Scaffolds are an essential element at many worksites. An estimated 2.3 million construction workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, work on scaffolds frequently. When the Occupational Safety & Health Administration revised its scaffolds standard in 1996, Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) studies showed that 25 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents had received no scaffold safety training, and 77 percent of scaffolds were not equipped with guardrails.

Fifty-seven workers fell to their deaths from scaffolds or staging platforms in 2012 according to preliminary BLS data, and five deaths due to falls from scaffolds at jobsites in Texas, Florida, Wisconsin and Washington have already been reported in January, 2014.

Last year scaffolding ranked #3 (5,423 citations) on OSHA’s 2013 Top 10 list of the most frequent safety violations for the second year in a row, after placing second in 2010 and first in 2009. The majority of citations concerned scaffolding general requirements, with plank failure and slips and trips producing the majority of injuries.

Most, if not all, citations, injuries and deaths could be avoided with careful adherence to OSHA safety standards, which provide detailed guidelines covering all aspects of scaffolding safety, such as capacity, spacing between planks, guard rails and prohibited items. OSHA estimates that compliance with its scaffolds standard could prevent 4,500 accidents every year.

The OSHA scaffolds standard is very explicit in delineating the vital roles of competent and qualified persons in reducing scaffolding hazards and preventing needless accidents. A competent person is defined as “one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards in the surrounding or working conditions, which are unsanitary, hazardous to employees, and who has the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.” A qualified person is defined as “one who-by possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience-has successfully demonstrated his/her ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project.”

A scaffolding competent person should be directly involved in the supervision of the scaffold erection, moving and dismantling, and should be conducting ongoing inspections of all scaffolding throughout the project. A scaffolding competent person is required to:

  • Select, direct and train employees involved in erecting, disassembling, moving, operating, repairing, maintaining, or inspecting scaffolds to recognize associated work hazards;
  • Inspect scaffolds for visible defects before each shift and after any occurrence which could affect the structural integrity, and authorize corrective actions;
  • Determine the need and feasibility of providing fall protection, including personal fall arrest systems.

A scaffolding qualified person should insure that all employees working on scaffolding have been properly trained to recognize and report potential hazards. A scaffolding qualified person is required to:

  • Design and load scaffolds and components in accordance with an approved plan;
  • Train employees working on the scaffolds to recognize the associated hazards and understand procedures to control or minimize hazards.

It is essential for the effective fulfillment of scaffolding safety requirements that the responsibility for monitoring and avoiding potential hazards and risks is carried out by safety professionals who are independent of contract deadlines and project completion.

Employers who provide ongoing training, regular inspections and timely hazard corrections by well qualified and diligent safety professionals can help ensure compliance with OSHA’s scaffolds standard, and significantly reduce employee injuries, insurance costs and lost time on the job.

The OSHA Training Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District is offering Scaffolding Safety Standards – OTC 301, a 3 day course covering OSHA compliance standards for various types of scaffolding, including supported, suspended and aerial lifts, how scaffolds work and how to perform basic load analysis, at its Dublin, CA location in July and November, 2014. The OSHA Training Center offers a full range of standards based safety and health training vital to a safe and healthy workplace, including OSHA safety standards, Outreach Trainer courses, Cal/OSHA standards curriculum, environmental courses and customized onsite safety training. For more information, including a complete course schedule, visit or call (866) 936-OSHA (6742).