Hey there safety-conscious friend! Working on high-rise construction sites, you’ve probably seen your fair share of scaffolds. While extremely useful for accessing those hard-to-reach spots, scaffolds can also be downright dangerous when not set up properly. In fact, thousands of scaffolding accidents happen across the country each year, leading to injuries, deaths, and major liability issues.
One critical factor in scaffold safety is making sure you’ve got stable, solid supports holding the structure up. Use the wrong support, and that scaffold could come crashing down with you on it! Yikes. To help prevent such a nightmare, this article will cover what should not be used as scaffold supports, so you can avoid disasters and work safely way up high. Time to get schooled on scaffolding safety!
What is a Scaffold?
Before we dive into sketchy scaffold supports, let’s quickly cover what a scaffold actually is. A scaffold is basically a temporary elevated platform that provides access for workers and materials during construction, maintenance, painting, inspection, and repair projects. They allow you to work safely at height.
There are a few different types of scaffolds like supported scaffolds, suspended scaffolds, and rolling scaffolds. Supported scaffolds are likely the most common – they use rigid supports like poles, legs, beams, and frames to hold up the work platform.
No matter the style, scaffolds allow you to efficiently access those hard-to-reach spots high up on buildings, bridges, tanks, and other structures. Just don’t forget – with great height comes great responsibility!
OSHA Scaffolding Regulations
Working on scaffolds has its risks, which is why the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has strict regulations for scaffold safety. Two key rules relate to scaffold supports:
- Scaffolds and scaffold components must support 4 times the maximum intended load without failure.
- Footings and anchorage must be sound, rigid, and prevent settling/displacement when loaded.
Oh, and OSHA also clearly states that unstable objects cannot be used to support scaffolds or planks. Let’s review exactly which objects you should avoid using!
Unsafe Scaffold Supports to Avoid
Starting with the obvious – you’ll want to steer clear of using unstable objects like barrels, boxes, loose bricks, or concrete blocks to prop up your scaffolding.
These makeshift supports can easily shift, slide, tip over, or crush under the immense weight of a loaded scaffold. Not exactly a rock-solid foundation! Suddenly removing that precarious barrel support could bring the whole scaffold down in seconds.
Similarly, heavy equipment like front-end loaders, forklifts, backhoes, and cranes may seem sturdy, but their stability is not designed for long-term scaffold supports.
Vehicles can shift or settle under the immense scaffolding loads, which then transfers risky, uneven forces to the scaffolding structure above. Work vehicles also may need to move frequently, leaving the scaffold stranded without support. Definitely don’t use the forklift as a makeshift scaffold stand!
While cross braces provide crucial structural support on a scaffold, they should never be used as rails or climbing supports by workers.
Cross bracing lacks the proper top rail or midrail strength and height for adequate fall protection. Putting your weight on cross bracing can also lead to a catastrophic collapse as the brace joints fail. Don’t be tempted to scale the cross bracing like a ladder – that’s a fast track to disaster!
Modified or Altered Components
Finally, avoid jury-rigging scaffold parts or making modifications without the manufacturer’s approval. Altering the original scaffold design often compromises safety by removing engineered safeguards, capacity markers, and load-bearing capabilities.
You should absolutely never use materials like steel or plastic banding in place of standard top rails or midrails either – it simply doesn’t have the strength to withstand a worker’s fall.
Proper Scaffold Footings
Now that you know what not to use, let’s discuss how to properly support your scaffolding to keep things nice and stable.
Base Plates and Mud Sills
Base plates and mud sills are key for distributing the scaffolding load evenly across the footing area. This prevents the scaffold legs from sinking into soft or uneven ground.
Base plates must be level and plumb to provide a flat, consistent foundation. Mud sills made of large timber spread the load over soft soils, preventing the scaffold from toppling over.
Compacted soil, concrete pads, large dimensional lumber like 4x4s, or steel I-beams also make ideal footings. These materials can easily withstand the expected scaffolding loads without deflecting or settling.
Look for footings that offer firm, even support across the entire scaffold base. Avoid small concentrated supports that focus too much localized pressure in one spot.
In some cases, structural members like steel I-beams or large timber can be used to bridge spans between uneven footings or soft soils.
This helps transfer the scaffold load to more stable adjacent foundations. Just be sure to properly secure the structural members so they cannot shift or be displaced under load.
Follow Manufacturer Specs
When in doubt, consult the scaffolding manufacturer’s specifications for proper footing requirements based on the scaffold design and expected loading.
Many manufacturers provide detailed specifications and structural engineering tables showing exactly how to configure footings based on factors like scaffold height, materials, and number of platforms.
Consequences of Improper Supports
Clearly, you want to avoid makeshift scaffolding supports to prevent a potentially deadly collapse. But what actually happens when you ignore stability and just wing it with those stacks of bricks? Let’s find out.
Using unstable objects like barrels or loose debris to prop up scaffolding might seem convenient in the moment. But the result can be a sudden, catastrophic collapse of the entire scaffold structure.
When a precariously supported scaffold gives out, workers on the platform can fall 10 feet or more to the ground below, easily leading to serious injuries or death. Employers can also face major OSHA fines and legal liability for the incident.
Falling Object Hazards
Unstable scaffolding also allows loose construction materials, tools, debris and other objects to slide or fall off the platforms.
This creates a major falling object hazard for workers below, who could suffer traumatic head and body blows from heavy items dropping from height. Properly braced scaffolds help contain loose objects.
Excess or uneven loading on a poorly supported scaffold can also lead to bent, cracked, or broken scaffold planks, poles, frames and braces.
This structural damage severely compromises the scaffold’s strength and load capacity, requiring immediate removal from service for repairs.
Be sure to avoid using unstable objects, heavy equipment, cross bracing, or modified components to support your scaffolding. Rely on base plates, solid footings, and structural members to create a sound foundation. When it doubt, check the manufacturer’s specifications for proper footing requirements.
Remember, improper scaffold supports put you at risk of a platform collapse, falling objects, and equipment damage. Taking the time to build a stable support system could save your life working way up high!