8 Scaffolding Hazards to Consider

Posted on March 13, 2024 in Scaffolding

A worker on a highly elevated scaffold that has been inspected for scaffolding hazards.

Scaffolding systems are an essential component of any construction or renovation project. However, they can present several safety issues that lead to slip and fall injuries, falling objects, or a total scaffolding collapse.

It’s essential to be aware of these common risks and take the necessary steps to mitigate them. Read on to discover the eight most common scaffolding hazards and precautions you’ll need to undertake while on the job.

#1. Debris, Tools, and Materials

Employees often need to move tools and materials around while working at height. A scaffolding system can make this easier. However, items left lying about can pose a significant hazard to anyone working there.

Why Tools and Debris Are a Hazard at Height

Tools and debris can create a trip and fall hazard. This can lead to serious injuries, especially if someone falls off the scaffolding. In addition, these items can pose a risk if they fall and strike anyone working below.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

Make sure you have clear clean-up and inspection policies in place. Put away all tools and building materials at the end of each workday. Do not leave items sitting unattended on the scaffold. Routine cleanup is another must to prevent dangers caused by loose debris, pooled fluids, and other unsafe conditions.

#2. Lack of Fall Prevention

Workers need safety gear like PPE, fall arrest systems, and guard rails for working at heights. Otherwise, injury risks rise exponentially without these essential items.

Why Lack of Fall Prevention Is a Hazard

Regardless of how clean you keep your scaffold platform work areas, there’s always a risk that someone could 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.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

OSHA guidelines require guardrails at heights of 10 feet and above. At Scaffolding Solutions, we follow industry best practices and provide guard rails after a height of 6 feet or more.

#3. Poor Scaffolding Assembly

Assemble scaffolding correctly using manufacturers’ guidelines to minimize risk. Improper construction can lead to collapsed or unstable structures. Loose planks, haphazard scaffold construction, and improper materials can all lead to devastating accidents. 

Why Poor Scaffolding Assembly Is a Hazard

Loose or weak planks can shift or break and cause a worker to fall. An unsound scaffold structure poses a severe risk of collapse. Such an event could send materials, equipment, and personnel plummeting to the ground. Building a scaffold near power lines increases the chance workers could get electrocuted.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

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. Thoroughly inspect everything once you’ve assembled the scaffolding. Ensure you have correctly connected planks, beams, fasteners, and other parts.

Avoid constructing your scaffold near power lines. OSHA regulations require a minimum of 10’ clearance between the scaffold and any electrical hazards. Distances of less than 10’ require shutting off and locking out the electrical line for the duration of the job.

All scaffold planks should have scaffold locks that are engaged and in a locked position. If you can’t tell whether or not a locking device is engaged, ask a trained erector to try to move the plank to ensure it’s properly secured.

Effective routine scaffolding inspections start with a visual check of all components like wedges and locking pins to confirm they are secure. Verify mudsills are firmly anchored with at least two nails. Everything should be plumb, level, and square. Look for excessive rust beyond surface oxidation. There should be no visible cracks, bends, or damage to any parts. 

Additionally, take into consideration the local weather conditions and use proactive safety measures accordingly. This will help ensure the scaffolding can withstand large or constant wind gusts. Collectively, these checks and inspections will help keep the scaffolding safe and sound.

#4. Scaffolding Damage

Over time, parts of a scaffold may become damaged, compromising the integrity of the entire structure. Planks may crack or deteriorate, parts may rust, and damage may result from using nearby equipment.

Why Scaffolding Damage Is a Hazard

Damage to a scaffold may render it structurally unsound and lead to a collapse. Wooden planks can shift, crack, or break. It’s only a matter of time before someone falls and injures themselves. 

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

Routine inspections are an absolute must when working with scaffolding systems. A trained supervisor or competent person should conduct inspections daily. Also, encourage employees to report immediately any damage that results from daily work activities.

#5. Electrical Wires

Workers often overlook the risk of electrical shock when working at height. As scaffolds increase in height, they can get close to electrical wiring. Therefore, keeping them away from electrical sources is crucial to prevent shocks.

Why Electrical Wires Are a Hazard

Electrocution is one of the most common injuries that result from working on a scaffold because workers can get electrically shocked if they come into contact with exposed wires. The risk is even greater if the scaffold damages the wires or allows for unimpeded electricity flow.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

There is no way to completely insulate a scaffold system from electrical shock. However, you can take several precautions to mitigate the chances of this hazard from occurring:

  • Keep the scaffolding at least 10 feet away from all electrical power lines. 
  • Always use GFCI (Ground Fault Circuit Interrupters) with electrical power tools or lighting.
  • Securely lock all metal parts and panels to ground the structure. This helps direct any wayward electrical currents into the base.
  • Never climb or use a scaffold during a lightning storm.
  • Use appropriate decking when electrical devices like generators or welders are on a scaffold. Opt for materials such as wooden OSHA scaffold boards or scaffold planks with minimal metal. Boards made completely of metal are an accident waiting to happen.

#6. Untrained Employees

Poorly trained employees are another reason scaffolding accidents occur at greater frequencies. There are specific ways to climb, move, and work on scaffolds that minimize injury possibilities. 

Why Untrained Employees Are a Hazard

Improperly trained workers often perform actions that unintentionally put themselves or others at risk of harm. They might fail to use proper safety equipment, clean up their work areas, or fail to move about the structure in a way that minimizes accidents.

What You Can Do To Prevent This Hazard

Training is vital to accident prevention. Supervisors should take ten minutes daily 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.

#7. Pedestrian Safety/Object Protection Safety

Ensuring pedestrian safety around scaffolding areas involves creating a secure environment. This protects those working on the scaffold and individuals passing by. 

Why Unbarricaded Areas Are a Hazard

Unbarricaded areas pose a risk as pedestrians could unknowingly walk into a construction zone. 

This increases the chance of being struck by falling debris or navigating through dangerous areas. Therefore it is essential to control access to these zones to prevent accidents.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

To mitigate risks, implement a system of barricades and clear signage around the work area. Overhead protection, like canopies or debris netting, can catch falling objects. This setup ensures a safer pathway for pedestrians, reducing the risk of injury from construction activities.

#8. Weather Hazards

Weather conditions significantly impact the safety of scaffolding operations. Recognizing and proactively addressing these risks is crucial for preventing accidents and ensuring a secure working environment.

Why the Weather Is a Hazard

Adverse weather conditions can weaken scaffolding structures and make them unstable. High winds may cause scaffolding to sway or collapse, while lightning poses a risk of electrocution. Rain, snow, or ice can make surfaces slippery, increasing the risk of falls.

What You Can Do to Prevent This Hazard

Before work begins, assess the weather conditions. Suspend operations in high winds or during lightning storms. Regularly remove snow and ice to prevent accumulation on scaffolds. 

Weather-resistant materials can also help maintain the integrity of the scaffolding in various conditions. Always prioritize safety over deadlines, especially when weather conditions are poor.

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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 keep accidents and injuries to a bare minimum.

Click below to learn more about the value Scaffolding Solutions will add to your next project.

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