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By Duane Craig
May 6, 2018
Each year the Occupational Safety and Health Administration releases the Top 10 Most Cited Violations of safety and health standards. For any employer, this list is a good starting point when doing their own safety and health audit. In the number three spot for 2017 is scaffolding.
Construction tops other industries in citations for violating sections of the scaffolding standard. Even though OSHA cited over 3,000 instances of violations to 1926.451, those are undoubtedly just a fraction of the violations that really happened. With over 8 million workplaces across the U.S. and barely 2,100 federal OSHA and OSHA State Program inspectors, there are almost 4,000 workplaces for each inspector. In 2017, only about 1% of all U.S. workplaces received inspections.
The Biggest Scaffold Danger is Falling
The scaffolding standard provides guidance on preventing falls, and it is not just about supported scaffolds rising from the ground. It includes everything from the kind of scaffolds window washers hang from to scissor lifts and aerial lifts.
In 2017, the main citation of this standard was for the very basic requirement that people are protected from falling, section 1926.451(g)(1). If you've got someone working more than 10 feet above a lower level, they're likely to get seriously injured or killed if they fall. Therefore, they need fall protection provided by guardrails or a fall arrest system. If they're on either a single point or two point suspension scaffold, both types of fall protection are required.
The second most cited violation of this standard was 1926.451(e)(1). It prohibits the use of cross braces for access to scaffold platforms. Instead, when the platform is more than two feet above or below a place of access, there should be a ladder, stairway, stair tower, ramp or walk, or an integrated prefabricated frame that employees can use to access the platform.
The Nuances of Scaffold Decking
The deck or platform should completely fill the available space, according to the third most violated standard, 1926.451(b)(1). And, the gap between the planks used for the decking cannot be bigger than one inch. In some cases, though, this poses a challenge. For example, when you use side brackets to extend the platform's width, you have to notch or cut the last plank to size. However, doing that compromises the plank's strength, and can even cause the plank to tip when loaded unevenly. So, in these instances, you can have up to 9.5 inches between plank and guardrail support.
The Guardrail Has Details Too
The fourth most violated section of the scaffolding standard is 1926.451(g)(1)(vi), and it applies to all people on scaffolds unless they are on a boatswain’s chair, catenary scaffold, float scaffold, needle beam scaffold, or ladder jack scaffold. It also doesn't apply to bricklayers working on scaffolds. This section states that "each employee shall be protected by the use of personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems meeting the requirements of paragraph (g)(4) of this section." Those requirements are explained on page 38 of this document, and they include directions on guardrail heights, installation sequence, instructions on using midrails/screens/mesh and how much force the guardrails should withstand.
There is also an exception to guardrails that applies to the masonry trade. Bricklayers on supported scaffolds must be protected from falling on all open sides and ends with a personal fall arrest system or guardrails having a minimum 200 pound top rail capacity. Fall protection isn't required, however, on the side of the scaffold where they're laying the bricks.
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