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Scaffolding safety

Since our last two safety articles have covered ladder safety it’s important to cover one last item that takes us off the ground - scaffolding. I have only used scaffolding once while traveling as a Care-A-Vanner however; my local affiliate in Salem Oregon uses them frequently. Depending upon the type of work, scaffolding can be more effective and provide improved safety as opposed to step and extension ladders.

A good example of this is installing siding on the gable end of a house where two or more people may be working 10- 20 feet off the ground. If you have doubts about doing a task on a ladder don’t be afraid to ask the local HFH site supervisor if scaffolding might be a good choice for safety and efficiency.

Here are a couple of things to watch out for when you are asked to work on scaffolding or set it up:

  • It is not unusual for scaffolding to be less than new or purchased at different times. This even goes for rentals.
  • The cross bars used for bracing may not match.
  • If the scaffolding does not have cross bar bracing on the front and back don’t get on it! Scaffolding tends to sway a bit, even with the cross bars, so without it can become quite unstable.
  • Make sure it is level end-to-end and side-to-side.

Make sure the feet are not just pole ends but have adjustable plates so you can adjust them for uneven ground.

  • Without these feet one side can sink into the ground and give you a quick push toward the ground, or toward the house if you’re lucky.
  • Never accept a stack of lumber scraps material as a substitute for the missing steel plate (base plates which must be secured to mud sills) on each foot.

Attach the scaffolding to the home to increase stability.

  • This requires some ingenuity. I’ve tied off scaffolding to window openings, beams for porches and sides of houses.
  • The more sections you add on above (usually 6’ in height) the more critical it becomes to secure the scaffolding to some solid object.

Scaffolding should always have a safety rail on the outside and ends.

  • These are not only a safety bar in case you walk too far but provide you a visual guild as to where the end of the scaffold is as you are working and concentrating on the task at hand.

Secure the planks.

  • Make sure the planks overlap 6 (minimum) to 12 (best) inches if the scaffold is extended two sections.
  • If you are fortunate to be using aluminum planks they will normally hook on to the ends of the scaffold so there is no overlap that you normally have with wooden planks.
  • One trick I learned for wooden planks is to put a 2x4 diagonal under the planks in the middle (usually 4” out from the end). Screw the 2x4 to each wood plank. This helps strengthen the plank surface you are working on.

Accessing the scaffolding.

  • A scaffolding section may come with an end component that is a mini ladder (I call it a fireman’s ladder) attached to the end section. Don’t use it.
  • Set a stable extension ladder or step ladder up to access the scaffolding.

These are a few tips. There is a lot more to scaffold safety that I can include but hopefully these ideas will help you stay safe.

Frank Peccia,
Keizer, Oregon