Did you know that when scaffolds are not used properly, falls can occur? The truth is, protecting workers from scaffold-related accidents would prevent many deaths and more than 4,000 injuries each year.
Scaffolding is a good way for workers to perform their job. They are tools used in construction, alteration, routine maintenance, and renovation. When used, scaffolding provides safe passage to work areas. They are stable working platforms, and can even find use as temporary storage for tools and materials. But, through improper usage, scaffolding can cause accidents, serious injuries and even death.
What’s the Worst that Could Happen?
The Horror Stories of Scaffolding
It is not uncommon to hear scaffolding horror stories. These frightening tales generally involve workers falling, incorrect operating procedures, environmental nightmares, and falling materials. Here are some of the stories:
For example, in Silver Springs, Maryland, an employee died after falling more than 90 feet off of a building. The building was under renovation, and the employee was working on the apartment balcony from a twin tower mast-climbing work platform. While scraping the old paint at the 10th floor balcony, the employee fell to the ground through a space next to the mast tower. The employee was not tied to any lifeline.
Another example, two workers were erecting an aluminum pump jack scaffold. As they were raising the second aluminum pole, the pole contacted an overhead power line. The pole was 29 feet 10 inches long, while the line was 28 feet 10 inches high. One employee died and the other suffered severe burns and was hospitalized. The surviving employee noted that he thought they had enough room to work around the power lines, which were not de-energized or shielded.
A 53-year-old male mason was fatally injured when he made a twelve foot drop from the second level of an unguarded tubular welded scaffold system. It is not known what the victim was doing at the time of the incident; however, a witness saw him walk to the edge of the scaffold and place his foot on a piece of iron scaffold bracing. He either tripped or lost his balance, and fell to the sand covered asphalt below. The victim was transported to the local hospital where he died approximately two hours later.
So, what could have prevented these tragedies?
Before we answer this question, we have to understand the different people involved in the scaffolding process.
The Workers In Scaffolding
Every worksite involving scaffold should have a Competent Person. This person should be able to identify existing and possible hazards that may be around. Your Competent Person should perform all required inspections, including a daily pre-work inspection. Whether the working conditions are unsanitary, hazardous, or dangerous to employees, the Competent Person has the responsibility to take measures to eliminate such hazards.
Workers on scaffolds are divided into two groups, erectors/dismantlers and users. Erectors and dismantlers are workers who are responsible for assembling and disassembling scaffolding.
A Qualified Person should provide training to each employee who uses the scaffold. This training teaches users about the hazards associated scaffolding. They must also understand the procedures to control or cut out those hazards. Here are a few hazards:
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
Electrocution, principally due to the proximity of the scaffold to overhead powerlines.
So, how do we prevent scaffolding accidents? Here are the best safe scaffolding practices:
Provide an access ladder.
Make sure lumber is scaffold-grade when using wooden planking.
Install guardrails and toe-boards on all scaffolding 10 or more feet above the ground
Make sure the scaffold is able to support 4 times the maximum intended load. This includes workers, materials, and tools.
Make sure the scaffold is level by using screw jacks on base plates and mudsills. This is something that must be used when the Competent Person determines that they are necessary to assure an adequate foundation.
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