How Important are Employees?

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How important are employees?  That could be a tough question.  How do you measure importance?  Is it the revenue generated for the company?  Perhaps it is the amount of money that is saved or never spent.  What about the sales representative who brings in all that business for the company?  She is the one that makes the company successful.  Wait a minute; the sales manager provided all that guidance and advice so the scales reps could be successful.  That would make the sales manager the important one.  Or is it the president of the company?  Without the vision and direction, the company would never be where it is today.


When it comes to scaffolding, I think there are a lot of important employees.  Sure, you have to have sales representatives, managers and officers.  But you also need the employees who do the physical labor of repairing equipment, loading trucks and delivering materials.  In fact, there is one employee that seems to be overlooked too often.  This is the individual whose judgment is relied upon by scaffold users every day.  This is the individual who is exposed to potential hazards that most people would never ever experience in their lives, not even once.  This is the individual who is expected to be a qualified and competent person while also being an expert in soils, structures and construction techniques.  This individual is expected to know all the OSHA standards, not just the scaffolding standards, and is expected to perform his job in all kinds of weather conditions.  And finally, this is the individual who is blamed when the scaffold isn’t finished, in spite of the fact that often he has no control over scheduling, and many times is first on the project and the last one off the project.  This person is your scaffold erector.


Think about it.  The erector is responsible for making sure the scaffold platform is complete.  The erector is responsible for making the scaffold conform to the design and ensure that all the parts work properly.  It is the erector who makes sure the foundation is correct and the access is sufficient.  How often is the scaffold used by workers who never give it a second thought, standing on a platform at great heights to get their work done, never considering what it takes to provide the platform?


Erectors get no respect.  If the job uses more labor, its their fault.  If the scaffold isn’t completed on time, it’s their fault.  If the scaffold isn’t dismantled on time, yep, its their fault.  While I have to admit that at times it very well is the erector’s fault, too often it is the estimator or the scheduler or the designer or the manager who should be taking the blame.  Think about it.  Have you ever erected scaffolding on the side of a building in below freezing weather?  How about erecting a scaffold in the middle of a refinery in the middle of August in Houston, Texas?  (I have to admit that I haven’t done that one but I can tell you that just standing on a scaffold in the middle of a refinery in August is enough, much less having to build it!)


What kind of support do we give these employees who do some of the toughest work in construction?  Well, we do give them the tools so they can assemble the equipment.  Big deal.  What kind of training do we give them?  Do we teach them what the applicable standards are?  Do we provide them with basic engineering principles so they don’t have to guess?  Do we teach them how handle equipment so they don’t beat up their bodies by the age of thirty?  Do we really give them the tools and equipment so they can be more productive?


What has the industry done to support scaffold erectors?  Have we examined the cause of erector injuries?  Do we know how erectors get hurt, how they fall, and yes, how they die from jobsite accidents?  No we don’t.  I doubt we know much more abut erectors and the real hazard exposure than we did in 1970, when OSHA was enacted.  That’s 37 years we have had to gather data and statistics to help us formulate an effective job hazard analysis for erectors.  We squandered that opportunity and other similar opportunities to improve the safety of the scaffold erector.  We have not significantly improved the means and methods of scaffold construction nor have we recognized that professional scaffold erection is a skill that few possess.  Building a scaffold doesn’t require a doctorate in quantum physics; it does, however, require a determination to work safely in many adverse environments with minimal support. Very few other jobs in construction subject employees to the conditions that scaffold erectors experience.


Think about that the next time you look at a scaffold or better yet, as you climb a scaffold.  You trust your life to an individual who cares enough about you to make sure you are safe.  Do you care as much about him?

Engineer Needed?

By | Employees, OSHA Standards & Regulations, Resources | No Comments

The Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA, requires the services of a professional engineer for certain activities regarding scaffold design and analysis. What is the significance or this requirement? The obvious answer is that it is important that an individual with specialized training and expertise participate in the design process. For example, a professional engineer is required to design an outrigger scaffold. A qualified engineer is also required for the design of a side or end bracket on a frame scaffold when it is used to support loads other than personnel loads and a professional engineer is needed to design supported scaffolds higher than 125 feet.

So, what does a qualified professional engineer have that a “qualified person” may not have? What’s so special about the status of professional engineer? What does it take to be a professional engineer? Can any professional engineer design scaffolds or are there limitations? These are legitimate questions that deserve a proper answer.

To begin with, an engineering degree from an accredited college is required. Once the degree is granted, the candidate is eligible to take the first exam, called the principles of engineering. This is an eight hour exam that determines if the individual understands the material learned in college. Following successful completion of the exam, the person is described as an engineering intern (also known as an engineer-in-training). The next step for the intern is to work under the supervision of a professional engineer in his/her chosen profession for a minimum of four years. Once this internship has been completed, the engineer is eligible to take the second half of the exam; this eight hour test addresses the principles and practices of engineering. Assuming the engineer passes this second exam, (the success rate is about 50 per cent), the individual is eligible to become a professional engineer, assuming the rights and responsibilities of the profession. Finally, the professional engineer, as with other professions, must continue the educational process by taking a certain number of credit hours of continuing education each year.

Each state in theUnited States, and each province inCanada, regulates the engineering profession. Besides the mandatory government laws, the responsibilities of a professional engineer are described in the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) Code of Ethics for Engineers: “Engineers, in the fulfillment of their professional duties, shall:

1. Hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.

2. Perform services only in areas of their competence.

3. Issue public statements only in an objective and truthful manner.

4. Avoid deceptive acts.

5. Conduct themselves honorably, responsibly, ethically, and lawfully so as to enhance the honor, reputation, and usefulness of the profession.”

How does this relate to scaffolding? First, the professional engineer must comply with the applicable codes and regulations. This includes the OSHA standards, building codes, ANSI standards, and other pertinent standards. This obligation cannot be taken lightly. “Fudging” on the rules can result in significant punishment. At a minimum, the engineer will be admonished for the behavior. Depending on the severity of the infraction, the engineer can be severely fined, imprisoned and his/her engineering license revoked. The purpose of this process is to provide assurance that the scaffold design is correct. That is, when you see a scaffold design that has an engineering seal affixed, it is proof that the design has been done in accordance with good engineering principles and according to the applicable standards and practices.

To protect the profession, the use of the term “engineer” is regulated. For example, if a scaffolding company claims to have an engineering department, the department must have a professional engineer on staff. If a company claims to offer engineering services, the principals must be licensed engineers. In fact, a degree in engineering will not allow you to offer engineering services; you must be licensed. This limitation on the use of the term engineer extends to usage in other ways. For example, if you provide an “engineered layout” it must be completed by a professional engineer or under the supervision of a professional engineer. This means that professional engineers who are not involved in a specific design process but stamp the design anyway are guilty of “plan stamping,” an illegal practice subject to punishment of heavy fines and license revocation. (Plan stamping is not to be confused with design review whereby a professional engineer reviews a design for accuracy and so states the limitation of that specfic professional engineering certification.)

The use of the professional engineering seal should not be taken lightly or misunderstood. The purpose of the seal is not to spread the liability as some might think. The real liability is in the fraudulent use of a professional engineer’s stamp and/or the implication that a design was completed by a professional engineer when it was not. The engineering profession does not look kindly on this type of behavior. Instead, the seal on a scaffold design is proof that the design is correct and will provide the anticipated results without risk to safety and health. The seal is your assurance that the work has been done correctly and that you can rely on the provided information.

Its Not Working

By | Employees, OSHA Standards & Regulations, Resources | No Comments

The methodology that is used in the United States to encourage compliance with the safety and health standards isn’t working.  That’s a polite way of saying that the strategy the Federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA, uses to enforce the regulations is flawed.  The strategy is partially effective, but unfortunately that’s the problem; its only partially effective.  There is no doubt that slapping an employer with a $70,000 fine will get the employer’s attention but the employer is not the entire problem and therein lies the flaw.


In 1970 the United States Congress passed a law that has several requirements.  The first requirement specifies that all employers must provide all employees a work place that is free of hazards that will result in serious injury or death.  This is a reasonable request and one would think that after 30 years all employers would be complying with this portion of the law.  (Unfortunately, such is not the case and this alone is a very good reason for a strong enforcement strategy.)  The second requirement specifies that all employers must comply with the standards that were developed as a result of the law.  This is logical since it can be assumed that the standards have been developed not only to guide employers but also to ensure that workplaces are free of hazards that will result in serious injury or death.  Since it is reasonable to assume that the employer sets the rules for employees, it would follow that forcing the employer to comply with the standards would also result in the employee complying with the standards.


To facilitate an understanding of the rules, the OSHA standards require, and have required since 1971, that the employer is to provide training for all his/her employees.  More specifically, the scaffold standards require the employer to provide training for employees involved with scaffolding.  In other words, the employee is to know all about the OSHA scaffold standards.  Consequently, the enforcement strategy that OSHA uses punishes the employer for not providing a safe workplace, for not providing the employee with adequate safety training, and not complying with the standards.  Nothing is wrong with this strategy.  The failure of the strategy is that enforcement stops with the employer.  It is believed that the employer carries the big stick; non-compliance by the employee will result in adequate punishment for the employee so that violations do not reoccur.  Nice idea, but not effective enough.


OSHA has no apparent strategy for encouraging the employee to obey the law.  Theoretically the employer is providing the encouragement but I don’t see it.  Sure, most employers don’t want to hurt their employees.  If nothing else, injuries are costly; training by comparison is cheap.  But what about the employee who has had training but chooses to violate the standards?  Typically, that same employee will say that he/she “forgot” the training.  That means retraining, and sure enough, the scaffold standards require retraining for anybody who forgot the training.  But how often do we give the retraining?  OSHA says whenever you forget the training.  For most people, refresher courses every year or so seem to work.  But what if an employee received training in, say guardrails, on Monday, and this same employee is on a scaffold platform on Tuesday that is 20 feet high and it has no guardrails?  (For those of you who have not had training, the standards require guardrails at 10 feet.)  OSHA would say that the errant employee is in need of retraining.  Fair enough but suppose the employee received training on Monday morning and he was on the same scaffold on Monday afternoon.  Time for more retraining, it would appear.  But wait a minute; if this guy is so forgetful, he’ll always be in training!  There has to be a better way.


The better way is completing the enforcement strategy.  One of the little known aspects of the 1970 law is the requirement that all employees shall comply with the standards.  That’s right, if you’re an employee, you should know all the standards that apply to your work activity.  If OSHA enforced this part of the law, in addition to the employer requirements, I think we would see dramatic improvement in safety.    Now I’m not suggesting that we hit the non-compliant employee with a $70,000 fine although I’m sure that would get some attention.  How about a $50 fine or perhaps 10 percent of his/her weekly pay?  To justify this approach, it is important to realize that before the employee could get fined, the employer would have to prove that adequate training had been provided.  In other words, the employer is still part of the equation; both the employer and employee are responsible for safety on the job.  Imagine if you can!  The employer provides a safe place to work, and training, so the employee knows what has to be done to work safely.  The employee takes the training seriously and constantly complies with the standards.  Now there’s an enforcement policy that works.


Why doesn’t OSHA enforce all three aspects of the law; safe workplace; employer compliance with the standards; employee compliance with the standards?  I don’t know but I trust there are good reasons.  I just don’t know what they are.