Existing Structure Shoring

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Shoring existing structures can be a tricky business and the older the building, the trickier it can become.  Many older structures do not have drawings of the existing construction and if they do, they are not always reliable.  Many buildings go through generations of remodel with additions, renovations and improvisations that are not always documented properly.  Without proper documentation, it is sometimes difficult to determine the load bearing members in an existing building and this makes it difficult to shore.  If you can’t figure out where the loads are concentrated, you can’t figure out how to safely and economically support anything.

When undertaking the task of existing structure shoring you should consider consulting an engineer – and I don’t just say that because I happen to be an engineer!  The peace of mind that you get from entrusting this work to an engineer far outweighs the risk of liability if something goes wrong during the shoring operation. 

Things that your engineer will need to know before starting a shoring plan include the type of work being performed, the boundaries of work, distance to any excavation, dimensions of the building and location of load bearing members.  Other pertinent information includes the dead load of the supported area and any anticipated live loads – for example, will an office building remain occupied or is your customer trying to keep the parking garage operational during construction?  Depending on the scope of the job, snow and wind loads may also need to be taken into account.  Be certain to consider any special circumstances like required access openings in the shoring plan and work sequencing that would affect the standing shores.  Drawings, schematics and photographs can be provided to convey most of this information but, in some cases, it is easier and most cost effective for the person designing the shoring plan to visit the site.

If an existing structure is improperly shored, there is danger of damaging the building or of a collapse.  Providing as much accurate information as possible to your shoring designer will help to minimize risk and ensure the most accurate and economical design.  Don’t take chances, if in doubt get a professional engineer involved and maximize your chances of shoring success!

Fall Protection – The Full Package

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It has been said that the best solution for fall protection is to not fall, but as falls account for several deaths on construction sites, it turns out this plan doesn’t work out and will make OSHA very grumpy. This topic may be stale news to the salty veterans who have been around the block a time or two but I would be willing to bet that there are very few who consider all aspects of a fall protection every time they don their harness.

Whether you are the engineer designing the plan or the contractor whose life relies on the plan, there are several aspects of fall protection that need to be considered. The most familiar components of fall protection are the personal fall arrest system and the anchor which the system is attached to. Most anyone who has needed to utilize fall protection in their line of work knows that OSHA requires you to use a personal fall arrest system and be connected to a suitable anchor which is capable of supporting 5,000 pounds or be designed by a qualified person. In addition a fall protection user must consider the anchor location in relation to the work area, the fall distance and a rescue plan which are just as important and easier to overlook.

After determining the personal fall arrest system and a suitable anchor, next, consider the work area in relation to the fall protection anchor: It is always a good practice to keep the fall protection system as close to 90 degrees to the edge of the fall hazard as possible. This will limit the amount of swing in the event of a fall reducing the risk of the worker swinging into an object below.

Next, consider the fall distance to prevent a worker from hitting a lower level or an obstruction below as they fall. This aspect of fall protection has the highest variability and can change with each setup. The fall distance can be as little as a few feet if using a self-retracting lifeline attached to a rigid anchor to upwards of 20 feet with some horizontal lifeline applications.

Finally, any fall protection plan is pointless without a way to rescue the poor soul hanging from the system. The fact of the matter is that the fall is not the only way to cause injury and/or death. The sustained mobility of being suspended and the potential for the harness to restrict blood flow can cause serious issues if the worker is not rescued within a reasonable amount of time.

A well designed and implemented fall protection plan must consider all of these aspects. Fall protection may or may not be your bread and butter, however when you need it, considering only some of the aspects could turn into a very bad day. All good ideas start with a plan but without the follow through you’re just a guy hanging there hoping on a dream.


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A lot has been said about falls and fall protection. The U.S. Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA, has emphasized fall hazard awareness and increased enforcement of the fall protection regulations for years in the hope that deaths and major injuries due to falls in the workplace can be reduced. Manufacturers and suppliers are complementing the OSHA emphasis by offering a plethora of products that can be used to keep employees from falling. Or, more accurately, to keep employees from falling from heights to levels below in such a manner that they get injured or killed.

Due to the complexity of fall protection, it is not a simple procedure to provide personal fall protection equipment in such a way that it will protect an employee in all situations all the time. Confusing the matter is the inaccurate information, conflicting codes and interests, and a whole bunch of misconceptions about fall protection. Here are a few of the more frequently asked questions (FAQS)

What’s a personal fall arrest system? A personal fall arrest system (PFAS) consists of a full body harness, a shock absorbing lanyard or self-retracting lanyard, a vertical lifeline or horizontal lifeline, and an anchor. Alternatively, the lanyard can be attached directly to an anchor, eliminating the lifeline.

Is it true that I can use either a guardrail system or personal fall arrest system when working on a supported scaffold such as a frame or systems scaffold? That is true although the guardrail will be much more effective unless you are using the fall arrest system for fall restraint.

What is fall restraint? Fall restraint is using a personal fall arrest system to keep you from going off the edge of an exposed platform edge. It’s like hooking up the employee to a leash.

Why is a guardrail system more effective than a PFAS? A guardrail system keeps you on the platform or floor while a PFAS catches you after you have decided to leave the platform or floor.

I went bungee jumping once and found it to be exhilarating. Does one get the same thrill from falling off a floor while wearing a PFAS? I don’t know—I haven’t done either one although I want to jump off a bridge attached to a rubber band—sounds like fun. Falling from heights utilizing a PFAS, on the other hand is a whole different experience. While it is often perceived that no injury will occur due to a fall, the truth is quite the opposite. While there are those who experience no injury, typical injuries include severe bruising and intestinal damage. Frankly, the only thing worse than falling while wearing a PFAS is falling without a PFAS.

That doesn’t make sense: people use PFAS daily and I don’t hear of any injuries. What gives? The fact of the matter is that employees utilize/wear PFAS but very, very few actually use it. In other words, although employees wear harnesses and are attached to anchors, they rarely actually use the harness because they don’t fall from heights. Consequently, since they don’t fall, they don’t get hurt.

I have been told that my PFAS anchor has to hold 5,000 pounds unless it is designed by a qualified person, that is someone who knows how to design the anchor and system. Is this true?
Yes it is. The OSHA regulations and other codes require that the anchor you use has to be “capable of supporting at least 5,000 pounds per employee attached, or shall be designed, installed and used as part of a complete PFAS which maintains a safety factor of at least two and under the supervision of a qualified person.” [29 CFR 1926.502(d)(15)]

Are you telling me that before I attach my lifeline or lanyard to an anchor I must have someone determine it can hold 5,000 pounds? Yes.

Come on, no one does that. Everyone eyeballs the chosen anchor and estimates its strong enough. You mean I cannot do that? That is correct: OSHA says you cannot do that.

But it works; I mean that is what everyone does so isn’t it okay? It works because you don’t fall and therefore you never actually use the anchor! Just because you hook off to something that you call an anchor does not an anchor make. In other words, just because it looks good doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to work. While not recommended, you must jump off the floor to see if your anchor will work.

Why does everyone get away with guessing as to the strength of the anchor? That’s easy; the regulation isn’t enforced. Besides, all the safety folks are happy if the guy is “tied off.” Luckily we don’t have too many employees jumping or falling off floors.

Isn’t tying off the same as utilizing PFAS? No way. You can tie off to anything, including yourself. Properly utilizing a PFAS means that you have selected an anchor that will support 5,000 pounds or you have tied off to an anchor designed by a qualified person in compliance with the mandatory OSHA regulations.

And what are those mandatory regulations? Here are a few: Limit the freefall to 6 feet; stop within 3.5 feet, (known as the deceleration distance); limit the force on the body to 1,800 pounds; and the most important, don’t hit the surface below.

That sounds complicated; is it? Yes, it can get very complicated to design a system that provides 100% fall protection and be in compliance with all of the applicable codes and OSHA regulations. Fortunately, the fall protection equipment manufacturers have done an incredible job of consistently developing new products that can be used to assist employers in protecting employees from fall hazards. It is amazing the changes that have occurred since I first got into the business many years ago. Unfortunately, too many employees lack the training to use the equipment properly. Fortunately, very few employees ever get the opportunity to actually use their PFAS!

How do I obtain the training to utilize and maybe use my PFAS correctly? There are numerous seminars that offer fall protection training. However, I suggest first contacting the manufacturer of your equipment since it should know its products. To learn about the applicable regulations, select a seminar that fits your needs, such as user, inspector or competent person. And finally, verify that the instructor is qualified to teach the seminar.

The ABCs of an Efficient Temporary Wall Bracing Plan

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A common concern for many of our clients is to improve the schedule of a job in order to increase revenue and profit. One of the most common ways for a project to gain time in a schedule is to install temporary wall bracing, typically using tilt-up style metal braces. When trying to design the most efficient temporary wall bracing plan, one might want to consider what I like to call the “ABC’s”:

A. Angle: brace capacities are given as an axial load.  After calculating the required horizontal bracing force, the designer must consider how the angle of the brace is going to transfer that horizontal load into an axial load.  This can drastically affect your brace spacing if your brace angle is 60 degrees versus 45 degrees.

B. Bottom: this is typically the main complication of a bracing plan.  The temporary brace resists the overturning of a wall near the top, but there is still the total horizontal load that needs to be resolved at the bottom.  For example, assume that the average load against a 12’ high wall is 5,000 lbs, and it is applied at 1/3 the height (this scenario is similar to backfilling a wall).  The overturning of that backfill is (5,000 lbs) X (12 ft) x (1/3) = 20,000 ft*lbs.  If the brace is installed at 10’, then the required horizontal capacity is (20,000 ft*lbs) / (10 ft) = 2,000 lbs.  However, if the original load against the wall is 5,000 lbs and the brace is only resisting 2,000 lbs, then the bottom of the wall still needs to resist 3,000 lbs.  Typically this is accomplished by installing the slab on grade.  If the slab on grade is not installed, then the designer must analyze the wall itself to resist the load or specify an additional permanent support.  If the wall itself is not sufficient, then it is typically in the best interest of the contractor to install the slab on grade.

C. Connection: connections will need to support shear loads vertically on the wall, horizontally on the slab, and vertically on the slab.  There may be limitations in the existing structure due to substrate thickness, edge/spacing distances, and ground bearing capacity.

By keeping these guidelines in mind, designers maximize the efficiency of bracing for the contractor and the project.

Seismic Retrofit of Existing Buildings

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The process of evaluating and designing the retrofit of existing buildings differs from the conventional structural design of new buildings. The current state-of-the-art analysis and design approach for the seismic evaluation of existing buildings is founded on a performance-based philosophy. There are two parts to a performance-based analysis and design.

First, there is the establishment of a performance objective. This answers the question for the designer and the owner, “What degree of damage to the building am I willing to tolerate in the event of an earthquake?” It is not economically feasible to design all buildings to a performance objective that limits all damage or allows the building to remain fully operational and allow immediate occupancy following an earthquake. Therefore, performance objectives exist that allow a certain degree of damage to occur while still protecting life safety and preventing building collapse.

Second, there is the establishment of the seismic demand used in the analysis of the building. Statistical analysis is used to determine the probability of the maximum considered earthquake (MCE) occurring at the building site at any given time. The MCE demand level varies based on the time frame considered and the probability that there will be ground motion at the site that exceeds the MCE (i.e. 5% probability of exceedance in 50 years). Together with these two variables the mean return period of an earthquake can be established (i.e. it can be expected that an earthquake of ‘X’ magnitude, or the MCE, will occur approximately at least every 975 years).

There are various performance objectives and seismic demand levels that may be considered. Any given combination of performance objective and seismic demand level will result in a varied stringency of analysis and design. Combining a strict performance objective (i.e. operational post-earthquake) with an earthquake of relatively long return period (2500 years) will likely result in a robust, yet potentially expensive, design.

In conventional structural analysis and design, the seismic demand used for the design of the seismic force resisting system is reduced by a system-wide Response Modification Factor, R. This coefficient is established based on the ductility of the lateral system selected for design. The R-Factor is intended to act as a representation of the ability of the lateral system to dissipate energy as it flexes, bends, and undergoes inelastic deformation under seismic load.

In the evaluation of existing buildings, the concept of reducing the demand to account for ductility in a system is captured by using component specific m-factors. Rather than reducing the seismic demand, m-factors are applied to scale up the strength or capacity of individual structural elements that experience ductile or “Deformation Controlled” failure. These m-factors vary by component and allow the design professional to apply a uniform seismic demand to the system while modifying the strength of each individual element of the system according to its ductility. This philosophy is ideal for seismic retrofits that require the introduction of an entirely new lateral system or the strengthening of only a few discrete components.

Bridge Overhang Brackets

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The proper design of bridge overhang brackets and related falsework is critical. Failure to properly design this falsework can result in partial collapse of the formwork/falsework, damage to the bridge structure and damage to equipment.

Typical bridge construction requires the use of falsework to support workers, the outer edge of the concrete bridge deck, deck screed and sometimes the weight of the concrete barrier.

Falsework is typically anchored to bridge girders by either cast in place steel anchors or by using a cast in place sleeve that allows the use of a threaded rod or coil rod. These anchors can then be fastened to the overhang bracket itself.

Bridge Overhang BracketsCast in place anchors for bridge formwork is available by many suppliers. Some critical things to consider is where the anchor is placed. In box beams for instance, the thickness of the concrete along the top of the box beam may limit the capacity of the anchor. If the capacity of the anchor is limited, then the spacing of the brackets will need to be reduced, resulting in increased costs of equipment and labor. For Bulb Tee beams care also needs to be used when deciding where to place either cast in place anchors or tubular inserts. If cast in place anchors are used, they are typically placed on the edge of the top flange. If the top flange is too thin, then the flange of the girder may be the weak link in the system. Where tubular inserts are used the strength of the girder is less of a concern. When using tubular inserts, a special bracket (typically a steel angle) is required to allow the nuts for the inserted rod to bear properly and prevent bending of the rod.

Supports between the overhang brackets can be made of almost any material. Typically lumber 4×4’s or aluminum beams are used. Additional supports are required under the screed form and may be much larger than the typical supports. The support beams under the concrete deck typically have a tighter spacing than for the walkway.

Where very large screed equipment is used, the equipment typically has a set of multiple wheels. Analysis of the supporting beams for the screed load is a complicated task. Analysis of the multiple screed wheels on a multiple span beam at multiple locations along the beam is required to determine the maximum shear, bending and reaction forces.

On occasion, high winds can cause major damage to the falsework. Wind uplift forces have in the past resulted in the falsework being lifted up and over the edge of the bridge resulting in construction delays and equipment damage. Entire girders may need to be replaced if cast in place anchors were used. To prevent this type of problem multiple methods for holding down the falsework can be used. Brackets can be held down with sandbags, tied with wire to concrete blocks/road barriers or can be anchored to the girders themselves (if allowed).

This May Interest You

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While some rules and regulations are well known to the industry, sometimes the application of those regulations may be hidden in the complexity of the details. Here are a few confusing questions and equally confusing answers about scaffolding and the applicable standards.

If I construct a stairway utilizing scaffold components, and it is used to access a building under construction, does it have to be inspected prior to each workshift?  No it does not because it is not a scaffold. In this case, the stairway is a construction stairway and must comply with the requirements in 29 CFR 1926, Subpart X – Stairways and Ladders.  There are no requirements in Subpart X that requires the stairway to be inspected before each workshift.

If the stairway is not a scaffold, are the erectors still scaffold erectors.  I don’t know how they can be since they are not erecting a scaffold.

If they aren’t scaffold erectors, what are they?  Good question.  My first guess would be to say they are steel erectors; however, one look at Subpart R, the OSHA steel erection standards, will tell you they didn’t have these guys in mind when the steel erection standards were written.

What if I just follow the scaffold standards regarding erector fall protection?
  That’s probably a good idea although steel connectors don’t have to utilize fall protection until they are up two floors or 30 feet, whichever is less.  That’s a lot less stringent than the scaffold requirements.

You mean to tell me steel erectors don’t have to tie off until 30 feet in the air and scaffold erectors have to at ten feet?  That’s right; just keep in mind that it is the steel connectors (the leading edge guys) that don’t have to tie off.  They have to wear their harness and lanyard at 15 feet but do not have to tie off until two floors or 30 feet.

What if the stairway
was built to access a scaffold?
  The stairway is now a scaffold stairway and Subpart L applies.  Besides other requirements, it has to inspected prior to each workshift.

That’s crazy.  You mean to tell me that I can have one stair accessing a building and it doesn’t need inspection and the identical stair next to it accessing scaffolding needs an inspection prior to each workshift?  You have that correct.  And don’t forget, the first step on the stair ac
cessing the building can be no more than 19 inches while the first step on the stair accessing the scaffold can be as much as 24 inches.

What about trash chutes built inside a scaffold tower—is the tower a scaffold?  It is a scaffold only is there is a platform at the top to throw the trash down the chute.  If there is no platform, it cannot be a scaffold since by definition, a scaffold has to have a platform.

Does that mean the guys erecting the tower are not scaffold erectors?  That’s right.  It’s the same argument that was used for the stairway.

Does the trash chute tower need access?  Why should it—it’s not a scaffold.

Would the trash chute tower have to have a 4 to 1 safety factor?  No—it’s not a scaffold; how many times do I have to tell you?

Are aerial lifts such as boom lifts, mast climbers and scissors lifts considered scaffolds?  Yes, and no.  OSHA included regulations governing aerial platforms in Subpart L where the scaffold standards are.  However, the regulations for aerial lifts are exclusively in section 29 CFR 1926.453 of the subpart, as stated in the Scope and Application of Subpart L (29 CFR 1926.450).

But that section references an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard from 1969.  I wasn’t even born then.  Isn’t it outdated?  Of course it is and OSHA recognizes that.  At the end of the aerial lift section there is note that refers the reader to Non-Mandatory Appendix C that lists ANSI standards that are considered to be equal to the requirements of 29 CFR 1926.453.

I heard that OSHA says that a scissors lift is not an aerial platform but rather a mobile scaffold.  Can that be true since ANSI lists a scissors lift as an aerial platform (A92.6) and it shows up in Appendix C of the OSHA standards?  Unfortunately, that is true.  Because of the way the OSHA standards are written, and remembering that it is a legal document more than anything else, OSHA considers scissors lifts as mobile scaffolds and therefore they must comply with the regulations found in 29 CFR 1926.452(w).

That’s stupid, isn’t it?  Not if you understand that OSHA is bound by the way the standards are written.  Of course, we all know that a scissors lift is an aerial platform so buy the ANSI standard from the SAIA and comply with those requirements and you will be safe.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what might happen when OSHA compliance tries to cite you for not locking the casters on your scissors lift!

Do employees have to comply with the OSHA standards? Of course they do.

I thought the employers have to comply and in turn make the employees comply.  It is true that employers must comply with the standards in addition to providing a safe workplace for the employees.  However, Section 5(b) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act requires that employees must also comply.  It’s just that OSHA doesn’t enforce that part of the law.

Why doesn’t OSHA enforce it?  Beats me—why don’t you ask them.  Or better yet, ask your Congressman.

I hear that in Canada they will cite the employee.  That’s true, and even send the perp to jail for manslaughter if he killed someone on the job.

I work on a project that involves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  I have been told that their scaffold standards, referenced as EM-385, are not standards like the OSHA standards but are only part of the contract.  Is that true?  Pretty much so.  And since they are part of the contract that you signed, you have to comply with them.

But they don’t agree with the OSHA standards; now what do I do?  One thought is to get a new job.  This can be tough since you need the cooperation of the compliance officer to make it work.  My suggestion is to use the most stringent regulation.

I am standing behind a guardrail system at the edge of the tenth floor of a building under construction.  The toprail is designed for 200 pounds as required by the OSHA standards.  I am wearing a harness and double lanyard and have hooked off my lanyards to the toprail.  Am I breaking any regulations?  What are you—some kind of trouble maker?  Of course you are not violating any fall protection standards and you know it.  But you sure look good and safe.   And after that question, that’s the last question out of you. (This answer is correct.  Why?)


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Many contractors, including mason, sealant, waterproofing and restoration contractors, frequently use aerial work platforms to reach their work. Besides aerial work platforms such as boom lifts and scissors lifts, mast-climbing work platforms (see photo) are becoming more common due to their large working platforms and relatively quick assembly. CalOSHA describes a Mast-Climbing Work Platform (MCWP) as “a powered elevating work platform or platforms, supported on one or more vertical masts, for the purpose of positioning personnel, along with necessary tools and materials, to perform their work.”


When a mason chooses to use a mast-climbing work platform (MCWP), obviously he not only wants to create a safe work environment but he also wants to make sure that he is complying with the applicable CalOSHA safety standards. Admittedly, there appears to be some confusion regarding the classification of a MCWP. While U.S. federal OSHA includes the standards for aerial work platforms, including MCWPs, in the scaffold standards, they are treated separately from the normal scaffold equipment. In California, CalOSHA has an entirely separate section for aerial platforms and MCWPs and can be found beginning in § 3637 of Article 24, Group 4, Subchapter 7 of the General Industry Safety Orders. While MCWPs may be different from regular scaffolding, the hazards should be familiar to anyone working at heights; these hazards include:

• Falls from heights;
• Poor foundation;
• Lack of access;
• Platform overload;
• Falling Objects;
• Lack of Stability;
• Faulty erection and dismantling procedures.

CalOSHA expects you to provide a guardrail system at all open sides and edges of platforms more than 7’-6” above the level below. The toprail shall be at 39 inches, plus or minus 3 inches. For MCWPs used by “glaziers, bricklayers and stonemasons, the inboard guardrail may be removed provided: (a) the inboard edge of the work platform is no more than 7 inches from the finish face of the building or structure on which work is being performed or (b) approved personal fall protection systems are used.” For other work activities, the platform edge can be no more than 12 inches from the building or structure wall unless approved personal fall protection systems are used.

There are also hazards that are specific to mast-climbing work platforms. Accidents and fatalities have occurred as a result of improper removal of structural ties that connect the mast to the building. These ties are crucial to the safe assembly and use of the platform since they provide the strength and stability to the mast. It must be noted that these ties are not your common scaffold ties where the removal of one will not likely bring the scaffold down but rather are the key component that keeps the platform and mast from collapsing. The MCWP tie is an engineered structural component that must be installed according to the manufacturer’s instruction to ensure safe use of the platform.

Another specific hazard is the overloading of the platform. MCWPs typically have a high load capacity when the load is properly placed on the platform. Care must be taken to precisely follow the manufacturer’s load diagram that is attached to the machine. Non-compliance with the loading diagram can easily result in collapse, particularly when loads are improperly placed on cantilevered platforms.

It is tempting to use a mast-climbing platform as an elevator for personnel and or material. This is specifically prohibited by CalOSHA in §3646(k). To clarify, a mason for example, can ride the platform up to the fourth floor to do his work but he cannot give the electrician a ride to the fourth floor. Additionally the mason cannot transport conduit and wire for the electrician to the fourth floor. However, the mason can transport his own brick and mortar to the fourth floor to accomplish his work. In other words, a MCWP is not a personnel hoist or material hoist but rather an elevating work platform for workers and their materials.

Access to the platform is normally at ground level although direct access to an upper building floor is permissible provided fall protection is provided where required by CalOSHA. Extension ladders should not be used for access to a mast-climbing platform since the ladder can be easily dislodged as the platform ascends. The built in ladder provided by the manufacturer should always be used. Depending on the manufacturer, it may be permissible to use the mast as access to the platform. Do not climb the mast if it hasn’t been purposely designed for access since it is very difficult, if not impossible, to get on a platform from the mast without the correct access components.

Do not use the mast or platform as an anchor for personal fall protection unless it is allowed by the manufacturer. It is always better to use the adjacent structure as the anchorage; make sure that the anchor is designed by a Qualified Person to hold the anticipated fall forces.

These are just some of the highlights describing the safe use of mast-climbing platforms. The American National Standards Institute, ANSI, has an excellent standard describing the requirements of the parties involved with mast-climbing platforms. If you are an owner, renter, seller, buyer, erector, user, operator, or maintainer of MCWPs, you should have this standard, read it, understand it, and comply with it. It is more comprehensive than the CalOSHA regulations, and will give you the minimum requirements that are necessary to create and work in a safe environment. (The ANSI standard, A92.9 can be purchased from the Scaffold and Access Industry Association at

Safety is Not My Goal!

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Safety is not my goal. You read that right—Safety is NOT my goal. Have you ever noticed the sign on the back of pick-up trucks (usually construction company trucks) that state that “SAFETY IS MY GOAL.” I strongly recommend that when you see one of those trucks, do not pass the truck; I repeat, do not pass the truck. It’s obvious that if the driver is aiming towards safety, he just hasn’t gotten there yet. Better to stay behind him and see where he heads. Who knows, maybe there’s a sale at the local home improvement store and he’s planning on buying a bucket or two of safety.

Whenever I see one of those signs, I think about how some of this safety stuff just doesn’t make sense. Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for workers not getting hurt, injured, maimed, crushed, decapitated, dismembered, paralyzed or killed. However, when you see a sign that declares that safety is a goal, it suggests to me that perhaps we are misunderstanding the concept. According to Webster’s dictionary, safety is “the state of being safe from the risk of experiencing or causing injury, danger or loss.” This of course, makes you wonder what the definition of safe is. Safe: “Offering security from harm or danger; free from injury or risk.” By these definitions, your friendly pick-up truck driver is looking for safe haven and has yet to arrive, suggesting that he/she is not safe—yet. That is precisely why you want to stay behind the truck! As long as we’re ripping on the truck driver, we should probably figure out what goal means, which is: “The result or achievement toward which effort is directed.” So, there you have it: The driver is indeed driving to his/her goal of achieving the desired result which seems to be finding a safe house, or some such similar place where peace and tranquility reside while harm and danger are prohibited from entering. This doesn’t sound so good since the road to tranquility is typically paved with danger and despair.Basically, safety is a process, a habit, a way of doing things; it is not a goal. Safety is like the universe in that there is no end. You cannot acquire safety, you can only practice it. You can use it, you can apply it, you can reap the rewards of safety but you can never buy it like you would the pickup truck with that disdainful sticker.

Personal protective workwear and blueprint shot directly from above on rustic wood background. The protective workwear includes hard hat, gloves, earmuff, goggles, steel toe shoes, and safety vest. Predominant colors: yellow and brown. DSRL studio photo taken with Canon EOS 5D Mk II and EF 100mm f/2.8L Macro IS USM

There must be another way to approach the concept of safety and of course there is. It appears to me that treating safety as a stand-alone entity is neither wise nor effective. Safety is not a product that can be purchased down at the local hardware store. Safety is integral to your daily habits, just as putting on your pants and shoes is a habit. The foreman never tells you to wear your pants but he’ll tell you to put on your safety glasses. Why? After all, you don’t really need pants to do your work any more than you need safety glasses to do your work. He doesn’t tell you to wear a coat and hat in winter but you do, don’t you. But yet, he has to remind you to install your ear plugs. Why is that?

Somewhere back in your younger days you were told to not run with scissors in your hands. Were you told why? I don’t recall that I was. What else were you taught about safety back in those formative days? When were you taught about the use of ear plugs, respirators, gloves, hard hats, safety glasses and steel toed boots? I’ll bet it wasn’t in grade school. When you were young you were never taught to include safe practices in your everyday activities. Sure, you were taught to not run out in the street but did any of your teachers really explain how to carefully consider your actions to minimize the risk of getting hurt? I doubt it. You didn’t learn anything useful about jobsite safety until you got a job. And even then, depending on the employer, you may have learned nothing.

This whole idea of safety is relatively new to society. An entire industry has been built on the idea that safety is separate from other work activities. We have safety professionals, safety managers, and even safety consultants. We put up signs that tell us how many days we have been safe, that is nobody got injured or killed. Have you ever seen a sign that tells us how many days the employees showed up wearing pants? (I’d love to see that sign!) Why do we have to tell everyone that we didn’t maim anyone for the past 30 days or whatever record we want to brag about? If everyone on the job is really safe, that is working productively without risk of injury or death, aren’t these employees just doing their jobs? There should be nothing special about not getting your head cut off while at work.

Fortunately, there are changing habits on the jobsite. For example, more Job Hazard Analyses (JHA) are being conducted prior to the start of work, allowing employees to actually incorporate the best practices when undertaking their work for the day. These best practices will naturally include the safest way to do the work. In other words, safety is not separate but rather is integral to the means and methods of doing the work. If pants are needed, wear them; if ear plugs are needed, wear them; if a saw is needed, choose the right one for the task at hand.

Safety isn’t that complicated, nor should it be. It only gets complicated when we make it so. It’s easy and straightforward; do your work correctly and the safety will be there. There should be no need to emphasize safety or make it a goal. That would be counterproductive and unsafe.

Should Anchors Be Broken?

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Anchors are an essential component of any fall protection and scaffold rigging system. In fact, they are so essential that state and federal regulations, not to mention consensus standards such as the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standards, require regular inspection and testing of anchors to ensure adequacy in the event that they are needed to arrest a fall or arrest equipment failure.

Inspections are used to confirm that the anchors have not been negatively affected by environmental or other conditions. The inspections are visual in that the inspector examines the condition of the anchor and the structure to which the anchor is secured. The inspector will look for cracks and corrosion in the anchor and structure, water damage, roof leaks and other evidence that indicate the anchor strength has been compromised.


Tests are performed periodically to confirm inspection results and verify that the anchors have not been jeopardized over time. The test procedure is straightforward in concept: The tester applies a load to the anchor to ascertain if the anchor will hold the force it is expected to resist. Unfortunately there is controversy about the amount of load that should be applied to verify anchor adequacy.

There are three types of loads that can be applied in a test. The first load is named the “allowable load” which is the maximum actual load [the actual load is the load the user would apply under actual jobsite conditions] that can be applied to the anchor. A “proof load” is a load that is more than the allowable load but not so much more that the anchor will fail. A typical proof load is 25% more than the allowable load. The third load is the “ultimate load,” also known as the failure load. As the name suggest, it is the load at which the anchor will break.

Designers apply safety factors to anchors to compensate for unknown factors. Normally this safety factor is 2 although in the case of fall protection anchors the design ultimate load will often be 5,000 pounds, resulting in a safety factor higher than 2.7. It’s pretty obvious that if the anchor is tested with a load of 5,000 pounds, it may break—not a good thing. However, it may not break at 5,000 pounds since the variability in materials could result in an anchor that has a higher capacity than 5,000 pounds. Unfortunately no one knows how much unless the anchor is loaded it to its ultimate [breaking] strength. Of course, if you do that, you won’t have an anchor anymore!


Amazingly, there are those who advocate loading anchors to 5,000 pounds, arguing that there is additional capacity buried in the material and the structure supporting the anchor. This is foolish thinking since the chance of damaging the anchor is very high. Would you want to rely on anchor that has already been loaded to its breaking strength? I think not.

What is a tester to do? The solution is to simply use the proof load. By successfully testing the anchor to its allowable load plus 25%, the tester will have proven that the anchor will support the allowable load, can be reliably used as an anchor, and has not been damaged during testing.

What is an anchor user to do? Verify the anchors have been inspected and tested. Confirm that they have not been tested to the anchor’s ultimate load. Also confirm the anchors have been proof tested in a timely manner, in compliance with the frequency requirements of the applicable codes.