that the access industry revolves around our ability to create solutions, makes them a very worthwhile addition to any inventory.”

According to McNamara, both scaffold planking options have their benefits and place within the industry. However, there is no clear-cut, better option—it all depends on the specific project and its variables.

Scaffolding Safety Tips

Now that we know more about the risks and different options for scaffolding let’s explore a few ways to reduce the risk for your workers

scaffolding plank installed properly

Your risk management and safety culture play a big role in keeping your organization from becoming just another statistic within the scaffold program’s claim numbers. It is important to ask yourself—What measures are you taking before, during, and after the structure is erected to ensure everything is properly in place, secured, checked, and then double-checked? Training tools and programs in place educate your employees on the correct procedures. 

According to Cameron Boots, Gallagher’s Area Vice President and Scaffold Team member, rigorous employee training is critical to creating a culture of safety.

“Training and safety culture are key. They’re the foundation of any risk management program. Having capable employees who are diligent about safety and know what a truly safe worksite and structure looks like could determine the success and security of jobs before they even come across your desk.”

Bill Hiller, a Claims Consultant with over thirty years of experience, advises,

“Confirm and document when finished, with photographs if possible, that the scaffolding and/or planking is in place and properly secured. Don’t hesitate to trouble the general contractor or your sub-contractor to document and agree in writing that the scaffolding and planking are up to contract and/or code.”

You can also mitigate this risk within your insurance coverage via various risk transfer options. Steps such as ensuring there are no wind exclusions on your general liability policy or using the contractor’s equipment policy to cover your scaffolding are two insurance strategies that should be addressed with your broker. 

An additional risk transfer option is for the scaffold contractor to transfer responsibility for monitoring wind and weather conditions to the site-controlling entity, such as the general contractor (GC) or project owner.

Other basic risk management measures and planking guidelines include:

  • Making sure all scaffold planks are inspected and tested before use.
  • Verifying scaffold planks cover the area between the front and rear vertical supports or the rear guardrail.
  • Securing scaffold planks against movement in any direction (including uplift).
  • Instituting employee safety training programs that routinely document and certify their training and safety knowledge.

OSHA found that in a quarter of the cases where a scaffolding accident occurred, no scaffold training or safety training programs were in place. In more than three-quarters of these incidents, the scaffolding for which the worker was injured lacked appropriate guard railing or fall arrest systems.

The estimates suggest that up to 50 lives can be saved and more than 4,500 accidents prevented annually with proper scaffolding safety measures. The performance-based standards are in place to protect your employees from scaffold injuries and death. These standards protect employees from common scaffolding accidents such as falls, objects that may fall on your employees, scaffold structures that may be unstable, electrocution, and overloading the scaffolding structure.

CTA: Get the scaffolding safety checklist!

What to Do When Scaffolding Accidents Occur

It is up to you to take the correct steps in the event of a scaffolding-related incident

Should an accident occur on your job site related to scaffolding, you have an affirmative responsibility to the health and well-being of the affected employee. You should ensure that immediate medical attention is given and all accommodations are made for the accident victim’s recovery.

You also need to address any issues with respect to your required workers’ compensation insurance, including the proper reporting of the accident. In most instances, you have ten days from the date of the accident to notify your insurance carrier or face possible fines and penalties. It is necessary to have appropriate procedures in place for further guidance on your responsibilities related to scaffolding accidents.

It is also important to make sure that whenever you are engaged in a project involving the construction of scaffolding, you follow those standards set forth by OSHA. You should speak with an experienced insurance advisor for the availability of those coverage options that can be used to mitigate your risk exposure and protect your financial resources.

Your Trusted Insurance Advisor

Gallagher Crane Team will help you protect your workers

Gone are the days of speaking with your insurance broker only around renewal time or when an incident occurs. The industry has evolved over the past twenty years, especially around the role that brokers are expected to play. Brokers should be trusted advisers and familiar voices educating customers about pertinent risk management strategies, safety training, industry news, and insurance coverages that impact business. 

So, if you’re not working with a broker who specializes in the scaffold industry and your specific risks, here’s your most important tip: make a change. Choose a broker who will educate you on how best to protect your business, not the other way around.
For any questions regarding scaffolding safety & risk management or additional business resources, please contact Gallagher Crane Team!