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 OSHA 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.

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.

Learn more at OSHA’s Scaffolding webpage

Upcoming OSHA #3085 Principles of Scaffolding Classes