Scaffolding safety tips and training | Pro Construction Guide
Scaffolding safety tips and training

Scaffolding safety tips and training

Whether you’re installing second-story siding, gable vents or gutters, working with lathe and plaster, or any other upper-level work, scaffolding systems play an important role in getting the job done. There are two types of scaffold systems, the supported scaffolds generally used for residential construction projects and the suspended scaffolds typically found on commercial sites. Both types of scaffolding require proper training and precautionary measures. Here are some scaffolding safety tips.

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has implemented and updated a scaffold-safety standard. But scaffold accidents continue. OSHA estimates that more than 9,000 scaffold-related injuries occur annually, with at least 79 deaths and more than 3,000 disabling injuries resulting from unsafe scaffold use.

The most frequently cited OSHA scaffolding violations include:

  • No guardrails on scaffolds
  • Defective wood planks and inadequate planking overhang
  • Unsafe access to scaffolds
  • Inadequate cross bracing on scaffolds

Michael McCann, director of safety research for The Center to Protect Workers’ Rights in Silver Spring, Maryland, attributes many of the safety violations to improper training and hurrying to finish a job. “Time on these jobs is everything,” says McCann. “Contractors are interested in safety, but it’s the foreman who has to take the time to do inspections and follow procedures.”

Educating employees about scaffold hazards and the proper use of scaffolds is critical in reducing risk and eliminating injury and jobsite citations. The OSHA standard requires that a competent person who recognizes scaffold hazards and is authorized to deal with the problem design the structure.

Trainers and workers should be aware of jobsite conditions, install equipment correctly, inspect structures daily and follow established guidelines to avoid construction accidents.

For more information on scaffold safety, contact the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB) at (800) 223-2665 and ask for the “NAHB-OSHA Scaffold Safety Handbook” or “NAHB-OSHA Jobsite Safety Handbook,” both in English and Spanish. Or call the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health at (800) 232-4636.

Construct it right

The workhorse of residential scaffolding, the light-duty pump-jack scaffold, consists of a platform supported by vertical poles and movable brackets. Follow these scaffolding safety tips and guidelines when erecting this type of scaffolding:

  • Guardrails – Install guardrails that measure 42 inches from plank to top rail on scaffolds higher than 10 feet above the ground or floor.
  • Access – Place a safe means of access consisting of a ladder, ramp or personal hoist no more than 14 inches from the scaffold.
  • Braces – Attach scaffolding poles to the building structure using rigid metal triangle braces or tie-ins at the top, bottom and any other locations to keep the scaffold secure.
  • Poles – Use vertical members made of wood or use manufactured aluminum poles. Wood poles should be no more than 30 feet in length and constructed of straight-grained wood that is free of shakes, knots and defects. Aluminum poles are strong and more stable and less expensive to maintain than wood poles.
  • Weight Limits – Use scaffolding that supports its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load. Restrict the weight of people and objects on the platform to two workers or up to 500 pounds.
  • Toe Boards – Install toe boards at least 3½ inches high along platforms’ outer edges to prevent objects from falling and injuring those below.
  • Boards – Buy scaffold-grade plank boards stamped for use as scaffold decking that measure at least 2×10 inches. Cleat, attach or extend scaffolding planks measuring 10 feet or less at least 6 inches from scaffold frame.
  • Foundation – Erect scaffolds on firm, level foundations. Set and secure legs on firm footings to prevent scaffolds from moving or tipping.

Source: “NAHB-OSHA Scaffold Safety Handbook” and “NAHB-OSHA Jobsite Safety Handbook.”

Types of scaffolding support

Most scaffolding used in the residential construction industry consists of supported scaffolds, including:

  • Fabricated-frame scaffolds built with a tubular welded frame
  • Pump-jack scaffolds consisting of a platform supported by vertical poles and movable brackets (see illustration)
  • Ladder-jack scaffolds made from a platform resting on brackets attached to two ladders
  • Sawhorse scaffolds made from a scaffold-grade platform supported by sawhorses
  • Mobile scaffolds with cross, horizontal and diagonal bracing that are portable and may be powered or not
  • Bracket scaffolds mounted to a roof or a structural wall or that are attached to the top plate of a wall and used for setting trusses


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