Falls are an all-too-common occurrence in the construction industry. According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls represent one of the leading causes of construction-related deaths, topping the list of the agency’s “Fatal Four” most common dangers (which also includes object strikes, electrocutions and getting caught in between objects or equipment). 

Due to the high risk of falling, scaffolding is essential at construction sites throughout the Chicago area and beyond. Besides elevating workers, these temporary structures provide reliable fall protection — assuming the users implement the equipment correctly and use it safely. 

To ensure the safe utilization of scaffolding equipment, OSHA has developed a set of regulations that construction operations must follow. These requirements of scaffolding in construction apply to areas such as weight, stability, materials, maintenance and many others. 

Setup and Building Processes

Because of the dangerous nature of working at heights, not just anyone can oversee the assembly and erection of scaffolding equipment — OSHA regulations state that a “competent person” must supervise the tasks. OSHA defines a competent person as an individual who has the experience, judgment and other essential qualifications to identify any predictable hazards or potentially unsafe conditions in the area. 

Safe Scaffolding Accessibility Practices

Before workers can use scaffolding equipment, they must be able to access it safely. OSHA does not consider using makeshift staircases made of loose boards or climbing up the side of the scaffold as safe mounting methods. Instead, individuals must use stable ropes, ladders or similar items when ascending or descending. 

What Are the Scaffolding Weight Limits?

An overloaded scaffold poses a dangerous situation for workers, as it increases the risk of shifting or settling. OSHA stipulates that scaffolding equipment must support its weight and at least four times the maximum intended load. To calculate the max intended load, add the weight of all workers, tools, equipment, transmitted loads and any other loads that job planners reasonably anticipate applying. 

At What Height Is Scaffolding Required?

OSHA does not have any minimum or maximum height requirements when using scaffolding equipment. However, the agency does mandate that a registered professional engineer must design any scaffolds that are more than 125 feet high. These structures typically require additional support to protect against high winds and other potential hazards. 

Do You Need to Implement Fall Protection With Scaffolding?

Any worker who is more than 10 feet above the ground or a lower level of scaffolding must receive protection from a fall arrest system or guardrails. When using the latter, the height of the guardrails must be between 38 and 45 inches (for equipment manufactured and placed in service after January 1, 2000). For older scaffolding, the height requirement is between 36 and 45 inches.

What Are Acceptable Scaffolding Materials?

Scaffolding should feature plank-grade building materials. OSHA-grade planks consist of Yellow Southern Pine and are available in lengths of 8 feet, 12 feet and 16 feet. When constructing the scaffold, it’s crucial to place the planks tightly to reduce the risk of shifting and keep small tools or other items from slipping through cracks. The opening between the platform and uprights should not exceed 1 inch. When using side brackets or irregularly shaped structures with a wider opening, the space should not exceed 9 inches.

Keeping Scaffolding Away From Power Lines

Construction work often takes place near electrical power lines, which poses an electrocution risk. To mitigate this hazard, OSHA requires that construction operations must place scaffolds at least 10 feet away from insulated electrical lines that produce 300 volts or more and a minimum of 2 feet away from lines of less than 300 volts. 

The Importance of Creating and Maintaining Scaffolding Stability

A stable scaffold is crucial for preventing falls, collapses and tipping caused by high winds. Always place scaffolding on a flat, even surface that is free of debris. Never use unsteady objects to support scaffolding or planks. Examples of items that could result in OSHA violations include boxes, loose bricks, vehicle tires, boards and sticks.

If you use a forklift to support a scaffold, the entire platform must be attached to the fork. Also, the lift can only move the platform vertically (not horizontally) when it contains workers. You can use a front-end loader or similar machine to raise and lower the platform, but only if the manufacturer has designed the model for this purpose. 

Proper Scaffolding Preventive Maintenance Steps

Like all mechanical equipment, scaffolds require regular maintenance to ensure they remain in safe operating condition. OSHA defines maintenance as the process of keeping equipment in proper working order via the application of routine, scheduled or anticipated steps. Regarding scaffolding, these practices typically include checking brackets, braces, trusses, ladders and screw legs. The technicians should immediately repair or replace any worn-out, damaged or underperforming components. 

If you deploy suspension scaffolding that uses ropes to raise and lower the platform from the top of a building, you’ll need to check the ropes regularly for tears, abrasions and other signs of wear. Avoid using this equipment near heat sources, such as flames or hot-running machinery, as heat exposure can cause degradation. 

What Are the OSHA Scaffolding Inspection Requirements?

Along with routine maintenance, you should also perform regular inspections of the scaffolding equipment. A “competent person” should conduct the process before each work shift to verify that the scaffolds are free of any safety issues. It’s also essential to inspect the scaffolds after making any alterations that could weaken their structural integrity. 

If you implement suspension scaffolding, you must inspect the rigging before every shift. Even a slight defect or minor damage could make the equipment unsafe to operate. 

Training for Employees Who Use Scaffolding

Because of the potential dangers when using supported scaffolds, OSHA also mandates that all employees who work on them must receive training from a qualified person. The instruction should focus on recognizing the risks presented by the specific scaffold type and how to reduce them. It must cover fall, falling object and electrical hazards, the appropriate use of the equipment and the safe handling of materials when working at elevation. 

Our Scaffolding Services and Cuplock Equipment

Are you looking for safe scaffolding equipment in the Chicago area? International Equipment carries a full selection of products you can use with confidence at your job sites. We offer cuplock scaffolding that provides a versatile solution for construction work and building maintenance and renovation applications. Benefits of cuplock scaffolding include:

  • Circular node design that facilitates the connection of up to four horizontals to a vertical member.
  • Easy installation that saves time and labor.
  • Built-in flexibility that enables you to fit the equipment around structures and into hard-to-access areas.
  • Simple handling and storage whenever you’re not using it.

We also support all our scaffolding with excellent service. We can supply skilled labor to erect and dismantle your equipment safely. We can also provide training that meets the stringent OSHA requirements for construction scaffolding and minimizes the hazards to your workers. And our in-house engineering capabilities can deliver a custom-tailored solution that meets your unique job site requirements. 

Contact IE today for more information regarding the basic rules of scaffolding. We’ll also be happy to provide a free estimate for our cuplock scaffolding equipment.