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Is the scaffolding you are on really safe?

Nearly every Pennsylvania construction worker will spend at least some time on scaffolding during his or her career. You may trust that it is constructed properly and adheres to regulations, safety standards and requirements of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration -- at the very least. Unfortunately, OSHA's third most common citation involves improper scaffolding.

Each year, scaffolding injuries occur approximately 4,500 times. Sadly, around 50 of the people who suffer those injuries die as a result. Understanding what OSHA expects from your employer regarding the scaffolding you rely on not to plunge to your death may help you take your safety into your own hands.

What OSHA expects when it comes to scaffolding safety

Understanding that maintaining a safe work environment is paramount, OSHA developed some safety standards that your employer ought to adhere to in order to help keep you safe while on scaffolding:

  • Workers cannot erect, move, dismantle or alter scaffolding without supervision by a competent person.
  • The scaffolding cannot be within 10 feet of electrical power lines at any time.
  • Scaffolding cannot hold more than its own weight plus four times the weight of the load it is to hold.
  • You should only use stairwells and ladders to access the scaffolding.
  • The scaffolding should be stable. OSHA prohibits the use of unsteady objects as support.
  • Your employer must train you regarding the dangers of diagonal braces as fall support.
  • OSHA requires guardrails, midrails and toeboards on scaffolding.
  • Any synthetic or natural rope used on a suspension scaffold setup requires careful monitoring. It should not come into contact anything that produces heat.
  • The competent person must inspect any suspension scaffolding before each shift and certainly before anyone gets on it.
  • All of the scaffolding's components require routine and frequent inspection. Repairs and replacements should occur immediately.
  • Your employer should choose the appropriate materials for the scaffolding needed at a particular site.
  • The competent person must perform periodic inspections of all the scaffolding. Even minute flaws require immediate attention.

If you feel that the scaffolding at your work site does not meet with these standards, you have the right to speak up. Of course, even when you, your co-workers, the competent person and your employer do everything right, accidents still happen.

If you suffer injuries while working on scaffolding, you may qualify for workers' compensation benefits to help with your medical expenses. You could even receive a portion of your income during your recovery. Depending on the severity of your injuries, other benefits may be available.

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