Why do we fear an inspection, particularly a scaffold inspection? Mr. Webster, in his dictionary, describes an inspection as a “Careful investigation, a critical examination, to examine or review officially, to look at carefully.” How does this relate to scaffold, you ask? How does this relate to the SIA Code of Safe Practices, and to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, Standards? How does this relate to the Canadian Standards? More importantly, how does an inspection affect you and me? Are we afraid of what the inspection might uncover? Is it possible that our scaffold is not constructed correctly and safely?
I am occasionally asked to inspect scaffolds. I do this with some trepidation since it can possibly put me, as the inspector, in an awkward situation with the scaffold erector. But should it? If the erector is competent, qualified in scaffold erection, as the U.S. federal standards require, then the scaffold should be safe. Therefore, is it unreasonable to assume that the scaffold was erected in compliance with applicable standards? Unfortunately, my experience indicates that many erectors just don’t understand the basic scaffold principles. Worse yet are the erectors who know the principles and standards but choose not to follow them, hoping that I will either not notice the deficiencies or agree that the imperfections aren’t very important. Too bad compliance officers, insurance companies, attorneys, and injured workers don’t see it that way.
As a professional engineer, I am bound to work within the standards and practices that govern our particular fields of work. I take that responsibility seriously, as has been discovered by some erectors who thought that constructing the scaffold approximately according to the minimum standards was good enough. Having said that, don’t misunderstand the message. I am not advocating strict adherence to the letter of the law; what I am saying is that erectors, and equally important, inspectors, must understand the intent of the law. We in the industry, and this includes erectors, inspectors, designers, and manufacturers, who have a responsibility for the safety of others, must understand this awesome responsibility. It should not be taken lightly, or as some kind of game. Therefore, any responsible, knowledgeable worker will welcome a scaffold inspection conducted by an equally responsible, knowledgeable inspector.
So, what should an inspection include? Simply stated, an inspection should include all those items that could affect the safety of the user of the scaffold. Based on applicable standards, generally accepted construction practices, and good engineering practice, an inspection should consider three categories:
1. The strength of the scaffold
2. The stability of the scaffold
3. The safety of the scaffold
If the inspection only includes one or two of the categories, it is not complete. Let’s look at each of these areas and see how an inspection can be accomplished.
The strength of the scaffold: This category addresses the ability of the scaffold to support loads. More specifically, the foundation, condition of the equipment, the applied loads, and the manner in which the scaffold is constructed must be inspected. For example, is the soil compacted, is the sill large enough, is bracing installed, are the legs plumb and vertical, have the loads been analyzed, and is the scaffold strong enough to support those loads?
The stability of the scaffold: This category addresses the ability of the scaffold to remain standing, or in the case of a suspended scaffold, to remain suspended. Size of the base, how the scaffold is connected to an adjacent structure, the ability of the connections to support the loads, the platform support, the effect of varying loading conditions on the legs or rigging of the scaffold, and the application of the actual loads must be examined.
The safety of the scaffold: This category addresses the safety concerns of the scaffold, including access, fall protection, falling object protection, electrocution hazards, and other adjacent conditions that can affect the safety of the scaffold user.
Good guidelines for use in inspecting scaffolds are readily available; they include the Scaffold Industry Association Codes of Safe Practices. If you find these codes to be unsuitable for your purposes, make your own. The fact is, the codes and standards have been written to address potential hazards, contrary to the belief of some who think the standards were written to aggravate scaffold erectors and make life miserable. If you built the scaffold correctly, you should welcome an inspection, a careful investigation of your work. After all, we are talking about the protection of fellow workers. Is this not worth a critical examination?