An estimated 2.3 million construction workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, work on scaffolds frequently. In a recent Bureau of Labor Statistics study, 72 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed their injuries to planking or support giving way, slipping or being struck by a falling object. OSHA estimates that protecting these workers from scaffold-related accidents by complying with OSHA safety standards would prevent 4,500 injuries and 60 deaths every year.

A scaffold is defined as an elevated, temporary work platform. There are three basic types of scaffolds:

  • Supported scaffolds: one or more platforms supported by outrigger beams, brackets, poles, legs, uprights, posts, frames or similar rigid support;
  • Suspended scaffolds: one or more platforms suspended by ropes or other non-rigid methods from an overhead structure;
  • Other scaffolds, principally manlifts, personnel hoists, etc., sometimes thought of as vehicles or machinery, but which can be regarded as another type of supported scaffold.

Common hazards associated with all scaffolds include:

  • Falls from elevation, due to lack of fall protection;
  • Collapse of the scaffold, caused by instability or overloading;
  • Being struck by falling tools, work materials, or debris; and
  • Electrocution, principally due to proximity of the scaffold to overhead power lines.

The OSHA scaffolding standard outlines requirements based on two groups of workers: erectors/dismantlers and users. Erectors and dismantlers are workers whose principal activity involves assembling scaffolding before other work can begin, and disassembling scaffolding after that work, or a portion of it, has been completed. Scaffold users are workers whose job requires them, at least some of the time, to be supported by scaffolding to access the area of a structure where their work is performed.

Scaffold Erecters/Dismantlers

OSHA requires employers to provide training by a competent person to each employee who is involved in erecting and/or disassembling a scaffold. A competent person is defined as one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards, and has authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.

Scaffolds must be designed by a qualified person and be constructed and loaded in accordance with that design. OSHA defines a qualified person as one who:

  • Possesses a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing; or
  • Has extensive knowledge, training and experience; and therefore,
  • Can solve or resolve problems related to the work or the project.

A qualified person must do adequate pre-planning to assure the safe erection and use of the scaffold, including:

  • Determining the type of scaffold necessary for the job;
  • Determining the maximum load of the scaffold;
  • Assuring a good foundation;
  • Avoiding electrical hazards.

Scaffold Users

Employers are required by OSHA standards to provide training by a qualified person to each employee who performs work while on a scaffold. The training must enable employees to recognize the hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used and to understand the procedures to control or minimize those hazards.

The OSHA scaffolding standard emphasizes not only the importance of training for all workers associated with work on scaffolds, but also that all scaffold assembly, use and disassembly be monitored by competent and qualified persons. Employers who incorporate the appropriate expertise to oversee all scaffold-related work can help ensure that their workers are protected while maintaining compliance with OSHA safety requirements.

About the OSHA Training Center

The OSHA Training Center at Chabot-Las Positas Community College District offers high quality Occupational Safety & Health Administration standards-based training for construction, maritime and general industry at its Center in Dublin, California, as well as locations throughout California, Arizona, Nevada, Hawaii and Guam. Programs offered include OSHA safety standards, Outreach Trainer courses, Cal/OSHA standards curriculum, environmental courses and customized on-site safety training. Upcoming courses include OTC 301 – Scaffolding Safety Standards and OSHA 510 – OSHA Standards for the Construction Industry. For more information, including a complete course schedule, visit the OSHA Training Center website or call (866) 936-OSHA (6742).