Workplace Safety Guides

   History of Scaffolding


As scaffolds are used on almost every construction site, it comes as no surprise that this topic was one most frequently recommended to OSHA for discussion. Although scaffolds are intended to serve as a safe work platform, OSHA data show that during 1985 to 1989 approximately 20 percent of the construction fatalities due to falls were from scaffolds.

Clearly more attention needs to be focused on scaffolds when inspecting construction sites. It's important to know what to look for during such an inspection.

In recent years, more then 50 percent of OSHA's inspections have been in the construction industry. Since scaffolds are used at most construction sites, OSHA seeks to aid compliance officers in conducting inspections.

Scaffolds have been in use in some form or other since people began to build structures. It's likely that some form of scaffolding or work platform was used in constructing the pyramids of Egypt, as well as the Great Wall of China.

Today scaffolds continue to be used in almost every type of construction. As far back as 1915, scaffolds caused enough safety problems in the United States to prompt an insurance company to publish a book titled "Safety Engineering Applied to Scaffolds," on related safety hazards. This publication describes scaffolds in use at that time as being badly designed, often constructed with inferior materials, dangerous, and unfit for their intended use. Regrettably, that description is applicable today. In many instances things have not changed that much.

There have been improvements over the years in the design and in the components of scaffolds. As new designs and technology change the work environment, improvements and/or modifications of work practices and regulations are required to reflect these changes, and because the scaffold industry is so fluid, and the need to keep current so great, the OSHA scaffold standard, subpart L, is presently being updated to reflect some of these changes.

There are basic scaffold requirements found in the current standard, general provisions of the proposed standard, and some of the critical items to look for during an inspection. Compliance officers should carefully review the new standard when issued to identify any specific technical requirements or changes.

It's helpful to take a close up look at scaffolds: how they are made and used. Since the 1930s, metal has been the preferred material used to construct scaffolds instead of wood, making scaffolds lighter, stronger and easier to assemble. In spite of these improvements many injuries and fatalities still occur due to improper assembly, disassembly, and use of scaffolds.

Considering the wide variety of scaffolds in use and the hazards they pose, it isn't surprising that a recent OSHA study showed that 20 percent of construction deaths were due to falls from scaffolds or elevated work platforms.

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