It’s estimated that over half of all scaffold accidents in Ontario every year are falls.
While convenient to use, scaffolds can pose serious risks if proper precautions and working at heights control measures aren’t observed.
Considering that scaffold hazards cause serious injuries and even fatalities every year, it is important to get a thorough grasp on how to avoid danger and have an appropriate set of scaffolding safety regulations.
While there are different types of scaffolds, there are a number of risks and hazards common to all, as well as corresponding safety measures you can take to mitigate these hazards.
Here’s a list of common work at heights hazards:
- Improper safety measures when raising and dismantling scaffolding
- Lack of guardrails
- Overhead electrical wires and risk of electrocution
- Planks slipping or breaking
- Rolling scaffolds
- Overloading platforms
- Climbing on scaffolding
Raising and dismantling scaffolding
When erecting scaffolding, a common hazard is not providing an appropriate platform for the worker as they are installing the next lift.
Also, failure to install tie-ins may result in the scaffolding swaying enough to topple someone off their working platform, especially when the platform is not sufficient.
Accidents are frequently reported in situations where the worker was only working from a platform of one or two planks.
Lack of guardrails
The use of guardrails is recommended for any platform higher than 5 feet, but this precaution is often not observed which has resulted in falls and serious injuries.
Many falls from scaffolds are from platforms of less than 10 feet high, so a guardrail should be considered an important control measure.
Overhead electrical wires
Contact with electrical wires puts workers in serious danger. Scaffold electrical hazards include failing to observe safe distances from electrical lines, especially when hoisting scaffolding on a jobsite.
Planks slipping or breaking
If scaffold planks are unsecured, overloaded or in bad condition, they can break or slide which causes many falls and injuries.
Moving a rolling scaffold while workers are still on the platform can be a very dangerous practice and can cause workers to fall or slip, especially if the working platforms are already insufficient and/or if any of the planks are loose or loaded down too heavily.
Placing excessive weight on a working platform can cause planks to crack or break. Another common problem is when working material overhangs the scaffold platform and causes the platform to tip and slide.
Climbing on scaffolding
Climbing up and down a scaffolding platform rather than using appropriate equipment like ladders poses another serious risk and has resulted in many falls and injuries.
If the scaffolding has not been secured properly, this practice also poses a risk to other workers on the platform.
Scaffolding safety checklist
How do we avoid falls and injuries related to these hazards and improper practices? Let’s take a look at the basics of scaffolding safety and some best practices to observe.
Choose the right scaffolding system
There are varying types of scaffolds that are better suited to different work sites and tasks. It is important to take the specifics of a job site and the nature of the task into consideration before selecting a scaffolding system.
Rolling scaffolds, for example, are best suited for jobs of shorter duration and are commonly used for electrical and mechanical work; whereas a standard frame scaffold is typically used for longer-term work and heavier loads, and is designed for pedestrians to walk under.
Location hazards and safe surfaces
Before erecting a scaffold, check the location for possible hazards like sloping or uneven surfaces, overhead wires, or any other obstructions.
Soil must be compacted and even, and gravel or stone will need to be laid on soft soil or muddy surfaces. Additionally, scaffolding erected on soil will need planks, or mudsills, laid underneath the frame either length-wise or width-wise which must extend approximately one foot beyond the scaffold.
Assembling a scaffold too quickly or without proper attention to detail can result in serious problems.
Follow manufacturer’s instructions carefully while assembling a scaffold, ensuring that all braces, parts and fittings have been installed accordingly.
Accidents and fatalities are sometimes caused by the lack of a guardrail. A scaffold should always have a guardrail. Most injuries related to lack of guardrails take place on scaffolding at lower heights.
All components of a scaffold, including the working platforms and planks, must be carefully inspected before and after use. Check for rust, breakage, cracks, and any warping or deterioration.
It is critical to observe manufacturer’s instructions regarding the load-bearing capacity of a scaffold.
Overloading a platform can result in breakage or the platform tipping and knocking over a worker.
When a scaffold has been up for a longer period of time, rust or deterioration of parts can cause it to become more difficult to take apart.
However, yanking or tugging on components can prove dangerous, causing a worker to lose balance and fall.
Extra care should be taken and workers should wear appropriate fall protection equipment when dismantling any kind of scaffold. Each tier of a scaffold should be completely taken apart before progressing to the next tier.
Scaffolding safety regulations
Ontario law requires that:
- all platforms on a scaffold must be at least 18 inches wide
- all platforms higher than 8 feet must have a full deck
- scaffolds must be able to support up to four times the load it is likely to bear without being overturned
- each scaffold must be designed, tested and certified by a professional engineer
- each scaffold must have a guardrail
- scaffolds must be regularly inspected
- number one grade lumber must be used for work platforms
Additionally, all workers must be trained to follow appropriate criteria for working at heights.
Working at heights training is mandatory for all employees on construction sites where workers may be at risk of falls. Appropriate fall protection equipment must be worn for workers operating at a height of 3 metres (10 feet) or more.
By following proper safety protocol, observing manufacturer’s instructions, and being aware of any potential risks or dangers on a job site, most scaffold hazards can be avoided.
For certain longterm applications some may be better served with a permanent custom-made platform to access equipment.