Workplace Safety Guides

   Scaffolding Inspection Tips for Compliance Officers


There are a number of things a compliance officer should be looking for when inspecting scaffolds. In addition to checking for the stability of a scaffold, check for any damage to component sections, individual members, planks, or accessory items.

Manufacturers rate scaffolds to support four times the maximum intended load. Because of the complexities of scaffold erection and the multitude of configurations possible, maximum loads for scaffolds are normally determined by engineering calculations.

During the initial inspection, look for signs of distortion or bent members when considering weight limitations on scaffolds. For example, ANSI limits plank deflections under a load to one-sixtieth of the length of a span. In other words, a ten-foot span is limited to two inches of deflection, which can be measured with a tape measure and a straight edge. Also, note whether an access ladder or equivalent means of safely getting onto and off of a scaffold is provided.

Ideally scaffold planks should be metal, usually aluminum. When wood is used, however, the planks must be scaffold grade or the equivalent. That means the specific classification of strength as determined by either the West Coast Lumber Inspection Bureau or the Southern Pines Inspection Bureau. The classifications are marked on each plank. All planking and platform sections must be overlapped a minimum of 12 inches or be secured from movement.

Additionally, when cleated or otherwise secured, planking must extend at least six inches over the scaffold end supports or bearers to insure that it does not slip off in use. The planking must not extend more then 18 inches beyond the supports unless barricaded.

In review, accident data tell us that the most important item to inspect on any scaffold is the fall protection system and the stability of the structure. Falls are by far the leading cause of scaffold fatalities. Since scaffolds are elevated work platforms, all components contribute to fall prevention.

When inspecting a scaffold operation, inspectors should check for support under each leg and every frame. Make sure that all base plates are in firm contact with supports. Inspect frames for plumbness. Check frames for gaps and misalignment of adjustment screws. Make sure that all end frames have cross braces to insure stability and plumbness of units. Inspect locking devices, making sure they are tight, and check all planking for proper installation. Make sure anchors are secure between scaffold and structure where required. Verify that all guardrails are in place and secure. Inspect motors on all power driven scaffolds for proper operation and certification. Check ropes on all suspension scaffolds for proper size and for signs of wear or deterioration.

A compliance officer's familiarity with the standards, coupled with a careful inspection of scaffolds found at the worksite, will contribute to reducing a large number of accidents and deaths due to falls from these elevations.

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