Scaffolds are portable devices used to allow workers to perform tasks above ground level. In the event of a construction accident, scaffolds pose a significant danger to both the employees working on them and passersby at ground level. To minimize the risk of scaffolding accidents, scaffold users must follow a strict set of regulations set forth by OSHA that govern the use, design, construction, and inspection of scaffolding. A summary of five basic components of OSHA scaffold regulations can be found below.
Safe Installation and Use
In order to ensure compliance with the OSHA scaffold regulations, employees who are responsible for installing and maintaining scaffolding systems must receive specific training related to these tasks. The scaffold regulations include numerous provisions in order to enhance the safety of scaffold workers and minimize the risk of scaffold accidents. Among these provisions are the following:
- All employees working more than ten feet above the ground must wear a protective harness or be protected by a system of guardrails in order to avoid falls.
- Employees cannot erect or work on scaffolding structures that are snow or ice covered or have any other kind of slippery substance on them.
- If there are high wind conditions, employees working on scaffolds must wear personal fall protection systems and wind screens must be erected for their protection.
- Placing boxes or chairs on the scaffold in order to reach higher is prohibited.
The OSHA scaffold regulations state that scaffolds must be designed to support the weight of the scaffold itself, as well as four times the intended load, for both employees and materials. In addition, all connections between the scaffold and the roof or building structure must be capable of resisting four times the tipping momentum of a fully loaded scaffold. For suspended scaffold systems, all ropes in use must be able to support six times the load of the system.
According to regulations, each scaffold deck must be placed no more than one inch apart, and no further than one inch from any support structures. If this is impossible because of some obstruction, the space between planks and support beams can be a maximum of nine and a half inches. Decks must be at least eighteen inches wide, and ladder jacks and roof brackets must be at least twelve inches wide. If these minimum widths cannot be met, protective guardrails must be in place around the deck to minimize the risk of falls.
Supported Scaffolding Systems
In order to prevent tipping, non-suspended scaffolds with a height-to-base-width ratio greater than 4 to 1 must be braced or supported. Ties and braces must be installed at both ends of a scaffolding system and at intervals of every thirty feet horizontally. Supported scaffold poles, legs, posts, frames, and uprights must be set onto stable base plates or another type of firm foundation.
Suspended Scaffolding Systems
Suspended scaffolding systems must be designed by an experienced structural design engineer. The system should be installed by a qualified individual and inspected prior to each use for any weaknesses or hazards that could result in an accident. Counterweights must be secured mechanically to the scaffolding system. Hooks, roof irons and parapet clamps must be made of steel or iron and supported by tiebacks that have equal strength to the scaffold's ropes. The OSHA regulations prohibit gas-powered hoists and lift systems from being used on suspended scaffolds.
If you are interested in reviewing the scaffold regulations in greater detail, visit this link: OSHA Scaffold Regulations.
Also of note is New York Labor Law section 240, which is commonly known as the “Scaffold Law.” The law is controversial, as it goes well beyond the standards established by OHSA. Under New York Labor Law section 240, contractors and property owners are subject to very strict liability with regard to scaffold accidents. That is, there is sometimes no need for a construction worker injured on a scaffold to prove negligence on the part of the owner or employer and any negligence on the part of the injured worker may be deemed irrelevant.