Posts Tagged ‘scaffolding’

Bricks and Steel

January 15th, 2012 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

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?

Thoughts for a New Year

January 1st, 2012 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

A stimulating and thought provoking discussion addressing safety concerns with scaffolding.

2012 will be an interesting year with the economy, presidential elections, wars, and unemployment weighing heavy on our minds.  In an effort to keep your mind off these depressing subjects, I thought it would be a good idea to focus on what you enjoy—scaffolding!  Well, it beats thinking about the economy tanking and besides, this is a magazine for scaffolding and access.

Have you ever wondered what would happen if everybody was perfect?  Scaffolds would be perfectly constructed and perfectly used by perfectly trained employees.  Now there’s something to think about.  Just think of the ramifications.  No angry jobsite safety monitors; no OSHA citations; no injuries; no deaths.  I wonder what that would do to the unemployment figures.

Why do people like to misuse and abuse scaffold components?  Take knee-outs and brackets as an example.  Why do erectors think knee-outs will support ten tiers of scaffold on top of them and why do users think brackets will hold a mountain of block and brick?

What would happen if we had no OSHA standards?  Would injuries and deaths increase, stay the same, or decrease?  What would the industry do?  What would you do?  Would you do anything differently?  What if there were no compliance officers?  Would it make any difference to your behavior?  Why do we not have one set of standards for the scaffold and access industry in this country?  For example, are the states so unusual that we have to have different standards in California and Michigan?  Why did Washington State rewrite the federal OSHA standards in a “friendly” prose?  Apparently nobody in Washington understood that the standards are not instructions but rather are minimum, enforceable requirements.

Why did the Army Corp of Engineers write a separate scaffold standard somewhat modeled after the federal regulations but yet sufficiently modified so that it is extra confusing?  It would almost seem that scaffolding and physics mutate into strange creatures from state to state and agency to agency.  This could get scary!

Why do we equate longevity with expertise?  You know, just because you have been doing something over and over doesn’t make it right.  And the opposite is true; how can a person fresh out of school be a consultant?  And then we have someone on TV who said: “I’m not stupid you know, I just don’t know stuff.”  Is there a way in 2012 to get scaffold users to know more stuff and increase their expertise?

Why do general safety consultants who have never erected a scaffold think they know more about an erection than a scaffold erector?  Why do some scaffold erectors think they are exempt from the accepted safety practices?  Why is everybody an expert in fall protection and scaffolding?  How can a compliance officer, fresh out of school, understand the 28 subparts of the OSHA Construction Standards?  Why do compliance officers get minimal training in scaffolding?

Why is the American Society of Safety Engineers the secretariat of the ANSI scaffolding standard and not the SIAI?  And here’s something to really ponder:  Has anyone measured the cost/benefit ratio regarding the extensive and some may argue oppressive, government intervention in the scaffold industry?

What will 2012 bring for you?  I wish for you a prosperous, enjoyable year and you experience a year of good health free of injury.

How Do They Fit?

December 1st, 2011 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

A practical explanation as to the relationship between the OSHA standards, enforcement, compliance and safety in the construction industry.

It’s been a long time since I first became involved in the business of scaffolding.  My experience has included a lot of scaffolds, a lot of places and a lot of people.  It has also included a lot of regulations.  As a blossoming young engineer, I still recall asking by boss how OSHA fit into the design of scaffolding.  Since federal OSHA was just a couple of years old at that time, he responded with a clearly stated:  “I don’t know.”  Forty years later, it appears that we still don’t know how OSHA fits into the design, construction and use of scaffolding.   To be fair to federal OSHA, it doesn’t appear that any regulations, standards, codes or guidelines fit into the design of scaffolding.  Now, before you get yourself all wound up, this may be somewhat of an extremely broad statement.  But think about this:  We have standards regarding fall protection and more specifically guardrail systems.  In my research I have found guidelines regarding guardrails going back to the 1920’s, almost a century ago.  And we still have people designing, constructing and using scaffolds without fall protection.  If nothing else, we have consistency.

So what’s the problem?  Is it poor enforcement?  Is it poor training?  Is it poor knowledge?  Is it ignorance?  Or maybe we just don’t care.  Being a Professional Engineer, and accepting the responsibilities that go with the privilege, I am obligated to comply with the myriad of regulations, standards and codes that apply to the profession.  Not to do so will result in the loss of my license and opportunity to earn a living.  I don’t state this because I think I am special, but rather qualified professionals (degreed and licensed or not) accept the obligation that is or should be expected in the business.  I don’t agree with all the regulations; for that matter I’m not really keen on any of the regulations—it certainly stifles constructive creativity.  In fact, regulations are insidiously invading all aspects of our lives, resulting not only in a dumbing down of the industry but also in an erosion of expertise, efficiency, economy, and productivity.

Of course, those tasked with the enforcement of these regulations smugly point to the results of their policing actions.  They publish yearly results of their efforts as if those efforts have any real effect on the industry.  Frankly, the annual OSHA list of the top 10 violations has no relation to the degree of danger involved in the infraction.  For example, scaffolds always show up in the top ten, suggesting that there is a real problem with safety in the industry.  But is there a problem?  Perhaps scaffolding shows up so frequently because infractions are easy to spot and the compliance officers haven’t been trained to evaluate where the real hazards are.

One of the favorite activities these days is the harassment of professional scaffold erectors (casual erectors, where the problems really occur, seem to be immune.)  Statistics indicate that the death rate of professional erectors is extremely low, particularly when compared to the 80 annual deaths that occur with scaffold usage, the deaths in construction and more dramatically when compared with the approximately 37,000 people killed on the highways each year.

The situation is becoming so ridiculous due to what I think is a growing hysteria about safety and the lack of understanding of the actual hazards.  Enormous amounts of time and energy are uselessly spent deciding whether a regulation has been violated instead of investing in the safe productive work that should be happening.  How many times have you sat in a meeting ascertaining whether there is compliance with the regulations?  How many hours have been wasted bickering about the nuance of a regulation instead of determining how to get the work done safely?

I am not advocating the abolishment of enforcement but something has to change.  It is absolutely amazing how people think they are experts in erector fall protection, for example, and yet have never erected a scaffold in their lives.  And yet we give them the authority and take it away from the people most affected.  Furthermore, it is stunning to me how many government agencies, construction industry organizations, unions and engineering committees feel compelled to propagate more and more regulations, many applying to scaffolding, and yet do not even bother contacting the Scaffold and Access Industry Association or the Scaffold Shoring and Forming Institute for input.  Are you aware that the American Society of Civil Engineers has a code regarding construction loads which includes specifications for scaffold loading?  I didn’t think so.

I can sure complain about the problem but unfortunately I don’t have a snappy quick solution.  We cannot abolish decent standards and codes nor can we abolish enforcement—those are needed for those employers and employees who just don’t get it.  But we do need to abolish the politics in safety.  Have you ever wondered why we chase after the employer but not the employee?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why compliance officers don’t receive sufficient training for the task at hand?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why so many designers and constructors erect scaffolds without having any clue as to what a safe scaffold is?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why we allow the sale of scaffolding in this country without any idea of its load capacity?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why safety consultants have such a poor understanding of the true hazards in scaffolding?  Me too.

Forty years ago we were killing and maiming scaffold users.  We’re stilling doing it today.  And I still don’t know how OSHA fits into the safe design of scaffolding.  However, I do know what a safe scaffold is.  Do you?

Are Scaffolds That Dangerous?

July 1st, 2011 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

A clarification of the role that wood scaffold plank in the construction of a scaffold platform.

When I tell someone that I work in the construction industry and I design scaffolding, the response is interesting.  If its fellow engineers, they think I’m nuts for working in such a dangerous field.  The liability must be incredibly high.  If I tell a safety person, sympathy is extended due to an obviously difficult career choice.  Tell an accountant and I’m asked how I ever make any money.  Fortunately my mother had always thought it kind of exciting.

But really, can such an activity like scaffolding erection and use be exciting?  Especially since so many people think it is so dangerous?  I can only speak for myself but it is my opinion that it isn’t dangerous and yes, it can be exciting, especially when there is a challenge for access that must be resolved.  Not dangerous you ask?  That’s right; in the overall scheme of life scaffolding is no more dangerous than a lot of other activities.  It’s just that scaffolding appears to be dangerous.  And besides, it’s easy to spot certain deficiencies in an erected scaffold.  You don’t have to be an expert to notice a missing guardrail on a supported scaffold. And you don’t need a doctorate in engineering to ascertain the lack of access.

OSHA consistently issues enough citations to employers each year for scaffold violations that the product of our efforts appears on the Top Ten list year in and year out.  It’s no wonder that the populace thinks we’re crazy with a track record like that.  Is there something sinister going on—perhaps a diabolical industry wide plot to perpetuate the perception of danger in the business of providing access to workers?   I hope not!  Let’s take a look at how the system works.

Scaffolding is a highly regulated business.  Besides federal OSHA standards that dictate minimum behavior, states and even local jurisdictions have regulations that specify how scaffolds are to be erected.  To be sure, the federal OSHA standards are performance standards meaning that the employer and employer have some leeway in achieving compliance with the standards. But that leeway comes with a price.  And herein lies the first problem.  The price for the opportunity to have some flexibility in complying with performance standards is the requirement that the scaffold erector and user must have knowledge about the hazard and the available options to mitigate that hazard.  This also means that the erector must know about the hazard and the applicable regulations in the first place.  In other words, if you want to dance you better know the song.

This brings us to the next problem which is the requirement that erectors, users, evaluators (site safety manager) and compliance officers have an understanding of the intent of the standards.  In fact this may be the biggest problem.  Nobody knows what’s going on!  The erector hasn’t been properly trained and consequently either believes anything a compliance officer tells him or thinks she knows everything.  In any event, everybody starts making up stuff because they don’t know any better.  The compliance officer, on the defensive because he hasn’t been provided adequate training in the subject matter, uses intimidation to make the point.  If that doesn’t work, then threats always seem to win the day.

The next problem is founded in ignorance.  When an individual doesn’t know any better, common sense, openness, a desire to learn and an open mind disappear.  Its replacement is an irrational desire to “win,” no matter the cost.  What a system.

So, how does all this result in scaffolding consistently showing up on OSHA’s Top Ten?  It’s simple: scaffolding is an easy target and we perceive that it is killing people all the time.  Furthermore, it’s an easy citation to write.  Drive down the street, look at a construction project and what do you see?  Yep, it’s a scaffold.  What do you see missing?  Yep, it’s the guardrail.  That’s an easy citation to write.  Let’s see what else I can find.  I remember a regulation that says erectors have to have fall protection and those guys putting up the scaffold aren’t tied off.  I don’t know much about fall protection and I can’t remember the criteria for a correct personal fall protection system but I’ll cite them anyway.  The erectors probably don’t know anything about it either.  That’s an easy citation to write.  Of course, while I’m staring at the scaffold as I drive by, I’m not paying attention to my driving and rear end the car in front of me, injuring the child who isn’t in a child seat or strapped in.  But that’s okay; we accept killing thousands of motorists and injuring many more thousands.  But heaven help the erector who isn’t “tied off.”  I can tell he’s dangerous and the scaffold he is working on is dangerous too.  How can the scaffold not be dangerous?  Just look at all those citations each year.

If we focused on the real hazards on a jobsite instead of the easy fixes, the jobsite would be a much better place.  If we actually trained the compliance officers to the real hazards, the Top Ten would look a lot different.  If we actually trained scaffold users to the real hazards, the Top Ten would look a lot different.  But that takes too much work.  It’s a lot easier to dumb it down.  Of course, the result of that approach is that too many people think scaffolds are dangerous.  And of course, that’s really dumb to think that.

Where Did The Shoring Go?

May 1st, 2011 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

An argument for re-establishing the Shoring & Forming Council in the Scaffold and Access Industry Association.

I recall my first involvement with the Scaffold Industry Association, SIA, in the early 1980’s.  I was impressed by the people who were genuinely involved in making the use of the scaffolding and related products safer.  I also recall how I was railroaded into taking the minutes for council meetings!  In fact, I was inducted (or abducted) into the role of scribe for the Shoring and Forming Council.  You read that correctly.  Back then there was a Shoring and Forming Council.  There also was no Fall Protection Council, Aerial Lift Council, or Hoist Council.  Over the years the focus of the association has changed, evolving into an organization that emphasizes the various forms of access for workers.  Concurrently, shoring and forming slowly diminished in scope and involvement to the point that it is no longer represented in the SIA.

This doesn’t mean that there are no members who are involved with shoring and forming.  It also doesn’t mean that there are no issues with the use of these products.  In fact, there actually is more commonality between scaffolding and shoring than you might think.  On the other hand, scaffolding is definitely not shoring and shoring is not scaffolding.  For this discussion, we’ll leave wall formwork alone except for the fact that the work platform on a wall form is a scaffold and consequently the scaffold standards in federal OSHA 1926, Subpart L apply.

What are the common elements between shoring and scaffolding you may ask?  Well, fall protection is a common element; access is a common element; falling object protection is a common element; and, capacity and strength are common elements.  The significant difference between scaffolding and shoring is that a scaffold is a temporary elevated platform and its supporting structure used to support workers or materials or both.  Shoring, on the other hand, can be a system of structural elements used to support the formwork for concrete (the Jell-O® mold that holds the liquid concrete).  Shoring can also be a system of structural elements used to support existing structures such as buildings while repairs or modifications are being performed.  Since shoring and scaffolding are different structures, different OSHA standards typically apply although there is overlap in a number of areas.  That is where the similarities come into play and thus it makes sense that the SIA should consider resurrecting the Shoring and Forming council.

For example, fall protection for shoring erectors has the same issues as fall protection for scaffold erectors.  For new concrete construction, the shoring equipment is always at the top of building (that is logical) and consequently, there is no convenient anchor above the erectors unless the Goodyear® blimp is in the neighborhood.  Supported scaffolding can have the same issue.  Interestingly enough, a review of the OSHA standards show that the Construction Industry fall protection standards are applied by OSHA through the use of Letters of Interpretation.  Unfortunately, it is a circuitous route that attempts to apply the standards in creative ways so as to justify a desired outcome.  The results are confusing requirements for shoring erectors to contend with during their work.

Access for both scaffold erectors and shoring erectors is an intriguing topic for those who attempt to apply inappropriate standards.  OSHA considers shoring frames to be working surfaces and therefore fall protection and/or positioning devices are required.  If these same frames are used as scaffolding, and they can be, then they can be climbed by the erectors.  Confused yet?  Wait—there’s more!  Access for shoring can really be interesting.  While the erector shouldn’t climb the frame because it is not a ladder but rather a working surface, the erector doesn’t need to comply with the ladder standards because his access continues to move while the shoring is constructed and the access requirements of 29 CFR 1926-Subpart X were never intended to apply to this work activity.  Are you confused yet?

The final frustration is when the compliance officer or site safety employee can’t figure out whether you are working on scaffolding or shoring.  Applying the scaffold standards to the erection of shoring is like trying to apply the fixed ladder standards to a scaffold attachable ladder—it doesn’t work.

The Scaffold Industry Association members have a wealth of experience and expertise that can be used to clarify the intent and application of the standards while making life easier and safer for both the erectors and users of temporary structures.  Is it time to resurrect the Shoring and Forming Council? I think it is.

I Know It All!

April 1st, 2011 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

An April Fools Day sarcasm on scaffold safety, regulations and government control.

April is the time for foolish things so I contacted the foremost authority in the field of scaffolding, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  I caught up with the good doctor while he was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago preparing to leave on another of his famous fact finding missions for the government.  Here is an excerpt from an intense 87 minute interview I had with him before he boarded his flight.

SIA:  Dr. Noitall, you are recognized as an expert in the field of scaffold safety.  How did that come about?

Dr. A. Noitall (Dr. A.N.):  Well, you know that I have been hanging around scaffolding all my life; well at least I see a lot of it so I picked up a lot of stuff that way.  Besides, since I am sponsored by the government program, I know some of the standards.

SIA: You mentioned the government program.  What program is that?

Dr. A.N.: It’s a program funded by a bipartisan quasi select government action committee on largesse.  The committee has initiated a fee on all employers who use, sell, rent or design scaffold products.  That’s how we get the funding.

SIA:  That’s odd.  As you know the Scaffold Industry Association is the “Voice of the Scaffold and Access Industry.”  We haven’t heard of this committee or the program.  And we are unaware that there is a fee; that sounds like a tax.  Who authorized this?

Dr. A.N.: Well, the government authorized it.  Trust me; just like the OSHA standards, Canadian standards and various state and provincial safety standards, this program is good for you.  I always say, you can’t have too many safety regulations.  This is how we make things safe.

SIA:  I thought it was employees and employers who make a worksite safe.

Dr. A.N.: See, that’s where you have it wrong.  Scaffold people don’t know what they are doing.  They’re out there trying to kill people.  The statistics show that.  If it weren’t for the regulations, all the scaffold people would be dead!

SIA:  Well, the SIA wouldn’t agree with that!  Let’s look at a few of those regulations.  What do you think of the rule that specifies that guardrails are required once the platform is ten feet off the ground?

Dr. A.N.: That is nonsense.  I think the height should be 10 inches.  We can’t provide enough protection for the worker.

SIA: Don’t you think the worker has a responsibility to work safely?

Dr. A.N.: Well, there is no need for the worker to worry about that safety stuff.  We want him to be focused on his work, not safety.   That’s why we need a lot of regulations.  If we can get to the point where there are so many regulations that the worker doesn’t have to think, then my job is done!

SIA:  Wow, that is quite the energetic agenda.  When do you think you’ll reach the point of enough regulations?

Dr. A.N.: My extensive research indicates that we will probably never get there. If you look at the OSHA statistics, you’ll see that scaffolding is always in the top 10 violations.  That clearly shows I still have a lot of work to do.

SIA:  Let’s take a look at another regulation.  As you know, or should know, boom-lift operators are required to have fall restraint whenever operating that equipment.  Yet, it’s easy to find operators who either don’t know or don’t care about that requirement.  How will more regulations solve that problem?

Dr. A.N.: You just don’t get it, do you?  The hazard, as you know, is being catapulted out of the boom lift.  If the worker utilizes fall restraint or fall protection how can he do his work?  It’s better to have regulations to solve the problem.  Besides, if he is hanging on, he won’t get catapulted off the platform in the first place.

SIA:  You aren’t making any sense sir.  More regulations won’t eliminate the possibility of the worker being ejected.  Please explain, if you can.

Dr. A.N.: Let me give you an example.  Scissors lifts had guardrails around them supposedly for protection against falls.  However, when the workers used the guardrails to stand on, they discovered that the guardrails wouldn’t keep them from falling.  So now we require them to use personal fall restraint or fall arrest.  See, this is how more regulations work.  I just don’t understand why you think they don’t.

SIA:  That doesn’t answer the question about ejection.  You didn’t answer my question.

Dr. A.N.:  Sure I did.  You weren’t listening.

SIA:  Whatever.  Let’s take one more example and see if you can convince me that more regulations are the answer to safety.  The OSHA standards require that a platform be “fully planked between the front uprights and the guardrail system.”  What happens if the platform is only 2 feet off the ground and there is no guardrail system?  How big should the platform be?

Dr. A.N.: I can’t believe you even bother to ask me this question.  The platform should be as big as you can make it so the worker is free to do whatever she wants.  If it’s big enough, the worker will never fall off the edge, will she?  See, that’s what I’m getting at— more is always better.  It would be foolish to think otherwise.

SIA:  Foolish indeed, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  Enjoy your flight—and good luck getting through airport security.

Common Sense – Does it Exist?

July 1st, 2009 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

What does this have to do with temporary structures such as scaffolding, aerial lifts, shoring and formwork?  Plenty since the decision by one can have a devastating life threatening effect on others.  I’m not being cynical or arrogant; plenty of opportunities lie ahead for me and you as we go about our daily lives.  Some of us will learn from these opportunities while some unfortunately will waste the chance to broaden their horizons and deepen their knowledge.  They will blow the chance to develop their common sense.  There is a saying that goes something like this:  Where does good judgment come from?  Well, it comes from experience.  Where does experience come from?  Well, that comes from bad judgment!

If you are the clerk at the local convenience store, chances are that your bad judgment, perhaps based on a lack of common sense, will not cause the death of a customer.  However, if you are a scaffold erector your decisions may result in another’s death.  This is serious.  Frankly, common sense drives many activities in the access and construction industry.  Daily decisions are made based on common sense, as they well should.  However, there is a fine line between common sense, based on “sound practical judgment,” and irresponsible actions that are just plain unjustifiable.  For example, why would a job superintendent not follow the shoring design prepared by a Professional Engineer?  Why would a scaffold erector not follow the qualified person’s scaffold plan?  Why would a carpenter choose a different formwork member although he has no “specialized knowledge or training” that would enable him to make the correct choice?

This common sense issue goes beyond engineering and construction.  Jobsite safety on many projects is held hostage to the phenomenon of poor common sense.  Where is the common sense when an employee must utilize personal fall protection while standing behind a properly constructed scaffold guardrail system?  Where is the common sense when it doesn’t matter what the user chooses as an anchor so long as she is “tied off?”  Common sense has obviously left the jobsite when the safety inspector ignores the advice of a qualified person and instead follows her own ill informed opinion of what is safe.  And certainly common sense never arrived at the jobsite when a signed piece of paper magically becomes the critical issue and not the practiced safety it is suppose to imply.

It seems common sense is no longer common.  In fact, the situation has morphed into a weird perverse alternate world where qualified workers are no longer allowed to make decisions yet the unqualified worker is allowed to act irresponsibly with no risk of having to accept the responsibility of his actions.  Why is it that a worker can modify a scaffold or incorrectly construct shoring without risking the consequences while those who have made the effort to understand the details of the activity are so severely punished, not because of their actions, but only because of their knowledge?  How can a shoring equipment supplier be held responsible for the customer’s superintendent’s poor decision when that superintendent didn’t even bother to learn how to use the equipment or even ask for help, help that is free for the asking?  Incredible.  And yet, those who lack common sense escape the wrath of the attorneys, OSHA and others because they can claim ignorance while those who do have the knowledge and expertise are held under the scrutiny of the legal microscope.

What is the solution?  It’s easy.  Common sense will tell you that you shouldn’t be involved with work activities that exceed your expertise.  The Code of Ethics for Professional Engineers requires that Professional Engineers practice only in their area of expertise.  Other professions have similar tenets in their codes.  Punishment for a breach can be severe.  Why not do the same for the Construction Industry?  Make the employee individually responsible for his actions.  You don’t comply with the OSHA Standards?  You get fined.  (Of course, if the employer is misbehaving, she should get fined too.) You make changes to the shoring layout, you are responsible; not the employer, not the designer, not the supplier, you.

Finally, my experience indicates that common sense disappears and intimidation replaces it.  In fact, intimidation, not common sense or knowledge, plays a huge role in the decision making process.  Safety inspectors can have incredible power over contractors and subcontractors.  Challenging a safety inspector’s incorrect requirement on a jobsite often results in the threat of continued harassment leading to trumped up accusations and stipulations that at a minimum wastes money and ultimately never increases safety.  Why, for example, would a safety inspector insist that a wall form scaffold bracket that has been safely used for over 50 years all of a sudden be dangerous?  Why would this same individual not trust the information that is offered to bolster the facts?  Why would the inspector not rely on the statements of numerous qualified individuals or the expertise of the professional consultants?  To me it is almost unbelievable that we have allowed individuals who lack any knowledge, or common sense, to dictate the actions of others.  I can only say it must be the lack of common sense.  Idle requirements without substantiation must stop.  Poor work habits that result in dangerous and fatal accidents must be stopped.  Common sense will tell you that.

I’m Supposed to Know That?

November 1st, 2008 by David H. Glabe, P.E.


(Answer the following true (T) or false (F) questions.  Place a (T) to the left of each true statement and a (F) to the left of each false statement.

____1.)  The allowable load on a scaffold is determined by testing or engineering analysis.

____2.)  OSHA requires scaffold competent persons to have training that deals with the loads that will be applied to the scaffold.

____3.)  OSHA Scaffold Standards are mandatory regulations.

____4.)  The subpart of the OSHA Construction Standard, 29 CFR 1926, that applies to scaffolding is Subpart M.

____5.)  The maximum height of the first step on a scaffold stairway is 24 inches.

____6.)  Scaffolds can only be erected, moved, dismantled or altered under the supervision of a competent person, qualified in scaffold erection.

____7.)  A typical stationary supported scaffold does not always need a base plate.

____8.)  Bracing is only required when the scaffold starts swaying.

____9.)  Scaffold users do not need scaffold training.

___10.)  Wood scaffold planks shall overlap a minimum of 12 inches or be secured from movement.

___11.)  Supported and Suspended Scaffolds shall be designed by a qualified person.

___12.)  Fall restraint must be utilized in all Articulated Aerial Lifts (Boom Lifts).

___13.)  OSHA requires that scaffold planks must either overhang their supports a minimum of 12 inches or be secured from movement.

___14.)  Cross braces on a Tubular Welded Frame Scaffold can never be used as part of the guardrail system.


15.)     The scaffold toprail height above the platform of a supported scaffold is:

a.)        38-45 inches

b.)        approximately 20 inches

c.)        approximately 42 inches

d.)        Whatever works

e.)        None of the above

16.)     The scaffold top rail strength, on a supported scaffold shall be:

a.)    75 pounds

b.)  100 pounds

c.)   150 pounds

d.)  200 pounds

e.)  None of the above

17.)     To comply with Federal OSHA Standards, what is the maximum erected height that a 3 ft. wide by 10 ft. long supported scaffold tower be built before it must be tied or guyed?

a.)  12′-0″

b.)  15′-0″

c.)  20′-0″

d.)  None of the above

18.) When utilizing personal fall arrest equipment the anchor must hold at least:

a.)  5,000 pounds unless it is designed by a qualified person

b.)  Depends on the individual

c.)  Three times the anticipated load

d.)  Four times the anticipated load

e.)  none of the above

19.)     What is the maximum erected height that a 7 ft. wide by 7 ft. long rolling tower can be built, according to Federal OSHA, if the scaffold does not have outriggers?  (Nobody will be riding the rolling tower.)

a.)        14′-0″

b.)        21′-0″

c.)        28′-0″

d.)        None of the above

20.) A competent person is designated by:

a.)           OSHA

b.)           The employer

c.)           A qualified person

d.)           All of the above

e.)           None of the above

21.)     A 60’-0” tall supported scaffold enclosed with tarps or plastic:

a.)        Shall withstand a wind of 110 mph

b.)        Shall be designed by a Qualified Professional Engineer

c.)        Shall be designed by a qualified person to withstand the anticipated wind force

d.)        None of the above

22.) A qualified person is required for:

a.)           The inspection of scaffolding

b.)           The design of scaffolding

c.)           The use of all scaffolds

d.)           Supported scaffolds only

e.)           All of the above

f.)            A,B and C above

g.)           B,C and D above

23.)  The maximum distance between rest platforms on a supported scaffold with a clamp on ladder is:

a.)           20’-0”

b.)           4 Tiers

c.)           26’-0”

d.)           35’-0”

e.)           It doesn’t matter if nobody is watching you

24.)  These people are exempt from Scaffold Training:

a.)          Scaffold Industry Association members

b.)          Scaffold inspectors

c.)           Scaffold users

d.)          A and b above

e.)          None of the above


  1. True
  2. True
  3. True
  4. False
  5. True
  6. True
  7. False
  8. False
  9. False
  10. True
  11. True
  12. True
  13. False
  14. False
  15. A
  16. D
  17. A
  18. A
  19. C
  20. B
  21. C
  22. B
  23. D
  24. E

If you have a perfect score, congratulations!  You know your standards.  If you scored 20 or more correctly, you will only receive 3 or 4 OSHA citations.  If you scored less than 20, go back and study up!

Focus on Falls

October 1st, 2008 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

So, let’s try a different concept; let’s look at this falling body issue from a different perspective.  Suppose for a minute that the argument that goes like this really works:  “I won’t fall.”  You, the employee, are convinced that you won’t fall today.  Let’s face it, if you thought you were going to fall you would probably stay home.  As a matter of fact, your boss would probably appreciate you staying home.  Just think, you could call your boss and say:  “Hey, I think I’m going to fall today.”   Your boss would thank you and tell you to take the day off and be safe!  Life would indeed be good.

Now, for those of you who think that you won’t fall we will have to have a little different approach.  Since money talks, how about this:  if you don’t think you will fall, and you refuse to comply with OSHA (or company) fall protection standards, then you will have to pay all the costs associated with the fall.  As you know, medical expenses can be rather significant.  But just think what the boss will charge for all the lost productivity!  And that is just the start.  Once your fall and the ensuing activities begin, there will be a lot more expenses to consider.  You have the doctors, the hospitals, the ambulance ride, OSHA, insurance companies, funeral homes (if necessary), and lawyers to contend with.  Each one is expecting you to pay for it all.  But not to worry—if you’re dead you won’t have to deal with it; your spouse gets to pay for it all.  She/he will appreciate that.

Some workers have the brilliant idea that if they fall they will be able to grab on to something on the way down, eliminating the sudden stop at the end.  Obviously, these workers have no idea how fast they will fall.  Did you know that after you have decided to take the pitch off the scaffold platform, in just one half of a second you are traveling at a delightful 11 miles per hour and you have traveled 4 feet?  Where do you suppose the guardrail is at that point?  And if you were lucky enough to grab and hold onto a scaffold member, such as a guardrail, you would have to hang on with a force of 1,600 pounds.  I suspect that your arm would no longer be attached to your shoulder.  But not to worry, you have another arm.

Perhaps we should take a different look at the entire concept of fall protection.  Instead of encouraging workers to utilize a guardrail system or personal fall arrest system, we should utilize the concept of reverse psychology.  (I took an “Introduction to Psychology” class back in college so I’m an expert on such matters.)  Employers should be encouraged to tell workers not to use fall protection.  Just think of the savings!  No guardrails to install, no personal fall protection equipment to buy.  For scaffold suppliers, it would mean additional yard space for other inventory.  Furthermore, no maintenance would be needed for those bent rails.  Safety officers could concentrate on more important things such as proper paperwork.  Job foremen could focus on the work to be done instead of worrying about whether the workers are working safely.  My goodness, productivity would soar.  Profits would skyrocket and the employer could share the monetary rewards with their employees; workers would be rewarded for working hazardously!  What an idea—why haven’t we instituted this policy?  Oh wait, on some jobsites we already have.

Note that I haven’t specified whether those workers are scaffold users or scaffold erectors.  We have erectors who tell us they don’t have to “tie-off” because they are special—they are erectors.  And we have users who think they don’t need guardrails because they won’t fall.  We have employers who just don’t care.  Maybe the reverse psychology is being used and we just haven’t recognized it.  I suppose I’ll have to take more classes to understand it.

Is It Compatible?

August 1st, 2008 by David H. Glabe, P.E.

Generally there are two issues that determine if scaffolds are compatible; the first issue applies to the same type of scaffold of different designs or manufactured by different manufacturers.  For example, a tubular welded frame scaffold manufactured by company A has a leg diameter of 1 inch while the tubular welded frame scaffold manufactured by company B has a leg diameter of 3 inches.  Obviously, the 1 inch diameter tube would not fit onto the 3 inch diameter leg.  This would make it incompatible.  The second issue applies to different types of scaffolds.  For example, can a tube & coupler scaffold, typically using tubes that are a nominal 2 inch diameter tube, be used with a systems scaffold that has the same diameter tube?  Can this same scaffold be used with a tubular welded frame scaffold that has a tube diameter of 1-5/8”?  These are legitimate questions for the scaffold inspector.

The Scaffold, Shoring & Forming Institute, SSFI, and manufacturers have guidelines about the matter.  So does the Scaffold Industry Association, (SIA).  The guidelines typically agree with the OSHA standards which succinctly sum it up:  “Scaffold components manufactured by different manufacturers shall not be modified in order to intermix them unless a competent person determines that the resulting scaffold is structurally sound.”  This means that scaffold components from different manufacturers can indeed by intermixed as long as the scaffold integrity is not compromised.

Here are factors that determine if seemingly different types of scaffolds are really compatible:

  • What does the manufacturer have to say about it?
  • Are the scaffolds the same type of scaffolds (e.g. systems scaffolds)?
  • Are the scaffolds manufactured of the same material (e.g., steel)?
  • Do the scaffolds fit together well? (although this isn’t a real good gauge of whether the scaffold is compatible since a really big hammer will solve this problem)

For tubular welded frame scaffolds, consider this:

  • Are the tube diameters the same?
  • Is the cross brace stud spacing the same?
  • Is the distance from the top cross brace stud to the top of the frame the same?
  • What is the height of the frame?  (A 5’-0” frame isn’t necessarily 5 feet tall)
  • Does the coupling pin have a collar?
  • If it does have a collar, is it the same height?  (Some coupling pins have no collar, some have an eighth or quarter inch collar and some have a one inch collar).
  • Do the holes for the coupling pin retainer pins line up?
  • Are the tube diameters the same?  Some tubes are 1.625” diameter (1-5/8”) and others are 1.69 inches.
  • Is the steel the same type of steel?  Is it 36 ksi, 50 ksi, or stronger?
  • If you know who the manufacturer is, what does he/she have to say about it?

For systems scaffolds, consider this:

  • Are the connections compatible?  Most connection points (rosettes, node points, etc.) are proprietary but many “ring” type connections may be compatible.
  • What is the spacing between connection points?  Most connections are a half meter (19.685 inches) but one systems scaffold connection spacing is 21 inches.
  • Is the steel the same type of steel?  Is it 36 ksi, 50 ksi, or stronger?
  • What is the tube diameter?
  • If you know who the manufacturer is, what does he/she have to say about it?

For tube & coupler scaffolds, consider this:

  • Are the couplers (clamps) compatible?
  • Are the end fittings compatible?  (While the “bayonet” fittings may look alike, they do not necessarily lock together.)
  • Is the steel the same type of steel?  Is it 36 ksi, 50 ksi, or stronger?
  • What is the tube diameter?
  • What is the tube wall thickness?
  • Pipe is not the same as tube.  Are you specifying the correct product?
  • Are the couplers sized for the tube being used?
  • If you know who the manufacturer is, what does he/she have to say about it?

This isn’t meant to be a complete list since there are many manufacturers with many products.  The OSHA standards exist to ensure that intermixed equipment performs as anticipated.  By requiring an evaluation by a competent person, the scaffold user will have a safe scaffold to use.  If you are not comfortable determining the compatibility between scaffold components, manufacturers, materials, and scaffold types, don’t guess – contact a competent person and/or a competent/qualified manufacturer.