By David H. Glabe, P.E. / February 28, 1999

Is it scaffold? Or, is it shoring? Is there a difference? Of course there is a difference. Scaffolding is an elevated work platform and its’ supporting structure, used to support workers, materials, or both. Shoring is the assembly of vertical legs, horizontal members, and formwork, that is used to support concrete or other loads. The significance of all this is the ramification that the industry and OSHA standards have on the installation and use of the equipment.


Simply put, if the installation is classified as scaffolding, entirely different standards apply than if the installation is classified as shoring. Two issues, worker safety, and compliance with applicable standards, are involved. Viewed from the perspective of worker safety, there really isn’t much difference between shoring and scaffolding. After all, both utilize similar equipment, and in fact, at times the equipment is identical; in other words, scaffold frames can be used for supporting concrete while shoring frames can be used to support work decks. Viewed from the perspective of Standards compliance and enforcement, surprising results can occur, especially if the individual applying the standards is not familiar with either the standards, the distinction between scaffolding and shoring, or both.


Looking at worker safety first, both scaffolding and shoring present exposures to workers that must be addressed. The primary hazard is falls, caused either by poor access, or while working at heights. The exposure is the same for shoring or scaffolding since both are typically erected in a similar manner. Erectors are exposed to falls while erecting the individual legs or frames. Erectors are also exposed to falls while assembling the deck, whether it is the formwork deck or a scaffold work deck. Because of this, the exposure should be limited to only those erectors who are trained in hazard recognition and proper equipment handling and erection; erectors not involved with the leading edge work should be protected from exposed edges of decks. If adequate anchors, either designed for the loads or strong enough to support 5000 pounds, are available, they should be used by the erectors to attach personal fall protection equipment. (Scaffolding and shoring towers that are not designed as anchors should not be used as anchors.) It is interesting to note that typically, shoring towers cannot be fall protection anchors because they are usually free standing.


Compliance with applicable standards, regulations, and industry practice is straightforward provided that the intent of the standards is not forgotten. The standards exist because of known hazards. It can’t get any more simple! Problems arise when workers and standards enforcers do not understand the intent of these standards. Taking the Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) standards as an example, compliance becomes very confusing if you do not understand that there is a difference between shoring and scaffolding. Subpart Q, Concrete and Masonry Construction, which applies to shoring, has no specific standards addressing the erection of shoring and formwork. Instead, fall protection for workers on the formwork deck is addressed in Subpart M, Fall Protection, since the formwork deck is considered an open sided platform. Conversely, since scaffolding is excluded from Subpart M, you must go to Subpart L, Scaffolds, to find the standards that apply to fall protection for workers erecting and using scaffolding and scaffold work platforms.


What about access? This gets a little trickier since both shoring and scaffolding erectors are responsible for constructing proper access for users of the shoring and scaffolding. Similar to fall protection, there are no requirements in Subpart Q that specifically address the installation or use of access for shoring erectors. However, Subpart X, Stairways and Ladders, does address this issue: “A stairway or ladder shall be provided at all personnel points of access where there is a break in elevation of 19 inches.” This is great for platforms and floors, but what about the erector of shoring equipment who must climb individual towers to erect the frames, stringers and joists? The standards are silent on this matter. Fortunately, this issue is addressed for scaffold erectors in Subpart L. The competent person determines proper access for the erector. As an erector, normal industry practice is to follow the same guidelines for shoring. However, from an enforcement standpoint, the standards of Subpart L cannot be applied because shoring equipment is not scaffolding equipment. Therefore, Subpart L standards cannot be applied to shoring any more than Subpart Q standards can be applied to scaffolding.


So, what’s the answer here? Remember, shoring is not scaffolding; scaffolding is not shoring. Keep the following in mind when reviewing potentially applicable standards and regulations:

1. The type of equipment does not define the classification of shoring or scaffolding. The activity defines the classification.

2. Fall protection measures and access for erectors are to be determined by the competent person, for both scaffold and shoring erectors. Note: The Subpart L standards specifically address fall protection and access requirements for scaffolding erectors; there are no specific standards that address fall protection and access requirements for shoring erectors.

3. Standards for the application and use of shoring are found in Subpart Q of the federal standards.

4. Standards for the application and use of scaffolding are found in Subpart L of the federal standards.

5. Shoring formwork decks are considered open sided platforms; consequently fall protection for users (but not necessarily erectors) of the platform must be provided when the deck is more than six feet above the next level (Subpart M).

6. Erectors of shoring are exposed to the same hazards as scaffold erectors and the Subpart L standards for scaffold erectors can be excellent guidelines (notice I said guidelines, not standards or laws) for shoring erectors to use.

7. Subpart L standards do not apply to shoring and therefore are not enforceable for shoring applications.

8. Common sense dictates that all scaffold and shoring erection must be done by trained and experienced personnel under the supervision of a competent person.

9. Subpart X, Stairways and Ladders, clearly was not written with shoring erectors in mind. Therefore, no Subpart X regulations specifically apply to shoring erectors.

10. Although workers will be on a formwork platform installing edge forms and rebar, the deck is a formwork deck, not a work deck.

11. Don’t lose your focus. The whole idea is to protect workers, both users and erectors. Consider the options, minimize or eliminate the hazard, and provide training. Training is the best protection a worker can have.

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