This May Interest You

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / October 31, 2016


While some rules and regulations are well known to the industry, sometimes the application of those regulations may be hidden in the complexity of the details. Here are a few confusing questions and equally confusing answers about scaffolding and the applicable standards.

If I construct a stairway utilizing scaffold components, and it is used to access a building under construction, does it have to be inspected prior to each workshift?  No it does not because it is not a scaffold. In this case, the stairway is a construction stairway and must comply with the requirements in 29 CFR 1926, Subpart X – Stairways and Ladders.  There are no requirements in Subpart X that requires the stairway to be inspected before each workshift.

If the stairway is not a scaffold, are the erectors still scaffold erectors.  I don’t know how they can be since they are not erecting a scaffold.

If they aren’t scaffold erectors, what are they?  Good question.  My first guess would be to say they are steel erectors; however, one look at Subpart R, the OSHA steel erection standards, will tell you they didn’t have these guys in mind when the steel erection standards were written.

What if I just follow the scaffold standards regarding erector fall protection?  That’s probably a good idea although steel connectors don’t have to utilize fall protection until they are up two floors or 30 feet, whichever is less.  That’s a lot less stringent than the scaffold requirements.

You mean to tell me steel erectors don’t have to tie off until 30 feet in the air and scaffold erectors have to at ten feet?  That’s right; just keep in mind that it is the steel connectors (the leading edge guys) that don’t have to tie off.  They have to wear their harness and lanyard at 15 feet but do not have to tie off until two floors or 30 feet.

What if the stairway
was built to access a scaffold?
  The stairway is now a scaffold stairway and Subpart L applies.  Besides other requirements, it has to inspected prior to each workshift.

That’s crazy.  You mean to tell me that I can have one stair accessing a building and it doesn’t need inspection and the identical stair next to it accessing scaffolding needs an inspection prior to each workshift?  You have that correct.  And don’t forget, the first step on the stair ac
cessing the building can be no more than 19 inches while the first step on the stair accessing the scaffold can be as much as 24 inches.

What about trash chutes built inside a scaffold tower—is the tower a scaffold?  It is a scaffold only is there is a platform at the top to throw the trash down the chute.  If there is no platform, it cannot be a scaffold since by definition, a scaffold has to have a platform.

Does that mean the guys erecting the tower are not scaffold erectors?  That’s right.  It’s the same argument that was used for the stairway.

Does the trash chute tower need access?  Why should it—it’s not a scaffold.

Would the trash chute tower have to have a 4 to 1 safety factor?  No—it’s not a scaffold; how many times do I have to tell you?

Are aerial lifts such as boom lifts, mast climbers and scissors lifts considered scaffolds?  Yes, and no.  OSHA included regulations governing aerial platforms in Subpart L where the scaffold standards are.  However, the regulations for aerial lifts are exclusively in section 29 CFR 1926.453 of the subpart, as stated in the Scope and Application of Subpart L (29 CFR 1926.450).

But that section references an American National Standards Institute (ANSI) standard from 1969.  I wasn’t even born then.  Isn’t it outdated?  Of course it is and OSHA recognizes that.  At the end of the aerial lift section there is note that refers the reader to Non-Mandatory Appendix C that lists ANSI standards that are considered to be equal to the requirements of 29 CFR 1926.453.

I heard that OSHA says that a scissors lift is not an aerial platform but rather a mobile scaffold.  Can that be true since ANSI lists a scissors lift as an aerial platform (A92.6) and it shows up in Appendix C of the OSHA standards?  Unfortunately, that is true.  Because of the way the OSHA standards are written, and remembering that it is a legal document more than anything else, OSHA considers scissors lifts as mobile scaffolds and therefore they must comply with the regulations found in 29 CFR 1926.452(w).

That’s stupid, isn’t it?  Not if you understand that OSHA is bound by the way the standards are written.  Of course, we all know that a scissors lift is an aerial platform so buy the ANSI standard from the SAIA and comply with those requirements and you will be safe.  Unfortunately, I have no idea what might happen when OSHA compliance tries to cite you for not locking the casters on your scissors lift!

Do employees have to comply with the OSHA standards? Of course they do.

I thought the employers have to comply and in turn make the employees comply.  It is true that employers must comply with the standards in addition to providing a safe workplace for the employees.  However, Section 5(b) of the Occupational Safety & Health Act requires that employees must also comply.  It’s just that OSHA doesn’t enforce that part of the law.

Why doesn’t OSHA enforce it?  Beats me—why don’t you ask them.  Or better yet, ask your Congressman.

I hear that in Canada they will cite the employee.  That’s true, and even send the perp to jail for manslaughter if he killed someone on the job.

I work on a project that involves the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.  I have been told that their scaffold standards, referenced as EM-385, are not standards like the OSHA standards but are only part of the contract.  Is that true?  Pretty much so.  And since they are part of the contract that you signed, you have to comply with them.

But they don’t agree with the OSHA standards; now what do I do?  One thought is to get a new job.  This can be tough since you need the cooperation of the compliance officer to make it work.  My suggestion is to use the most stringent regulation.

I am standing behind a guardrail system at the edge of the tenth floor of a building under construction.  The toprail is designed for 200 pounds as required by the OSHA standards.  I am wearing a harness and double lanyard and have hooked off my lanyards to the toprail.  Am I breaking any regulations?  What are you—some kind of trouble maker?  Of course you are not violating any fall protection standards and you know it.  But you sure look good and safe.   And after that question, that’s the last question out of you. (This answer is correct.  Why?)


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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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