Scaffolding equipment enables workers to reach high places and perform tasks such as building restoration, exterior maintenance, window washing, painting and construction work. 

While scaffolds are valuable equipment, workers must use them safely to minimize the injury risk. According to OSHA, 61 scaffolding-related fatalities occurred in 2018. 

Because of the dangers, OSHA regulates the use of scaffolds at the job site to promote safety. One area that receives scrutiny is the implementation of specific maximum weight limits for each scaffolding type.

Scaffolding Planks and Weight Limits

OSHA uses “maximum intended load” as one of the criteria when determining the acceptable scaffolding weight limits. Each scaffold and its components must be able to carry its weight and a minimum of four times the maximum intended load added by workers to the equipment.

For example, if the combined weight of two workers and their tools and materials is 525 pounds, the scaffold must be capable of withstanding this load — the factor of four is designed into the rated load capacity mentioned below. 

OSHA also outlines three distinct categories for performing load-bearing calculations on scaffolding planks. The rated load capacity determines how much weight a scaffold plank can hold safely, based on whether it’s a light-duty, medium-duty or heavy-duty unit:

  • Light-duty: The rating for these standard scaffolds is 25 pounds per square foot when applying the weight uniformly.
  • Medium-duty: The rating of scaffolding in the medium-duty (brick masons) category is 50 pounds per square foot.
  • Heavy-duty: A heavy-duty (stone setter’s) scaffold, which holds more weight than equipment in the other two categories, is 75 pounds per square foot.

To calculate the total rated load capacity, multiply the base rating — 25, 50 or 75, depending on the model — by the square footage of the model’s work surface. For instance, medium-duty scaffolding with a 40-square-foot platform could safely accommodate no more than 2,000 pounds of workers, tools and materials (40 x 50). 

The Deflection Method provides a simple way to determine if a scaffold exceeds its safe load limit by using a tape measure and a straight edge. This technique stipulates that the planks on a loaded platform cannot deflect more than 1/60 of the span.

To illustrate, if a platform consists of planks that are 5 feet (60 inches) apart, the maximum allowable deflection distance is one inch (1/60 x 60).

In all situations, the scaffold’s load should not exceed the maximum intended load or the rated load capacity, whichever is lower. 

Maximum Board Span Requirements

OSHA has also established requirements regarding the acceptable span of the planks on a scaffolding platform.

For example, when using a light-duty scaffold, the maximum permissible span when using full-thickness, undressed lumber is 10 feet and decreases to 8 feet for nominal thickness lumber. For medium-duty models, the figures are 8 feet for full-thickness and 6 feet for the nominal thickness value. Heavy-duty scaffolding only has a span spacing requirement for using full-thickness lumber, which is 6 feet.

General OSHA Requirements for Scaffolding

In addition to detailing how much weight scaffolding should be able to support, OSHA has established other general safety requirements in several areas.

Construction and Material Requirements

OSHA permits the use of scaffolds consisting of solid wood or manufactured planks and platforms. Users should adhere to the manufacturer’s guidelines or recommendations from a lumber grading association or inspection agency when choosing the best product for their applications. In all cases, the material must meet the minimum plank-grade specifications.

Taller scaffolding may require additional construction and erection steps to prevent tipping over in high winds. The scaffolding safety guidelines require using ties or other reliable restraint methods whenever the height-to-base ratio is greater than 4:1. 

When using supported scaffolding equipment, the OSHA safety guidelines generally require the installation of guardrails at heights over 10 feet. The top rails cannot consist of steel or plastic banding material, but they should offer enough support to prevent a fall.

Maintenance and Inspections

Scaffolds undergo heavy use in challenging weather and environmental conditions. Damaged or worn parts and components pose significant safety hazards for the workers they hold and the people on the ground. Regular maintenance and inspections are crucial for ensuring the safe use of scaffolding equipment and reducing the risk of catastrophic injuries.

According to OSHA standards, scaffolding inspections should occur daily or before the start of each shift to ensure the equipment is in safe operating condition. Generally, more frequent scaffold usage requires a shorter time span between inspections. A competent person — an individual who is qualified to identify hazards and has the authority to implement corrective measures promptly — should execute the task.

Scaffolding inspection and maintenance procedures should focus on the areas where issues are most likely to occur:

  • Checking for missing parts and hardware, such as nuts, bolts and wedges
  • Replacing missing or damaged parts with high-quality products that meet the manufacturer’s specifications
  • Evaluating the condition of the planks to detect cracks, splits and other telltale floor weakness signs
  • Looking for rough exposed edges that could cause scratches or cuts
  • Checking for signs of overloading, such as buckled or dented planks
  • Lubricating the nuts that secure clamps and braces
  • Assessing the swing gates for broken or damaged springs

Fall Protection Requirements

Due to the high risk of falling, OSHA requires stringent fall protection measures. According to the agency, fall protection consists of a combination of guardrail systems and personal fall arrest systems.

A guardrail is a vertical barrier typically consisting of top rails, mid-rails and posts designed to prevent workers from falling off an elevated scaffolding platform. A fall arrest system includes a harness and related components like anchorage points, lifelines, and snap hooks. Its purpose is to prevent a worker from falling or safely stop a fall if it happens.

 Here is a comprehensive breakdown of the specific OSHA fall protection requirements based on the types of scaffolds:

  • Personal fall arrest system only: Aerial lifts, boatswain’s chairs and catenary, float, ladder jacket or needle beam scaffold
  • Personal arrest system or a guardrail system: Crawling board (chicken ladder), supported scaffold
  • Personal arrest system and a guardrail system: Self-contained scaffolds and single-point and two-point suspension scaffolds

Fall Protection and Other Safety Standards

According to OSHA 1926.451(g)(1), employers must provide fall protection for workers on scaffolding more than 10 feet above the ground or a lower level. A competent person must decide whether scaffolds are necessary at each job site and verify they meet all applicable requirements.

Safety standards also apply to other areas of the scaffolding process.

Falling Object Protection

Workers on scaffolds typically use an assortment of hand tools and other equipment to complete their tasks, which creates a falling objects hazard. OSHA mandates that all workers at a scaffolding job site protect their heads by wearing hard hats. Additionally, workers should install nets, screens or barricades to catch any items or debris that fall from the elevated platform.


Appropriate training is essential for keeping workers safe when working at heights. OSHA requires that anyone who uses scaffolding to perform their job duties receive training from a qualified person, defined as an individual having the background and experience to make them an expert in scaffolding structures.

Also, anyone who transports, assembles, maintains, repairs, operates or inspects scaffolding equipment must receive training from a competent person.

Employers must retrain workers whenever they believe the employees don’t have adequate knowledge or proficiency to perform their job duties safely. A significant change in site conditions can also present retraining opportunities.

Safe Use of Scaffolds

Some workers assume that all scaffolding equipment is alike. However, each type of scaffold has engineering and design nuances, which can lead to accidents if crew members aren’t careful when using the equipment. The best practice for preventing accidents is to follow the operating instructions provided by the manufacturer.

OSHA also prohibits the use of scaffolds in hazardous conditions, such as when snow, ice, oil, water or other slippery substances are covering the equipment.

To reduce the risk of electrocution, keep scaffolds at least 2 feet away from insulated power lines of less than 300 volts. The minimum clearance for insulated power lines of at least 300 volts and all uninsulated lines is 10 feet. 

Accessing Scaffolding Equipment

Injuries can occur when boarding or dismounting from a scaffolding platform. OSHA approves the use of various types of ladders, integral prefabricated frames, stair towers, walkways and ramps when accessing scaffolds.

Follow the “three points of contact” rule when climbing on scaffolding equipment to reduce the risk of falls. Maintain contact with either one hand and two feet or two hands and one foot at all times.

Reach Out to IE for Chicago Area Scaffolding Needs

If you’re looking for high-quality scaffolding solutions in Chicago or the surrounding area, International Equipment has everything you need.

We offer various types of scaffolds for projects performed by general contractors, emergency restoration companies, masons, lighting companies, industrial/manufacturing operations and more. We also offer a host of support services to help you get the most out of your equipment.

Safety is the top priority at IE. Besides providing expertly designed and constructed scaffolds, we offer training that ensures the safe use of scaffolding equipment to reduce the risk of job site accidents.

Contact us for more information today.