Masons are allowed to be exposed to fall hazards due to over-hand bricklaying while on steel supported scaffolds; the use of side brackets (knee-outs) with supported scaffolds.

It is difficult to imagine masonry construction without scaffolding.  Prior to the advent of steel frame scaffolding, Bricklayer’s Square scaffolding was used to provide an elevated work platform for the masons to conduct their work.  Starting in the 1930’s, steel scaffold frames slowly replaced the wood scaffolds commonly used by masons.  Adjustable scaffolds, specifically designed for masons, became available in the 1970’s and the evolution continues today with mast climbers and other powered platforms being used by masons.

In spite of the variety of the equipment used by masons, several issues have persisted regarding the proper use and safety of scaffolds.  The first issue involves the fall exposure that masons have while constructing a brick wall.  The federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA, standards recognize this issue and in 29 CFR 1926.451(g)(1)(vi) specify that “Each employee performing overhand bricklaying operations from a supported scaffold shall be protected from falling from all open sides and ends of the scaffold (except at the side next to the wall being laid) by the use of a personal fall arrest system or guardrail system.”  While clear in its intent, there are still people who do not understand this.  Simply stated, we allow the mason to be exposed to a fall hazard.  That’s right, the mason can fall over the wall if he so chooses.  However, any reasonable mason understands that if he leans over too far, he will fall over the wall!  Typically, masons like to lay brick at waist high which means that the wall acts as the guardrail—problem solved.  In those instances where the wall is lower, then yes, there is a fall hazard.  But the hazard of trying to work through a guardrail system laying brick frankly is a greater hazard.  Please note that only those who are “performing brick laying operations” are allowed to be exposed to the hazard.  In other words, if you aren’t laying brick, you can’t be there.

The second issue involves the use of side and end brackets (commonly, and incorrectly, called outriggers).  The normal use of these brackets is on the front of the scaffold, between the wall being constructed and the scaffold front leg.  These brackets support the plank for the masons and are moved up in convenient increments as the wall increases in height.  There’s nothing wrong with this installation.  The problem is when masons install these brackets on the back of the scaffold and then used them as a landing or storage platform for brick and mortar.  This is not good unless these brackets have been designed for that purpose.  In fact, OSHA addresses this issue in 29 CFR 1926.452(c)(5)(iii) by emphatically stating that these brackets shall be used to support personnel “unless the scaffold has been designed for other loads by a qualified engineer.”  The reason for this is that it is easy to overload the brackets and also easy to tip the scaffold over, nether prospect being very appealing to the mason.  Keep in mind that the standard doesn’t say you cannot do it; if you would like to do it, hire an engineer who can help you.

The third issue that appears on occasion has to do with the material on the scaffold platforms.  There is another OSHA standard, 29 CFR 1926.250(b)(5), that “Materials shall not be stored on scaffolds or runways in excess of supplies needed for immediate operations.”  A quick read of this standard would suggest that a mason could have no more than a few brick or block on the scaffold at any given time.  In fact, OSHA even issued a Letter of Interpretation that stated that all materials had to be removed from the scaffold at the end of the day.  Fortunately, OSHA clarified this letter and stated that the hazards being addressed by this standard included falling objects and scaffold overload.  OSHA concluded that since these potential hazards are specifically addressed in the scaffold standards, while leaving materials stored on a scaffold may be a violation of 29 CFR 1926.250(b)(5) it shall be considered a de minimis violation, one that carries no fines.  Of course it is assumed that the mason will make sure the brick and block will not fall off the scaffold and the scaffold is not overloaded.  This particular issue has appeared recently on jobsites where the Army Corps of Engineers regulations, EM 385, are enforced.  As with all standards, it is important to know what the intent of a particular standard is and what hazard is being addressed.  Once this is understood, it is much easier to resolve any issues regarding the storage of materials.

As long as we have brick and block walls, we’ll have scaffolding.  Scaffolding has proven to be effective and safe, provided you know how to use it safely.  Do you?

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