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Toolbox Tuesday: Don't overlook scaffold safety

Welcome to another edition of Toolbox Tuesday, VISTA’s new weekly safety tip series. This week’s topic is scaffolds, which are a big source of injuries and fatalities on construction sites. Proper setup and use of scaffolds is critical to worker safety. Scaffolds cause many accidents, often because workers don’t understand how to set them up and use them correctly. Here are some tips to help ensure safe working conditions on your next construction job:

Scaffold construction Uprights must have secure footing, to avoid shifting while workers are moving around on the scaffold. If your work site is composed of earth, sand or other loose material, you need to take steps to ensure that your scaffold has a firm and level foundation. Use a plumb and level to ensure that the uprights are positioned correctly and a level to ensure that the platforms are, well, level. Make sure your scaffold includes top and mid-guard rails and toe boards. Be sure to mount guard rails on open ends of the scaffold to prevent falls. Toe boards should be fastened to the inside of the uprights. If your scaffold is made out of tubular metal, toe boards are usually nailed to platform planks or bolted to the inside of the uprights. Platform planks must be laid with their edges close together so the platform will be tight with no spaces through which tools or fragments of material can fall. Only designated scaffolding materials should be used. If planks are of poor quality, set them aside. You don’t want a worker plunging through the platform because a piece of rotted wood failed under his or her weight. Before any one uses the scaffold, make sure it’s inspected by a competent person.

Using the scaffold When working on a scaffold, workers must be protected by a safety life belt attached to a lifeline, according to OSHA regulations. An access ladder or equivalent safe access must be provided. Don’t climb up the cross-braces of the scaffold; they are designed to stabilize it, not to carry your weight. Do not stand on a guardrail to extend your reach. This is dangerous and could result in a fall. Keep scaffold platforms free of all debris, snow, oil or grease to minimize slip, trip and fall hazards. Don’t leave tools or materials on the scaffold overnight. Keep in mind if a tool falls from a scaffold and hits another worker, it could cause serious injury or even death. Don’t place a ladder on top of a scaffold platform. A ladder concentrates a lot of weight in four small areas at the bottom of each leg. This could cause the platform to crack or fail. Plus, a worker standing on a ladder perched on a platform has a very high center of gravity; he could easily lose his balance, causing him and the ladder to plunge to the ground. Interested in related products? See: Scaffold Safety Handbook Sources:

  1. 180 Safety Talks for Supervisors from the Colorado Contractors Association

  2. Image by Les Chatfield, used by permission of Creative Commons

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