Everyone has probably heard horror stories about injuries resulting from falls associated with scaffolding setups on construction sites or on existing buildings. While there’s no denying that the potential for severe injury is always present in scaffolding-related accidents, if proper safety measures are observed, working on scaffolds can be almost as safe as working on the ground. Here are some of the best ways to observe proper safety precautions on the job and minimize the risk of scaffolding injuries.
Before you do anything else, make sure that your scaffolding site is in a good location without dips, slopes, or uneven ground, and that it’s free of overhead wires or other obstructions. Avoid the temptation to rush into the job, because that’s very often when simple safety precautions are ignored or mishandled, and that can lead to disastrous consequences later on. Take the time to make sure that your scaffolding base is soundly anchored, properly leveled and adjusted, and that all legs are plumb. Be sure all braces are in place, and that all locking mechanisms are secure. Check to verify that cross members are level, and that decks, planks, and guardrails are all properly installed in accordance with best safety practices.
Ensure adequate training
All workers who will be making use of the scaffolding need to be trained in the design and operation of these structures. Everyone should be well-trained about how to safely get on and get off, and they should also be instructed about how to avoid the hazards of a fall, as well as the assembly and disassembly of the scaffolding. One other aspect of training which might not be so obvious is that all workers who will be making use of the structure should have a good understanding of its load-bearing capacity. One of the most common accidents involving scaffolding is collapse due to overloading, and this doesn’t just refer to the weight of the materials being supported – it also includes the weight of workers on the scaffold.
Securing the scaffold
Even if your scaffolding is properly set up and well-balanced, it still needs to be secured to the building, or at least properly braced to prevent movement. When scaffolding starts moving around, it can be very easy to dislodge one end, thus compromising the integrity of the framework. Most scaffolding systems make use of several kinds of locking systems or brace retention mechanisms which prevent this kind of dislodging, and these fail-safe methods should always be properly installed.
Don’t forget guardrails
If you’re making use of a scaffolding setup which is higher than 10 feet above the ground, you should always have guardrails in place on the three sides facing away from the building. These can prevent a great many falls due to loss of balance, and they’re a great support during daily usage. The safest arrangement calls for three guardrails all the way around, including a top rail, a mid-rail and a bottom rail, to provide the maximum amount of stability and support for those on the scaffold.
Regular maintenance and inspection
This is a very important part of keeping your scaffolding setup safe for the duration of any project. As a matter of simple good housekeeping, all tools and materials used for daily work should be removed from the scaffold and stored until they’re actually needed. During work hours, scaffolding should be kept as free of obstruction as possible, removing all unnecessary debris or other equipment.
Inspections of the scaffolding should be performed on a regular basis by someone competent and familiar with safety requirements and scaffolding design. Any lumber which is part of the framework should be of good quality, and should not be damaged or cracked. Braces and frames should be closely examined for any signs of excessive wear, warping, or rust.
When using suspended platforms, all components that have connecting pins or plates, trusses, beams, stirrups, or welds need to be examined frequently for signs of weakness. Anything which appears out of the ordinary should be reported, and the scaffolding should not be used until a qualified person like an engineer has confirmed it is ready for use again.
Use personal protective equipment (PPE)
Any workers who will be on or around scaffolding should be wearing the proper personal protective equipment (PPE) to guard against injury. This includes headgear which will protect against falling objects, high quality gloves which will protect against cuts and abrasions, and non-slip footwear which will grip surfaces better, especially if they happen to be somewhat moist.
Workers on the scaffold should be trained in the usage of safety harnesses, and should have them on at all times when working on the scaffold. Ideally, the harness should be tied off to the building itself to prevent disaster, although the harness can be tied to any immovable object nearby. Safety harnesses should always be worn on construction projects where scaffolding is well elevated above the ground, and a guideline for determining when the platform is ‘well elevated’ is this: any height above the ground where a fall would cause serious injury to a worker.
*Allied does not deem this blog entry as a complete and thorough listing or overview of the above topic, and does not recommend it be primarily relied on. It only highlights some common issues and resolutions. For a thorough overview, please contact Allied’s Risk Engineering Division.