Well-built scaffolding systems allow your employees to safely work at height, which is vital for many types of projects and operations.
However, they come with many inherent risks, such as slipping and falling, being injured by a falling object, or suffering a scaffolding collapse.
It’s essential to be aware of these hazards of scaffolding and take the necessary steps to mitigate them to increase safety. The following are some of the most common scaffolding hazards and precautions you’ll need to undertake while on the job.
Your employees will typically need to move tools and materials around while working at height, and a scaffolding system can facilitate that. However, items left lying around can pose a major hazard to anyone working in the area.
Tools left lying around can pose a trip and fall hazard, leading to serious injuries—especially if they cause someone to fall off the scaffolding. In addition, these items themselves can pose a hazard if they fall and strike anyone working below.
Make sure you have clear clean-up and inspection policies in place. No tools or building materials should be left unattended on the scaffold, and everything should be put away at the end of the workday. Routine cleanup of the scaffold is another must to prevent hazards from loose debris, pooled fluids, and other hazards.
Proper safety equipment, including PPE (personal protective equipment), fall arrest systems, and even guard rails, are a must when working at height. Without these items, injuries from falls are much more likely.
Regardless of how clean you keep your scaffold platform work areas, there’s always a risk that someone is going to fall at some point.
In fact, falls led to 351 workplace fatalities in 2020. Proper fall protection could have prevented a large number of those accidents.
OSHA guidelines set forth strict requirements for scaffolding safety.
Although 10 feet is an OSHA requirement, Scaffolding Solutions follows industry best practices and provides guard rails after a height of 6 feet or more.
To further minimize the risk of injury, scaffolds themselves should be properly constructed. Loose or unstable planks, haphazard scaffold construction, and improper materials can all lead to devastating accidents.
Loose or weak planks can shift or break, causing a fall. If a scaffold’s structure isn’t sound, it could collapse, dumping tons of materials, equipment, and personnel to the ground and injuring anyone working in the area. Workers can also get electrocuted if you build the scaffold next to a power line.
Take your time building scaffolds, and make sure you use the right materials. Don’t mix and match components from different manufacturers or systems—doing so can lead to an unstable structure. After it’s all put together, inspect it to make sure all planks, beams, fasteners, and so forth are properly put together.
Avoid constructing your scaffold near power lines—OSHA regulations require a minimum of 10’ clearance between the scaffold and any electrical hazards. If the distance winds up being less than 10’, you must shut off the electrical line and lock it out for the duration of the job.
You should also consider the local weather conditions and use proactive safety measures to help ensure the scaffolding will be able to withstand large or constant gusts of wind.
Over time, parts of a scaffold may become damaged, compromising the integrity of the entire structure. Planks may crack or deteriorate over time, parts may rust, and damage may result from the use of nearby equipment.
Damage to a scaffold may render it structurally unsound, leading to a collapse. If you’re using wooden planks, those could deteriorate over time, causing them to shift, crack, or break, resulting in a fall injury.
Routine inspections are an absolute must when working with scaffolding systems. These inspections should be conducted daily. Also, employees should be encouraged to report any damage that results from daily work activities.
One hazard people might not always be aware of when working at height is the risk of electric shock. As scaffolds are built upward, they may intersect with electrical wiring.
One of the most common injuries that result from working on a scaffold is electrocution. If workers make contact with those wires while working, it can lead to electric shock, especially if that contact damages the wire or if the scaffold is made of metal.
Scaffolds should be built at least ten feet away from any overhanging electrical wires, and they should be insulated against electric shock. Also, all metal parts and panels should be securely locked together to ground the structure as a whole, making sure that any electric currents are directed into the base.
One final hazard that comes from working on a scaffold is a lack of training among employees. There are specific ways to climb, move, and work on scaffolds that minimize injury, but if workers aren’t trained properly, they will be more prone to accidents.
Those who aren’t aware of all the hazards of working at height won’t take steps to mitigate them, leading to injuries for themselves and others. They might fail to use proper safety equipment, clean up their work areas, or move about the structure in a way that prevents accidents.
Training is key to accident prevention. One simple way to handle scaffolding training is to have supervisors take ten minutes each day to review safety standards with their employees. In addition, enforcing those standards can help solidify your workers’ commitment to staying safe when working at height.
Scaffolds present many hazards, but you can mitigate them with proper techniques, equipment, processes, and training. Oversight from a competent person (as designated by OSHA) can also exponentially increase safety levels.
When you build scaffolds properly, inspect them regularly, and have everyone follow proper safety protocols. This way, you can keep accidents and injuries to a minimum while preventing costly regulatory fines.