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November 2012

OSHA as Insurance

By | OSHA Standards & Regulations, Resources | No Comments

Insurance is a big deal.  There’s life insurance, medical insurance, insurance for insurance (reinsurance) and scaffold insurance, to name a few.  Generally, the purpose of insurance is to reduce financial risk for an individual entity; frankly, another way to look at it is that insurance shares the risk with other similar individual entities.  For example, life insurance works for both the insurer and the insured because we don’t all die at the same age.  Scaffold insurance works because not all scaffold companies are having accidents all the time.  Actuaries use data to determine the risks involved for the activity.  If the actuaries get it right, the insurance company makes money and the insureds are protected against disaster.

What if OSHA could be reorganized as an insurance company?  Now, don’t laugh—well not yet anyway.  Let’s see how this might work, using the insurance industry as a model.  Insurance companies evaluate the risk of the activity, determine the cost, and establish a rate to charge the client.  If general liability insurance is the product, the insurance company will look at the costs that companies incur doing business.  For scaffold companies, it will include accidents, lawsuits, injuries and deaths.  Once the risk is established, an adequate premium is determined to make sure the insurance company doesn’t lose any money.  However, taking the same model and applying it to OSHA standards and more importantly, to violations and citations, requires some manipulation and imagination.

Here’s how it would work.  Consider OSHA as the insurance company and the scaffold company as the insured.  Each year a scaffold company would invite OSHA onto any number of its projects for an inspection.  If there are no violations of the applicable OSHA standards, the company would get credit points.  We could call the credit points “OSHA bucks.”  These OSHA bucks would be insurance against future inspections that OSHA does without announcement, like they do today.  A scaffold company could bank these OSHA bucks similar to an insurance policy.  For example, assume a scaffold company has a general liability policy valued at 2 million dollars.  It could similarly bank 2 million OSHA bucks to be used in the future.  If OSHA shows up on a job and finds a violation, the scaffold company would pay the fine with OSHA bucks.

There probably would be a question about how many bucks a scaffold company could get.  Right now the way the system works is that if there is a single violation, the scaffold company wins a citation and gets to pay a hefty fine.  For example, on a scaffold that has a thousand guardrails, if only one guardrail is missing, the company fails the test and is cited.  Therefore, it is only fair that a buck should be given for each component of the scaffold.  If the suspended scaffold has 749 components there are 749 bucks in play.  Conversely, if an investigation of the scaffold reveals that only one component is missing, then OSHA is only entitled to one buck.

Actually, this system could be advantageous to the entire industry.  OSHA bucks could be traded between scaffold companies.  For example, scaffold company A, which constructs really good scaffolds, could trade OSHA bucks for some real money from company B which just can’t seem to build scaffolds correctly.  Contrary to the present system where OSHA can bargain away the monetary value of an impending fine, under this new system OSHA would not be allowed to trade bucks; in fact they wouldn’t have any bucks in their possession for trading.

To make the concept legitimate, there would have to be referees to make sure both the employer (scaffold company) and OSHA were behaving.  The referees would be independent, objective individuals who have a thorough understanding of scaffolding and the standards.  They would be paid by both the scaffold company and OSHA so that there would be no question about fairness.  Alternatively, these referees would be paid by the “loser”, that is, either the scaffold company who does have a violation, or OSHA if there are no violations.

You don’t think this is a good idea?  Here are a few advantages of such a system:

  1. Every time OSHA is invited onto a project, the individual Compliance Safety & Health Officer (CSHO) would learn about correctly constructed scaffolding.  (It’s assumed OSHA wouldn’t be invited onto a jobsite if the scaffold wasn’t correct.);
  2. Scaffold company employees would learn how to construct scaffolds correctly since an inspection is known to be occurring;
  3. CSHO’s would have to know their stuff;
  4. Scaffold companies would have to know their stuff since CSHOs would know their stuff;
  5. Informal hearings, formal hearings, and trials would be abolished;
  6. Ridiculous citations would be eradicated;
  7. Preposterous scaffold company claims would be eliminated;
  8. Resources would be spent on prevention, not enforcement and defense.

Just think how exciting this would be; instead of OSHA being the sheriff, as declared by the Department of Labor several years ago, employers, employees and OSHA would live in harmony since they all would realize that there are some big OSHA bucks at stake.  Of course, the current situation involves some very serious money too.  Unfortunately, it’s the employers that are handing out the money when the citations are unwarranted citations, brought on by inadequate understanding of the standards and scaffolding.  Unfortunately, there is no insurance for that.

Useful Regulations

By | Resources, Scaffolding, Uncategorized | No Comments

While some may believe there are no useful regulations, and certainly the actions of some scaffold users would confirm that belief, the OSHA standards (regulations) governing how we use scaffolds are actually quite, well useful.  Included are exciting minimum requirements such as who is to inspect scaffolds and who is to supervise the construction of scaffolds.  If you are a user of scaffolds, don’t stop reading!  Here’s a highlight of what you will find when you read section 29 CFR 1926.451(f) – Use of Scaffolds:

(1) Don’t overload scaffolds.  If you don’t know how strong a scaffold is, or how much stuff you are placing on the scaffold, it is impossible for you to comply with this easy to understand regulation.

(2) Don’t use lean-to or shore scaffolds.  If you think shore scaffolds are only used along the seashore, you’re all wet.  Imagine taking a sawhorse, cutting it in half and leaning both halves against a wall, about 8 feet apart.  Throw some planks across the top and you have a lean-to scaffold.  Don’t do this.

(3) Have a Competent Person inspect the scaffold prior to each workshift.  This one is serious; inspections help spot any improper modifications and developing problems that may exist.  Remember, a Competent Person can identify hazards and has the authority to do something about it.

(4) Repair any busted scaffold components or have them removed from use, before getting on the scaffold.

(5) Don’t move your scaffold horizontally with folks on it unless it has been specifically designed for that use by a qualified registered professional engineer.  This doesn’t apply to Mobile Scaffolds which, under certain conditions, can be moved with or without folks on them.

(6) Don’t get too close to power lines.  If the hum is too loud or your hair is standing on end, you are too close!  As a rule of thumb, 3 feet up to 300 volts, 10 feet up to 50,000 volts and an additional 0.4 inches for every 1,000 volts above that.  I have no idea how you would measure that although I strongly discourage using a metal tape measure!

(7)  Erect, dismantle, move, or alter a scaffold only under the supervision of a Competent Person, Qualified in scaffold erection, using trained and experienced workers.  This is important.  If you don’t know how to erect scaffolds, don’t assume you’re an expert—you’re not.  And don’t screw with the scaffold; ask for help.

(8) Slippery scaffolds can be dicey.  Unless you are using the scaffold for a ski jump, stay off it until the slipperiness is removed.  Of course, if you are the slipperiness removal technician, then get up there and remove the oil, ice or whatever is making it slippery.

(9) If you are swinging hoisted loads, don’t let them hit the scaffold.  You would think this is logical but apparently not if we have a regulation for it.

(10) Make sure the suspension rope matches the hoist and brake size.  Brakes sized for a ¾ inch rope won’t stop if you have a ¼ inch rope. Oh-oh!

(11) Don’t burn, melt or eat the suspension rope holding you.

(12) Don’t work on a scaffold in storms or a high wind, as determined by your Competent Person.  If the wind is so high that you think you will be blown off the scaffold, then you must utilize personal fall protection or put up a windscreen. (really, it actually says this!)

(13) Don’t let stuff  (debris) pile up on the platform.

(14) Don’t use upside down 5 gallon buckets (and other similar items) to increase the height of the scaffold.  Here’s a novel idea: if the scaffold isn’t high enough, have a trained and experienced erector build it higher.

(15) Don’t use ladders on scaffold platforms unless the scaffold platform is big enough to provide stability against overturning forces from the ladder, the platform is secured to prevent movement, the ladder is stabilized due to platform deflection, and the ladder legs are secured so they don’t come off the platform (duh).  (Of course, you could have the trained and experienced erector from # 14 build the scaffold higher.)

(16) Wood platform plank cannot deflect more than 2 inches for a 10’-0” span, 1-3/8 inches for a 7’-0” span and 1 inch for a 5’-0” span.  If the deflection is more than that, you either have too much load on the plank, or you have crummy plank, or both.  If you don’t know how much weight you can put on the plank, reread # 1 and get help.

(17) Don’t weld from a suspended scaffold unless you know what you are doing.   This means you know what precautions must be taken to protect the scaffold so that you don’t burn off the ropes holding you in the air, you don’t fry the hoist, and you don’t melt the aluminum components.  If you haven’t been trained in the necessary rigging techniques, stay off the scaffold with your stinger; you may kill yourself.

As I stated earlier, these are highlights of the minimum requirements for the safe use of a scaffold.  Don’t assume this covers everything that you may be doing on the scaffold.  Rules and regulations do not make up for the stupid stuff you may do.  Just because it isn’t listed in the standards doesn’t mean it is safe.  If you are unsure about whether you are working safely, then get off the scaffold and get training, or retraining.  Scaffolds are safe when constructed correctly.  It’s the untrained user that will make that scaffold unsafe.