Don’t Know, Then Ask

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / August 1, 2010

Since scaffolding includes many types of products used in many different applications, it is difficult to address all the specific issues that may develop during the use of scaffolding.  In other words, there are a lot of questions; here are a few.

  1.                    Do I need to know the OSHA scaffold standards?   No.
  2.                   Do I need to know the OSHA scaffold standards if I am using a scaffold to do my work?  Yes, but since you are a scaffold user, you don’t have to know all the standards, only those that apply to you.
  3.                   As a scaffold user, do I need to know how to erect scaffolds?  No.  In fact, as a scaffold user, you shouldn’t be erecting, dismantling, or altering the scaffold.
  4.                   The OSHA standards say that I must know the load carrying capacities of the scaffold I am using; do I really need to know that?  Of course you are but if you don’t know you’re lucky since nobody is enforcing that standard.
  5.                  I have been trained in the proper use of a two point suspended scaffold.  Next week I am going to be using a systems scaffold to do my work.  Do I need re-training?  Yes, you do if you have not had training in the type of scaffold you will be using.
  6.                   Is my employer required to have written proof of my scaffold training?  No, it’s not required by OSHA.  In fact, if a compliance officer asks for written proof, he/she is violating the law.
  7.                   Does that mean I can lie about my training and get away with it?  Sure, if you want to be an idiot.  Your training isn’t there to satisfy OSHA or me or anyone else.  The training is for you so you can use the scaffold safely.
  8.                  How do I prove that I am properly trained?  Well, a certificate will show that you sat through training but doesn’t necessarily prove you were paying attention.  The proof is in how you use the scaffold—in other words you get to demonstrate that you know what you are doing.
  9.                   If I am competent in what I do, is that the same as being the competent person?  No.  Knowing what you are doing and being a competent person are two different things.  A competent person is described by OSHA as someone who can identify a hazard and hasauthority to do something about it.  You may be competent enough to be able to identify a hazard but have no authority to do anything about it.  You are not the competent person.  On the other hand, your boss, for example, has all the authority but may not be able to identify a hazard with the scaffold you are using.  He is not a competent person.  That means you get to tell your boss that he/she is incompetent!  (Let me know how that works out.)
  10.               I just finished reading all the US and Canadian scaffold standards.  Does that make me a competent person?  No (See question #9 above).  Mr. Kevin Horrigan, writing in the St. Louis Post Dispatch, stated that another writer, Mr. Nicholas Carr, claimed that Socrates was worried that the development of writing would mean that people would be able to “receive a quantity of information without proper instruction, thus making them appear to be very knowledgeable when they are for the most part quite ignorant.”  My experience proves that Socrates was correct.  In order to understand codes and standards you must be familiar with subject matter.  Just because you have seen a scaffold does not make you an expert.
  11.              Do I need to know how strong the scaffold I am using is?  Yes, you are expected to know that.
  12.              I don’t know who manufactured the scaffold I am using since I bought it used from somebody and she didn’t know who made it.  How do I determine how strong it is?  Well, the best way is to have it tested by a reputable testing company that can utilize the “Standardized Testing Procedure,” developed and published by the Scaffold, Shoring and Forming Institute (SSFI).  Alternatively, you can do what some companies do and either use somebody else’s load charts, fake the load chart, or say that it is “just like another company’s scaffold so use their load chart.”  Of course these alternatives are unethical and downright wrong but it is your decision to make.
  13.               US OSHA requires that all scaffolds shall support its own weight and 4 times the intended load.  What is that standard talking about?  This standard requires that you don’t overload the scaffold.  That is why you need to know how strong the scaffold is.  If you don’t know how strong the scaffold is, how can you possibly comply with the standard?
  14.              My scaffold supplier doesn’t have a load chart for the scaffolding they rent and sell.  What do I do?  Suggest to them that they talk to their manufacturer and get that data.  You may want to consider looking into buying your scaffold from a supplier who has that information.  Of course, testing costs money so don’t be surprised that the scaffolding is more expensive.  On the other hand, since nobody seems to be enforcing the loading standard—-.
  15.               Aren’t the standards and codes just like instructions?  Nope.  You need to know the subject matter to be able to understand the standards and codes.  If you want to comply with scaffold standards, you better get trained.  If you want to enforce the standards, you better get trained too.  This includes safety managers and compliance officers. Just because you ride in an automobile doesn’t mean you know how to drive!

Tags: Scaffolding Mr. Kevin Horrigan OSHA Standards & Regulations OSHA training Resources scaffold Shoring and Forming Institute Standardized Testing Procedure

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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