Written by Steve Hudgik
Scaffolding safety is a hot topic from virtually any perspective. The manufacturers believe that OSHA needs to step up and recognize new and potentially safer types of scaffolding. There are even differing opinions among manufacturers. Some suggest that foreign scaffold manufacturers have lower standards and less traceability of the materials used in the construction of scaffolding.
Here in the US, OSHA statistics tell an eye-opening story. Scaffolding safety makes their top 10 list every year with more than 10,000 scaffold-related injuries reported annually. An estimated 2.3 million construction workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, work on scaffolds frequently, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). Protecting these workers from scaffolding accidents would prevent 50 deaths every year.
In the UK, organizations such as the National Access & Scaffolding Conference have acknowledged a broad range of collective measures available to scaffolds and employers. These include new anchor devices that enable scaffolds to attach their harnesses to higher points above the working platform - reducing fall distances.
Everyone agrees that more safety training and other precautions are needed. These frightening accidents are generally due to improper construction or negligent scaffolding maintenance including planks giving way, workers slipping and being struck by falling objects. For those in the construction, painting and window washing industries, scaffolding is a part of life. Scaffolds give workers access to elevated heights and stable work surfaces. From a project management viewpoint, erecting and dismantling scaffolding adds valuable time and additional labor to workflow, deadlines and budgets. In the construction business, speed equals profitability.
Meanwhile, almost every day workers continue to fall from scaffolds. Just recently, a specially trained fire fighter in New York rappelled more than 22 stories to rescue two stranded scaffold workers whose rigging broke and had nothing but their safety harnesses to keep them from falling.
Many believe scaffolds were used in the building of Egypt's pyramids and the Great Wall of China. While scaffolding materials have evolved - from wood to steel to aluminum and designs such as adjustable steel props, welded frames, horizontal restraints and couplers have changed to reflect safety concerns - the purpose of the scaffold remains the same.
First of all, there are three basic types of scaffolding:
Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support people and material during construction or repairs. It is usually a modular system of metal tubes or pipes.
Most frame scaffolds consists of end frames and cross braces plus base plates and a guardrail system.
The distance between frames is determined by the length of the cross braces.
Working heights are about 4 to 6 ft. above the scaffold planks.
Once the height exceeds three times the minimum width of the tower, one must tie the scaffolding to the building at specific intervals.
In the US, tubes are either steel or aluminum. The tubes come in a variety of lengths and a standard diameter. Boards provide a working surface for users of the scaffold. They are seasoned wood and come in different thicknesses. The board ends are protected by metal plates called hoop irons or sometimes nail plates. Timber or steel decking is used to laminate boards. Aluminum planks are also used.
In addition to boards for the working platform there are sole boards which are placed beneath the scaffolding if the surface is soft or otherwise suspect, although ordinary boards can be used.
Couplers are the fittings which hold the tubes together. The most common are called scaffold couplers. There are three basic types: right-angle couplers, putlog couplers and swivel couplers. To join tubes end-to-end joint pins (also called spigots) or sleeve couplers are used, or both together.
Before getting started, all those working with or near the scaffold should know the answers to these questions and others:
Since OSHA compliance is the number one US safety watchdog and there's a fear and monetary factor associated with non-compliance, consider:
"There is incredible room for improvement from the scaffolding industry to teach the end user about safety installation, usage, inspection and procedures," said Brian Clarke from Hoffman Construction.
"There are various safety measures that we use depending on the type of scaffold we are erecting. We have swing tubes wrapped in yellow and black reflective tape to allow for access and for the protection of a guardrail while working. We have mud sills that are used under screw jack base plates for leveling of sloping ground. Outriggers are used for free standing or rolling scaffold, to stabilize against tipping. We use guy wires, locks on casters, wind locks on decks for bad weather conditions and caps to put on the ends of tube and clamp scaffold to avoid cuts and abrasions. We also use netting, so that tools and equipment stay in place," said Shannon Gwynne, Sky-Hi Scaffolding.
There are bright spots in scaffolding safety training such as The Scaffold Training Institute (www.scaffoldtraining.com), offering on-site and off-site training to workers and trainers. Topics include OSHA's "competent" person regulations, building and dismantling several types of frame, tube and coupler scaffolds, how to determine what size scaffold is needed, how to do scaffold drawings, how to calculate the scaffold material required and how to calculate the weights in the scaffold planks, bearers, couplers and posts.
There isn't really one solution to this major challenge. A better approach should be many-tiered: greater awareness of the dangers of scaffolding, increased access to scaffold safety training, continued manufacturing innovation and OSHA keeping its collective eye on all things scaffold-related.
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