What, Me Worry?

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / December 1, 2007

Should I be worried when I get on a scaffold?  Should I be worried when I can buy a scaffold frame for less than half of what it costs from another supplier?  Should I be worried when I don’t know the strength of the scaffold I get onto?  Am I expected to know how strong the scaffold is that I am using?  As a supplier should I know?  As an erector am I required to know how strong the scaffold is?  Should I worry about any of this?  It seems to me that it would not be a bad idea to know whether the scaffold I am on will collapse before I get off it.  It probably wouldn’t be a bad idea to know whether that extra stack of drywall will collapse the scaffold or merely overload it.  Did you know that it is mandatory that you know how strong the scaffold is?  Did you know that OSHA requires that you know how strong a scaffold is?  And finally, did you know that what you don’t know might kill you?

Elsewhere in this magazine you will find an article about the manufacturing of scaffolding.  The article describes the intricacies of manufacturing a scaffold product.  There is a lot more to it than just a bunch of round steel tubes.  Just because it is steel doesn’t mean it’s the right type of steel.  Just because it is welded doesn’t mean that it is welded correctly.  Once you read that article you should ask yourself the question:  Why is this more complicated than I thought?  It’s more complicated than you may think due to the simple fact that you expect it to work—all the time, every time.  Scaffold users, whether they think about it not, expect the scaffold to work every time they climb up to an elevated platform.  This isn’t like an automobile that may or may not start.  You don’t get a second chance with a poorly fabricated scaffold.  That’s why there are standards, regulations, specifications and procedures in place.  Responsible scaffold manufacturers want to make sure the product they sell will work for you – all the time, every time.  To do this, every participant in the manufacturing process must be responsible.  In fact, this can be extended to the supplier who purchases scaffolding for the purpose of renting or selling it to the end user.

Lucky for some suppliers, some scaffold users are not sufficiently sophisticated to expect a quality product, or at least a reliable product.  They don’t know that they are required to know how strong the scaffold is.  It’s probably a good thing because too many suppliers, and for that matter manufacturers, don’t know how strong their products are or are not.  Imitating an established design does not guarantee success.  Relying on the competitor’s load data is a certain road to disaster.  Thank goodness for a required high safety factor that protects the irresponsible manufacturer!

The Scaffold, Shoring & Forming Institute, SSFI, has developed a Standardized Testing Procedure so manufacturers can developed allowable load data that can be used by suppliers and users to confirm that the scaffold they are using isn’t overloaded.  Too often, scaffold manufacturers don’t conduct the proper testing.  For example, testing a scaffold frame one tier high will produce worthless data for a scaffold more than three frames high.  Conducting only one test will also produce worthless data.  Likewise, testing only one style of frame will not verify the capacity of a different style of frame.  My experience indicates that way too many “new” manufacturers have no idea the SSFI Standardized Testing Procedure exists, much less that they are required to comply with applicable standards and codes.  Unfortunately, if tests are conducted, they are conducted incorrectly, resulting in unreliable and misleading results.  To add to the bad news, the tests are conducted by supposedly responsible testing labs that also are unaware of the proper protocol, resulting in a misleading validation of incorrect procedures and data.  The final insult to the responsible manufacturer is the fraudulent misrepresentation of data.  This is where one supplier or manufacturer uses the data of another manufacturer and merely changes the letterhead.  It may be a clever way to appear legitimate but it won’t be too clever when someone dies because of it.  Thank goodness for a high safety factor.  Check out the OSHA standards:  29 CFR 1926.451(a)(1) and 1926.451(f)(1).  29 CFR 1926.451(a)(1) requires that your scaffolding have a 4 to 1 safety factor.  If you don’t know how strong the scaffold is in the first place, how in the world are you going to be in compliance with this standard?   29 CFR 1926.451(f)(1) requires that you don’t overload the scaffold.  Again, if you do not know the strength of the scaffold, you won’t be able to comply with the standard nor will you know if you are in danger of collapsing the scaffold.  A simple question from an OSHA compliance officer will discover if you know the strength of your scaffold and whether you have had sufficient training.  Should you be worried?

Tags: Scaffolding forming OSHA Standards & Regulations Resources Safety Hazards scaffold Shoring & Forming Institute SSFI Standardized Testing Procedure

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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