A Better New Year

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / December 31, 1998

The new year always brings resolutions that promise to make one’s life better, break bad habits, improve one’s health, lose weight, gain weight, stop smoking, and who knows what else. ( My latest resolution is to not make any resolutions.)


In this era of increased safety awareness I wonder if anybody has made a resolution to improve scaffold safety? Recently, Occupational Safety & Health magazine reported that Barbara J. Bielaski, Occupational Safety & Health, OSHA, safety and occupational health specialist, said, in a presentation at a safety conference, that in 1997 almost 700 workers were killed in fall related deaths. Furthermore, thousands more suffered lost work time injuries. Bielaski presented statistics that show that fatal falls from scaffolds, ladders, and other surfaces are the second leading source of fall fatalities. Unfortunately, these statistics repeat what has been true for years; scaffolds are a major source of fall fatality and injury.


Ms. Bielaski also presented other statistics at the safety conference:


• There are three fatal falls per day

• Most of the fall fatalities occur between 8 a.m. and 3:59 p.m.

• Falls by age were:

Age 25 to 34: 122 fatalities

Age 35 to 44: 186 fatalities

Age 45 to 54: 153 fatalities

Age 55 to 64: 107 fatalities


What can be done to change these statistics? One obvious solution is to provide fall protection, either guardrail systems, or personal fall arrest equipment. Interesting enough, guardrail systems for scaffolds have been available for many years, well before the first OSHA regulations. The statistics illustrate that scaffold users apparently don’t use those guardrails and worse yet, the scaffold erectors don’t install them. What are the reasons for this behavior? While I can’t think of any legitimate reasons for this behavior, I, and I’m sure you can, think of some less than legitimate reasons. Some reasons that readily come to mind include:


Economics – Those guardrail rental rates are outrageous!

Economics – I didn’t put anything in the bid for guardrails

Economics – They get in the way of the work and slows me down

Time – I don’t have time to put the guardrails up

Time – I’ll only be on the platform for a moment

Knowledge – Don’t worry, I won’t fall

Knowledge – Believe me, I’m not planning to fall

Knowledge – Trust me, I won’t fall

Knowledge – Do you think I’m stupid? I’m not going to fall


Training, of course, is fundamental to understanding the hazards involved with the construction and use of scaffolds. Training provides the knowledge necessary for users to safely do work on scaffolds without falling. Training provides knowledge for erectors to properly erect the scaffold. Training provides knowledge for safety workers to recognize fall hazards and provide the reinforcement for safe scaffold usage.


Finally, enforcement is essential to minimizing falls and fall fatalities. Trained enforcement personnel, who not only understand the regulations, but more importantly, understand the hazards associated with the construction and use of scaffolds, must encourage, and when necessary, mandate the proper use of fall protection systems.


It’s never too late to make a New Year’s resolution. Why not make one with me: in 1999, you and I will actively stress the use of fall protection on scaffolds, in accordance with standards and safe industry practice, for the purpose of reducing the fall fatalities in the scaffold industry.

Tags: OSHA Standards & Regulations Resources scaffold fatalities scaffold related deaths

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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