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scaffold components Archives | DH Glabe & Associates

We Still Have Rules

By | OSHA Standards & Regulations, Resources, Safety Hazards, Scaffold Components, Scaffolding | No Comments

However, recent accidents would indicate that something isn’t quite right.  Maybe the rules aren’t being followed.  Maybe somebody doesn’t know what he/she is doing.  Maybe it’s just plain old bad luck.  I’ll agree with the first two possibilities but most certainly not the third.  Scaffold construction is not a game of chance although some might think otherwise, especially considering recent disasters.

Each time a scaffold failure occurs, there’s a strong possibility that somebody broke a rule.  But it’s not the rule or following the rule that guarantees success.  It is following the principle or action described by the rule that guarantees success.  For example, bracing is required on all scaffolds.  The bracing stabilizes the scaffold and ensures significant strength.  Removing one brace component may or may not adversely affect the scaffold.  If the construction of the scaffold is not understood, that brace may cause a disaster.  Consequently there is a rule that requires that scaffold modification be done only under the supervision of a competent person.  Could the lack of supervision been the cause of recent scaffold accidents?

Not following the rules is a result of either not understanding the rules or choosing not to follow them.  Focusing on the first possibility, not understanding the rules, might be excusable were it not for a rule established in 1970 that every employer and employee must follow the rules, in this particular case, the Occupational Health and Safety (OASHA) Standards.  You, as a user, erector, supplier, manufacturer, or designer,  must know the rules before you get on a scaffold.  No exceptions allowed.  Choosing not to follow the rules, on the other hand, appears to be a sure fire route to disaster.  But is it?  What’s more important, following the letter  of the rule, or theintent of the rule.  No doubt the intent of the rule is the better route.  Unfortunately, to make that determination, you have to understand the purpose of the rule.  To arbitrarily not follow the rule, the minimum standard if you will, makes you directly responsible for your actions.  Are you ready to accept that responsibility?

Unfortunately, many workers view the OSHA Standards as a set of instructions, which they are not; they’re minimum standards, or simply put, rules!  Many workers also think that these rules are optional.  Consequently the unlevel playing field results, the complaints about unfair competition arises, and unequal enforcement of the rules occurs.  But think about it for a minute.  What would happen if their were no rules, no minimum standards for the scaffold industry?  Would you climb a scaffold constructed under those conditions?  Would you still complain about the rules?  I think not.

As an experiment, take a look at the rules for supported scaffolds, a temporary platform supported by rigid supports such as tubes and uprights.  Pick one, any one, and think about the basis for the rule, in other words the intent of that rule.  Does it make sense?  Do you apply the intent of that rule on your scaffolds?  If not, why not?  If so, why?  As an alternative, take a look at the scaffold you are about to use, or erect.  How many rules apply to this specific scaffold?  Could you construct or use this scaffold if it were not complying with any of the rules?  Would you want to use this scaffold if it were not in compliance?  The results of such an inspection might surprise you.  Perhaps the playing field is level after all.

This article was first written and published in 1998, more than 10 years ago.  It is still applicable today, and amazingly – after 10 years – scaffold users are still not complying with the rules!

Promising Future

By | Aerial Lifts, Resources, Scaffold Components, Scaffolding | No Comments

One new development is in the manufacturing of scaffolding components, particularly scaffold frames and systems scaffolds.  In the past manufacturing has generally occurred in North America for most supported and suspended scaffold components used inNorth America.  Now, as with other manufactured products, most scaffold component production has shifted to countries with lower manufacturing costs.  Is this good for the industry or is it bad?  It depends on who you talk to. On the one hand, a cheaper equipment cost means better competition.  On the other hand, cheaper costs may suggest lack of quality.  (I wonder how manufacturing would have developed if OSHA, and others, had enforced 29 CFR 1926.451(a)(1) for the past 10 years.  That’s the regulation that says all scaffolds shall have a 4 to 1 safety factor, requiring the employer to know the strength of his/her scaffolding.)

On a brighter note one promising development is in the relationship between the Scaffold Industry Association, SIA, and the US federal Occupational Safety & Health Administration, OSHA.  An alliance has been established between the two entities to further access safety in the construction industry.  This alliance, a couple of years in the making, provides a common platform to share ideas and formulate strategies that will encourage better workplace practices for scaffold users.  This appears to be another step in the evolution of access safety, an evolution that started with the establishment of both OSHA and the SIA in the 1970’s.

Another evolving development is the continuing growth of the SIA training program.  I had the opportunity to visit one of the training classes at the SIA Committee Week and it was a genuine pleasure to see the progress that has been made.  What an evolution this program has experienced since Committee Week inAlbuquerquein the mid ‘90’s when the concept was first proposed.  While it’s been a long road, the fruits of the labor are paying off handsomely.

A development that isn’t new but continues to manifest itself in clever and disturbing ways is the harassment of professional scaffold erectors concerning fall protection.  The extremely well written regulation regarding erector fall protection (29 CFR 1926.451(g)(3) is being abused, interpreted and mutilated, all cloaked in the sanctity of safety.  Let’s call this folly for what it is – a misunderstanding by misinformed individuals who haven’t worked in the shoes of an erector, perceiving that erectors, and by association the entire access/scaffold industry, just don’t care about safety.  This isn’t to say that the industry hasn’t dragged its’ collective feet in the past nor that all erectors are perfect.  However, based on my experience, this industry has invested more time, energy, money, and expertise in developing new strategies, products, knowledge and commitment to reduce the risks inherent with scaffold erection and use in the past decade than any other sector of the construction industry.  Unfortunately all this effort is being undermined by well meaning (I hope) but ill informed personnel who do not understand the bigger picture.  What a waste.  Professional erectors and professional scaffold companies are not the problem, they are the solution.

Enough of the negative thoughts.  Some (whoever they are) may think that a 70 year old product isn’t going to encourage new developments.  When put into perspective, scaffolding, whether its frame, system, suspended, aerial lifts or some derivative thereof, will continue to spawn new developments since access in construction will always be required.  It may be in the components or it may be in related areas such as engineering, assembly, inventory control, accounting or employee productivity.  We may not know what the development will be, but you can be sure there will be new development-look for it!