A collapsing scaffold can cause considerable harm to those on it and those beneath it, even if it is not very high off the ground when it fails.
Safety By Design lists just a few of the scaffolding requirements that the Occupational Safety and Health Administration provides and enforces to mitigate the hazards every worker faces on and around scaffolds.
Setup and maintenance
An employer cannot task just anyone on the construction site to set up a scaffold. OSHA requires that only a competent person can supervise the processes of setting up, relocating, changing and taking down scaffolding. Training and authorization are key to being competent.
Anyone on the job site may help with maintenance, as this involves examining the components for weakness or damage. However, the competent person is responsible for officially inspecting the scaffolding and rigging.
Stability, materials, capacity and access
When erecting the scaffolding, workers should never use unsteady objects such as boxes, loose bricks, etc. to brace or support planking or other components. The footing should be level and solid. Workers must use stairwells or ladders to access scaffolding.
The planks should be tight, and they should be of plank grade materials. The scaffold must be strong enough to support its own weight and four times the maximum load for its intended use.
OSHA provides specifications for guardrails, midrails and toeboards. Workers should not count on these alone for fall protection, though. Employers should provide personal fall arrest systems to workers, and these should include harnesses.
Even with so many protections in place, accidents happen. Whether the worker receives workers’ compensation or may file a legal action against the employer or a third party often is a matter for investigation by experts.