COMMITTED TO SAFETY AND VALUE ENGINEERING - SINCE 1985

The US Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, has promulgated scaffold standards for both general industry and construction.  While the scaffold equipment is common to both applications, the standards are not.  First, the standards are written in two different styles.  The construction standards are performance oriented while the general industry standards are specification oriented.  Second, the construction industry scaffold standards are stand alone standards, designed to address only scaffolds.  On the other hand, the general industry standards are included in Subpart D – Walking-Working Surfaces.  Besides scaffolding, Subpart D also includes stairs, ladders, and other working surfaces.  Finally, the construction industry standards were revised in 1996 while the general industry standards await revision and updating.

What determines which standards to use?  Although there is no hard rule that determines when construction or general industry standards apply, here are several guidelines to evaluate your specific situation.  If the work being done is maintenance and done with “in-house” employees, the general industry standards apply.  If the work being done is a modification of an existing situation then the construction industry standards could apply.  For example, in a power plant various valves and piping are being replaced with identical members and a scaffold is being used to access the area.  In this case, the general industry standards would apply.  On the other hand, if the valves and piping are being replaced, modified, added to and expanded, then the construction standards apply.  Also, if an outside contractor is employed to do the work, the construction industry standards probably apply. You can go to the OSHA website, www.osha.gov to obtain Letters of Interpretation addressing the issue of general industry standards versus construction industry standards.

Here are selected differences between the general industry and the construction industry scaffold standards:

 

  1. The general industry standards require that scaffolds and their components have a 4 to 1 safety factor.  The construction industry standards require that scaffolds support their own weight and 4 times the maximum intended load;
  2. The general industry standards require that any scaffold damaged or weakened from any cause shall be immediately repaired and shall not be used until repairs have been completed.  The construction industry standards allow continued use of the damaged scaffold provided the damaged equipment is adequately braced to properly support the intended loads;
  3. The general industry standards require the use of scaffold grade planking.  The construction industry standards do not;
  4. The general industry standards require that plank shall extend over their end supports not less than 6 inches nor more than 18 inches. The construction industry standards require a minimum of 6 inches and not more than 12 inches for plank 10 feet or less in length and not more than 18 inches for longer plank.  The construction industry standards also allow shorter and longer overhangs if the plank is secured from movement;
  5. The general industry standards require overhead protection for workers exposed to overhead hazards. The construction industry standards allow other options for falling object protection, such as barriers, catch platforms, and solid guardrail systems;
  6. The general industry standards require screening between the toeboard and the guardrail where persons are required to work or pass under the scaffolds.  The construction industry standards allow other options for falling object protection such as barriers, catch platforms, and solid guardrail systems.

This describes the major differences between the two standards that apply to the general requirements for scaffolds.  There are also some variations when it comes to specific scaffolds.  For Tubular Welded Frame Scaffolds, for example, these are the differences:

  1. The general industry standards require the use of a guardrail system and toeboard.  The construction industry standards allow the use of a guardrail system or a personal fall protection system.  Also, other forms of falling object protection, besides toeboards, are allowed;
  2. The general industry standards require that the toprail be installed between 36 and 42 inches.  The construction industry standards require the toprail to be installed between 38 and 45 inches;
  3. The general industry standards require that all frame scaffolds be erected by competent and experienced personnel. The construction industry standards require that scaffolds be erected under the supervision of a competent person qualified in scaffold erection, using experienced and trained employees.
  4. The general industry standards require periodic inspections of scaffold equipment.  The construction industry standards require inspections by a competent person prior to each workshift.

This short dissertation illustrates the significant differences between the requirements of the two standards; use it to recognize that you cannot take the general industry standards and apply them to a construction industry application or use the construction industry standards in a general industry application.  It is necessary to identify which standards apply for the specific application.  And of course, no matter which standards apply, it is a safe scaffold that is required.

Leave a Reply