Do you remember the last time you took a test or quiz? Do you remember how many questions were on that test? Do you remember how you felt before you took the test and after you took the test? Were the questions true and false? Perhaps they were multiple choice or even fill in the blank. Then of course, there were the essay tests and worse yet, tests with problems. Those always seemed the toughest. What was a passing grade? Was the test graded on a curve?


For most of us, its probably been awhile since we took a test, any kind of test. But, imagine that tomorrow you are going to take a test involving scaffolding. It really doesn’t matter what type of scaffold, but assume it’s a scaffold familiar to you. After all, we don’t want to make this test any harder than its going to be. In fact, let’s start with a quiz, of say twenty questions. The questions will be mainly fill in the blank although the test administrator may give you a couple of multiple choice questions and perhaps some true and false questions. The topics will include the OSHA standards, common sense, work habits, and general knowledge. How do you think you will do?


Now imagine that a bigger test will be given, call it a final exam. This final exam will consist of a mind boggling 7000 questions! Most will be fill in the blank, but certainly there will be several problems that have to be solved and even some essay questions to answer. Finally, the test administrator may choose to give you some oral questions, (that is, you have to tell the answer; you just can’t write it down.) While this exam may now seem impossibly difficult, there are two more criteria. First, the test administrator, at the administrator’s discretion, may arbitrarily decide what is the correct answer, based on his or her own opinion and not necessarily on fact. Second, and this will be difficult to accept, but you must get all the questions correct. One question wrong and you fail the exam.


Ridiculous you say, and besides, what does this have to do with scaffolding. The final exam just described can be any large scaffold project, one involving 7000 components. The quiz would be a small project involving just a few pieces. As we all know, or should know, not installing all the pieces may result in an unsafe or unstable scaffold that could fail. Missing just one of the hundreds of OSHA regulations could result in failure. Keep in mind that in the scaffold section alone, there are over two hundred regulations applicable to scaffolds. While all these regulations may not apply to your scaffold, it really doesn’t matter. Miss just one of the applicable regulations, and you failed the exam. The essay questions, particularly the verbal essay questions, occur when an individual responsible for safety, the exam administrator, asks you what you know about scaffolds, regulations, and training. Answer any of that wrong, and you just flunked. If the administrator knows little about the subject, it probably doesn’t matter; the administrator can arbitrarily change the answer to the question. In some cases, you flunk just because your actions appear to be suspicious.


Finally, just when you think you might have survived this incredibly tough exam, you’ll be asked about your previous education and training. If you can’t answer that to the satisfaction of the administrator, you still fail even if you passed the rest of the exam. This is tough stuff. You’ll have to go back and get retrained. Incidentally, it is not required for the exam administrator to be trained in the subject matter. He or she only has to know how to give the test.


The next time you are involved with a scaffold, whether it’s the selling, renting, erecting, or designing the scaffold, think about the grading system. If you send workers out to erect scaffolds, think about the rigorous exam they must take today, and every day. Have you given those erectors the knowledge, skill, and training to pass the test with a perfect score? Do you have the knowledge, training, and expertise to determine the competency of your fellow worker? If you are the administrator of the test, are you qualified to give the test and are you qualified to grade the test? Is it possible to grade “on the curve” without compromising safety? Is it possible to accept the fact that a perfect score everyday, on every exam, is not realistic and never expected in any school? While incorrectly constructed scaffolds subject the user to hazards, do all imperfections in the scaffold result in serious injury or death? If not, why do we demand a perfect score? On the other hand, if any imperfection is critical, its time to recognize the importance of skilled workers. This includes the erector, the user, and equally important, the safety officer responsible for ensuring the safe construction and use of scaffolds. To be effective, the test administrator must know more than the test taker.