Episode 19 – Scaffolding Safety


Toolbox Topic: Scaffolding Safety

Around 2.3 million construction workers, about 65% of the industry, work on scaffolding. In this episode, we will discuss things you can do to stay safe when working on or around scaffolding.



Scaffold means any temporary elevated platform (supported or suspended) and its supporting structure (including anchorage points) used for supporting employees or materials or both.


Scaffolding History

Scaffolding has been around since man lived in caves! No, seriously, cave paintings were discovered in France, and scaffolding was used to create those paintings. These scaffolds were simple structures and are thought to be 17,000 years old.

The Egyptians used scaffolding to build the pyramids. The scaffolding was connected by wood and hemp rope.

The Romans used scaffolding to construct an aqueduct called the Pont du Gard, which is 165 feet high and nearly 1000 feet long.

The Great Wall of China is 13,171 miles long. It took 2,300 years and 9 dynasties to complete. It was built using bamboo scaffolding which was lashed together with hemp rope. The scaffolding would support workers, tools, and the masonry needed to complete the job.

In 1508 Michelangelo painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel using scaffolding.

In 1984 a massive undertaking to restore the Statue of Liberty began. Aluminum scaffolding would encase the statue for two years, costing 2 million dollars. The scaffolding weighed 300 tons and came in 6,000 pieces.

The scaffold was designed to withstand storms with hundred-mile-an-hour winds. It had to allow for high visibility of the statue during the work, and, at 150 feet above the pedestal, the scaffolding had to be free-standing. Meaning it couldn’t touch the statue. That was a considerable challenge since scaffolding was typically tied to a structure every 26 feet. The scaffold had to have five times the structural integrity typically required.

On September 27th, 1985, it would get the ultimate test. Hurricane Gloria would touch down in NY City with wind speeds clocked at over 85 miles per hour! The scaffolding would pass that test with flying colors!


Statistics on Scaffolding Safety

In 2018 The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported 61 deaths associated with scaffolds and staging. Scaffold-related accidents result in roughly 4,500 injuries every year. Falls from scaffolds account for approximately 25% of all fatal falls.

According to the BLS, 72% of scaffold incidents occur for one of three reasons:

1. Defective equipment or improper assembly causing scaffold support or planking to fail

2. Slippery surfaces causing slips and falls, in combination with no guardrails present to prevent the fall

3. A falling object hits either a worker on the scaffolding or someone underneath the scaffolding

The other 28%:

  • Scaffolds and equipment are too close to power or utility lines resulting in electrocution
  • Wind, rain, or the presence of hazardous substances
  • Inadequate fall protection
  • Overloading, which causes the scaffolding to collapse

Common injuries due to scaffold incidents:

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Spinal cord injuries
  • Amputations
  • Broken bones
  • Lacerations


Scaffolding Safety Tips

Safety Tip#1 Provide a Formal Installation Process for Scaffolding

Only trained employees should perform scaffolding installs. You should always follow the manufacturer’s instructions when erecting the scaffold. Always install scaffolding on sound footings and anchors for the anticipated load.

Be sure to check the following:

  • Check footings to see if they are level, sound, rigid, and capable of supporting the loaded scaffold.
  • The scaffold must be capable of supporting the load without settling or displacement
  • Do not use unstable objects such as barrels, boxes, loose brick, or concrete blocks for support.
  • Wheels or base plates must establish a firm, level base
  • Use mud sills if the scaffolding is constructed on soft or unstable ground
  • Platforms should be fully decked with guardrails
  • Level the scaffold after each move.
  • Chock the wheels of the rolling scaffold using the wheel blocks, and lock the wheels.


Safety Tip #2 Training

All employees who work on scaffolding must receive training. A competent person should be clearly identified for all scaffolding work.


Safety Tip #3 Inspect Before Use

At the beginning of each shift, a competent person must inspect the scaffolding. Also, inspect after any event that compromises the system’s structural integrity. Keep in mind the following:

  • Check for frayed, torn, or visibly damaged ropes.
  • Do not use planking with knots, holes, cracks, or rot.
  • Inspect metal components for bends, cracks, holes, rust, welding splatter, pits, broken welds, and non-compatible parts
  • Do not use if a pulley, block, hook, or fitting is worn, cracked, rusted, or otherwise damaged
  • Document the inspection. Never use scaffolding until it is inspected and signed off by the competent person


Safety Tip #4 Follow Best Practices

Use common sense when working on scaffolding.

  • Do not climb on scaffolds that wobble or lean to one side
  • Do not use if tagged “Out of Service.”
  • Do not use a scaffold unless guardrails and all flooring are in place.
  • Remember guardrails, a personal fall-arrest system, or both must be used when on scaffolding at 10 feet or more above ground level.
  • Use the debris chutes or lower items by hoist or by hand.
  • Do not move the scaffold if anyone is on it.
  • Provide an access ladder, stair tower, or similar safe access
  • Do not use a ladder or other device on scaffolding platforms to increase the height or reach
  • Do not climb or sit on the guardrails. Keep both feet on the decking.
  • Do not lean out from the scaffold. Do not rock the scaffold.
  • Do not slide down cables, ropes, or guys used for bracing.
  • Do not jump from, to, or between scaffolding.
  • Do not climb the cross braces. Use the ladder.











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