regulations Archives | DH Glabe & Associates

4 Reasons Contractors Need Their Own Structural Engineers on Their Projects

By | Blog, OSHA Standards & Regulations | No Comments


When designing a construction project, few people realize that the designer often cannot answer common questions that arise during the construction process. The owner’s structural engineer, better known as the engineer of record (EOR), is hired primarily to design the project, but after the plans have been approved, the EOR does not get involved with the means and methods the contractor uses to deliver a finished project. This often leaves contractors flying blind, so to speak, as many times the plans contain errors or lack sufficient instructions. For these reasons, it is a good idea for contractors to hire their own, independent structural engineer, known as a contractor’s engineer.
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How Do They Fit?

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

A practical explanation as to the relationship between the OSHA standards, enforcement, compliance and safety in the construction industry.

It’s been a long time since I first became involved in the business of scaffolding.  My experience has included a lot of scaffolds, a lot of places and a lot of people.  It has also included a lot of regulations.  As a blossoming young engineer, I still recall asking by boss how OSHA fit into the design of scaffolding.  Since federal OSHA was just a couple of years old at that time, he responded with a clearly stated:  “I don’t know.”  Forty years later, it appears that we still don’t know how OSHA fits into the design, construction and use of scaffolding.   To be fair to federal OSHA, it doesn’t appear that any regulations, standards, codes or guidelines fit into the design of scaffolding.  Now, before you get yourself all wound up, this may be somewhat of an extremely broad statement.  But think about this:  We have standards regarding fall protection and more specifically guardrail systems.  In my research I have found guidelines regarding guardrails going back to the 1920’s, almost a century ago.  And we still have people designing, constructing and using scaffolds without fall protection.  If nothing else, we have consistency.

So what’s the problem?  Is it poor enforcement?  Is it poor training?  Is it poor knowledge?  Is it ignorance?  Or maybe we just don’t care.  Being a Professional Engineer, and accepting the responsibilities that go with the privilege, I am obligated to comply with the myriad of regulations, standards and codes that apply to the profession.  Not to do so will result in the loss of my license and opportunity to earn a living.  I don’t state this because I think I am special, but rather qualified professionals (degreed and licensed or not) accept the obligation that is or should be expected in the business.  I don’t agree with all the regulations; for that matter I’m not really keen on any of the regulations—it certainly stifles constructive creativity.  In fact, regulations are insidiously invading all aspects of our lives, resulting not only in a dumbing down of the industry but also in an erosion of expertise, efficiency, economy, and productivity.

Of course, those tasked with the enforcement of these regulations smugly point to the results of their policing actions.  They publish yearly results of their efforts as if those efforts have any real effect on the industry.  Frankly, the annual OSHA list of the top 10 violations has no relation to the degree of danger involved in the infraction.  For example, scaffolds always show up in the top ten, suggesting that there is a real problem with safety in the industry.  But is there a problem?  Perhaps scaffolding shows up so frequently because infractions are easy to spot and the compliance officers haven’t been trained to evaluate where the real hazards are.

One of the favorite activities these days is the harassment of professional scaffold erectors (casual erectors, where the problems really occur, seem to be immune.)  Statistics indicate that the death rate of professional erectors is extremely low, particularly when compared to the 80 annual deaths that occur with scaffold usage, the deaths in construction and more dramatically when compared with the approximately 37,000 people killed on the highways each year.

The situation is becoming so ridiculous due to what I think is a growing hysteria about safety and the lack of understanding of the actual hazards.  Enormous amounts of time and energy are uselessly spent deciding whether a regulation has been violated instead of investing in the safe productive work that should be happening.  How many times have you sat in a meeting ascertaining whether there is compliance with the regulations?  How many hours have been wasted bickering about the nuance of a regulation instead of determining how to get the work done safely?

I am not advocating the abolishment of enforcement but something has to change.  It is absolutely amazing how people think they are experts in erector fall protection, for example, and yet have never erected a scaffold in their lives.  And yet we give them the authority and take it away from the people most affected.  Furthermore, it is stunning to me how many government agencies, construction industry organizations, unions and engineering committees feel compelled to propagate more and more regulations, many applying to scaffolding, and yet do not even bother contacting the Scaffold and Access Industry Association or the Scaffold Shoring and Forming Institute for input.  Are you aware that the American Society of Civil Engineers has a code regarding construction loads which includes specifications for scaffold loading?  I didn’t think so.

I can sure complain about the problem but unfortunately I don’t have a snappy quick solution.  We cannot abolish decent standards and codes nor can we abolish enforcement—those are needed for those employers and employees who just don’t get it.  But we do need to abolish the politics in safety.  Have you ever wondered why we chase after the employer but not the employee?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why compliance officers don’t receive sufficient training for the task at hand?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why so many designers and constructors erect scaffolds without having any clue as to what a safe scaffold is?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why we allow the sale of scaffolding in this country without any idea of its load capacity?  Me too.  Have you ever wondered why safety consultants have such a poor understanding of the true hazards in scaffolding?  Me too.

Forty years ago we were killing and maiming scaffold users.  We’re stilling doing it today.  And I still don’t know how OSHA fits into the safe design of scaffolding.  However, I do know what a safe scaffold is.  Do you?

I Know It All!

By | Resources, Uncategorized | No Comments

An April Fools Day sarcasm on scaffold safety, regulations and government control.

April is the time for foolish things so I contacted the foremost authority in the field of scaffolding, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  I caught up with the good doctor while he was at O’Hare Airport in Chicago preparing to leave on another of his famous fact finding missions for the government.  Here is an excerpt from an intense 87 minute interview I had with him before he boarded his flight.

SIA:  Dr. Noitall, you are recognized as an expert in the field of scaffold safety.  How did that come about?

Dr. A. Noitall (Dr. A.N.):  Well, you know that I have been hanging around scaffolding all my life; well at least I see a lot of it so I picked up a lot of stuff that way.  Besides, since I am sponsored by the government program, I know some of the standards.

SIA: You mentioned the government program.  What program is that?

Dr. A.N.: It’s a program funded by a bipartisan quasi select government action committee on largesse.  The committee has initiated a fee on all employers who use, sell, rent or design scaffold products.  That’s how we get the funding.

SIA:  That’s odd.  As you know the Scaffold Industry Association is the “Voice of the Scaffold and Access Industry.”  We haven’t heard of this committee or the program.  And we are unaware that there is a fee; that sounds like a tax.  Who authorized this?

Dr. A.N.: Well, the government authorized it.  Trust me; just like the OSHA standards, Canadian standards and various state and provincial safety standards, this program is good for you.  I always say, you can’t have too many safety regulations.  This is how we make things safe.

SIA:  I thought it was employees and employers who make a worksite safe.

Dr. A.N.: See, that’s where you have it wrong.  Scaffold people don’t know what they are doing.  They’re out there trying to kill people.  The statistics show that.  If it weren’t for the regulations, all the scaffold people would be dead!

SIA:  Well, the SIA wouldn’t agree with that!  Let’s look at a few of those regulations.  What do you think of the rule that specifies that guardrails are required once the platform is ten feet off the ground?

Dr. A.N.: That is nonsense.  I think the height should be 10 inches.  We can’t provide enough protection for the worker.

SIA: Don’t you think the worker has a responsibility to work safely?

Dr. A.N.: Well, there is no need for the worker to worry about that safety stuff.  We want him to be focused on his work, not safety.   That’s why we need a lot of regulations.  If we can get to the point where there are so many regulations that the worker doesn’t have to think, then my job is done!

SIA:  Wow, that is quite the energetic agenda.  When do you think you’ll reach the point of enough regulations?

Dr. A.N.: My extensive research indicates that we will probably never get there. If you look at the OSHA statistics, you’ll see that scaffolding is always in the top 10 violations.  That clearly shows I still have a lot of work to do.

SIA:  Let’s take a look at another regulation.  As you know, or should know, boom-lift operators are required to have fall restraint whenever operating that equipment.  Yet, it’s easy to find operators who either don’t know or don’t care about that requirement.  How will more regulations solve that problem?

Dr. A.N.: You just don’t get it, do you?  The hazard, as you know, is being catapulted out of the boom lift.  If the worker utilizes fall restraint or fall protection how can he do his work?  It’s better to have regulations to solve the problem.  Besides, if he is hanging on, he won’t get catapulted off the platform in the first place.

SIA:  You aren’t making any sense sir.  More regulations won’t eliminate the possibility of the worker being ejected.  Please explain, if you can.

Dr. A.N.: Let me give you an example.  Scissors lifts had guardrails around them supposedly for protection against falls.  However, when the workers used the guardrails to stand on, they discovered that the guardrails wouldn’t keep them from falling.  So now we require them to use personal fall restraint or fall arrest.  See, this is how more regulations work.  I just don’t understand why you think they don’t.

SIA:  That doesn’t answer the question about ejection.  You didn’t answer my question.

Dr. A.N.:  Sure I did.  You weren’t listening.

SIA:  Whatever.  Let’s take one more example and see if you can convince me that more regulations are the answer to safety.  The OSHA standards require that a platform be “fully planked between the front uprights and the guardrail system.”  What happens if the platform is only 2 feet off the ground and there is no guardrail system?  How big should the platform be?

Dr. A.N.: I can’t believe you even bother to ask me this question.  The platform should be as big as you can make it so the worker is free to do whatever she wants.  If it’s big enough, the worker will never fall off the edge, will she?  See, that’s what I’m getting at— more is always better.  It would be foolish to think otherwise.

SIA:  Foolish indeed, Dr. Aiy Noitall.  Enjoy your flight—and good luck getting through airport security.

Technology? Trends?

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

Technology’s effect on the future of regulations and training.

When it was suggested that I write about technology trends I thought it would be a no-brainer, what with me being an engineer.  The word technology suggests science, engineering and the industrial arts, which is how Mr. Webster defines it in his dictionary.  As long as I had the dictionary handy, I decided to look up trend and discovered that it meant “general course or prevailing tendency.”  Put the two words together and you have some engineer wandering around talking about science and engineering in the most confusing way.  After some introspection, reality set in and I realized that not only could “technology trends” apply to science and engineering but “technology” can also apply to “the application of knowledge for practical ends.” Actually, I didn’t come up with that—Webster has that definition in his dictionary too.

Realizing that a scaffold frame hasn’t changed much in 75 years and not much has changed with round tubing or clamps in the same time period I decided to focus my thoughts on other aspects of the scaffold industry.  Let’s face it; a scaffold frame isn’t exactly the cutting edge of the scaffold business.  Fortunately, aerial platforms and suspended scaffolds have more opportunities for advanced technology than a scaffold frame will ever have.  Isn’t it interesting that both use motors and electricity?  Who knows, maybe we’ll have nuclear powered suspended scaffolds some day.  Better yet, can you imagine a nuclear powered scissors lift?

After some more introspection, I decided to address technology trends as it applies to regulations.  That’s right; this article is somehow going to connect technology trends with scaffold regulations.

Think about it: Regulations have been around forever or so it seems.  Until recently these regulations were only available in a paper format.  If you wanted to bring the regulations with you to a jobsite, you had to carry the book with you.  Every time the regs were revised, the book had to change.  Not a problem if you were the paper vendor but for the rest of us it could get tough to keep up.  Luckily, some governmental entities handed out free copies so you could keep up.  In spite of the freebies, it was a cumbersome system that was extremely inefficient and resulted in inconsistencies in the distribution of accurate information.  Often the result was lack of compliance due to confusion, frustration, and lack of understanding.

And then, the computer came along.  Now we could really generate a lot of regulations because we could keep vast data bases of marginally useful information.  But it still didn’t help with the distribution of increasingly voluminous amounts of regulatory tidbits of dubious value.  Fortunately, or unfortunately, depending on your outlook, the internet came along.  For the first time in history, we have the tools for easy distribution of vast quantities of information including all those regulations we contrive and dispense to anyone remotely involved in the industry.

So, what is the trend for the future, you ask?  I think we will become so inundated with regulations, we won’t know what to do.  For the scaffold industry, we will succumb to the least common denominator of illogical application of poorly developed and contrived regulations.  But perhaps I’m too pessimistic.  On the brighter side, access to regulations, standards, codes, manufacturers’ recommendations, and instructional tools is unprecedented.  There is even an app for the Army Corp of Engineers infamous EM-385 standards available for your i-phone.  Life doesn’t get any better than that!  Accident statistics are accessible by a simple click of a button.  Companies’ OSHA records are there for everyone to see—no hiding anymore.  Letters of Interpretation, Directives, court rulings, you name it, are there for anyone with an internet connection.  Photographs inundate the net for all to see, giving everyone bragging rights for the scaffold of the week.  Long distance learning and web based training provide knowledge access to scaffold erectors, designers, users and inspectors, expanding the body of knowledge that improves the safe use of scaffolds.  It can only get better if we use the knowledge in a proactive way.  On the other hand, will all these things actually improve the safe use of scaffolds?

Long distance learning and web based training eliminate the need for daily intercourse of ideas, isolating the student from class interaction; vast amounts of information don’t make the student any smarter if not correctly applied.  The sinister side of technology is the misapplication of information and the abuse of the regulatory system.  And this seems to be the trend.  Technology has provided the highway to transport scaffolding to a new state of regulatory restriction and destruction of creativity.  Scaffold designers decline to be resourceful in fear that an enforcer of the regulations will stifle ingenuity utilizing the cloak of regulation.  Instead of using his head (and brain) the scaffold erector will choose to use the easy path; the heck with thinking—I’ll just do what is marginally acceptable.  No need to understand the concept of a safe scaffold; I’ll just follow the rules.

And it is so easy to make new rules.  As a matter of fact everybody is in on it.  Employers make up rules, contractors make up rules, owners make up rules, state agencies make up rules, and even the Scaffold Industry Association makes up rules.  Of course, rules aren’t all that bad if they’re good.  But if experience is any indicator, the internet and all that access to information isn’t being used to tap into the wealth of knowledge.  New rules are made because of perception, perception that something is broken and needs to be fixed.  If someone else printed the rule it must be good.  Copy, cut, paste and you have your own rules.  Never mind whether it is necessary or proven to be of use, based on reliable statistics.  We don’t need a basis if the perception warrants the rule.

Nowhere is that better illustrated than in the scaffold industry.  I cannot think of a better example than fall protection for aerial platforms.  No doubt fall restraint is needed in a boom lift due to the possibility of being catapulted out of/off the platform.  But personal fall protection on a scissors lift in addition to a guardrail system?  There may be a legitimate reason but I have yet to hear it.  Amazingly, due to the wording of the regulations, OSHA has determined that scissors lifts are mobile scaffolds, governed by the rules of 29 CFR 1926.452(w).  If you believe that, then you don’t need guardrails if you have personal fall protection–unless of course, the manufacturer requires it.  OSHA often refers back to the manufacturer’s recommendations, assuming the manufacturer understands the industry and the regulations.  Knowledge is power and ignorance is bliss—take your pick.  Technology gives you the choice; what’s the trend?