Safety Tips | Working on Scaffolds

The most recent report conducted by the Canadian Centre for Occupational Health and Safety (CCOHS), showed that 251,508 Canadian’s accepted claims for lost time due to work-related injury or disease in just one year. 18% of those time-loss injuries, or about 42,000 workers a year, are injured due to fall incidents alone!

According to Canada’s Occupational Health & Safety magazine, the majority of fall incidents are caused by:

  • Working in areas with poor lighting, slippery walking surfaces, and messy housekeeping practices
  • Missing guardians
  • Missing or misusing fall-protection equipment
  • Failing to understand job procedures
  • Neglecting worker training
  • Taking shortcuts while workers rush to meet deadlines
  • Using equipment like a ladder or scaffold that is in poor condition

In today’s blog, we’re going to be focusing on part of that last bullet, narrowing in on what practices you can take to ensure you’re safe while working on scaffolds. While it is only one piece of the complex puzzle that is fall protection & safety, when you’re dealing with the leading cause of workplace injury – It’s worth breaking down each element!

The Infrastructure Health & Safety Association (IHSA) looked into the issue of scaffold safety and found 9 main problem areas which include:

  1. Erecting and dismantling
  2. Improper loading or overloading
  3. platforms not fully planked or “decked”
  4. Platforms without guardrails
  5. Failure to install all required components such as base plats, connections, and braces
  6. Climbing up and down
  7. Moving rolling scaffolds in the vicinity of overhead wires
  8. Planks sliding off or breaking
  9. Moving rolling scaffolds with workers on the platform

Now that we know where the issues lie, let’s take a closer look…

Erecting and Dismantling

This is a big one because the key element to scaffold safety boils down to, (surprise, surprise) the scaffold – and whether it’s been constructed properly. The IHSA found that 15% – 20% of scaffold-related injuries involve erecting and dismantling. This can be avoided by having the proper training! Scaffolds should always be built by a competent person who has undergone training by a certified professional. Erecting scaffolding isn’t as simple as it may look, but you can learn how to do it the right way by taking a simple Scaffolding Training Course.

The IHSA found that injuries to workers erecting scaffolds are most often caused by two elements:

  1. Failure to provide an adequate working platform for a worker to use when installing the next lift of scaffold. Working instead from one or two planks is not recommended.
  2. Failure to use components such as tie-ins, which should be installed as the assembly progresses. If you don’t do this, it makes the scaffold less stable and even though it may not cause it to completely fall over, it can cause it to sway or move enough to knock someone off the platform.

These are things that would be included in training programs and need to be kept in mind by workers who build scaffolds.

Following the scaffolding being build by a trained professional, it should ALWAYS be inspected thoroughly before allowing any workers to get on the structure. The CCOHS recommends looking for the following elements when inspecting a scaffolding.

  • The base is sound, level and adjusted
  • Legs are plumb and all braces are in place
  • Locking devices and ties are secured
  • Cross members are level
  • Planks are the proper grade of lumber and have no weak areas, deterioration or cracks
  • Planks, decks, and guardrails are installed and secure
  • I have logged any inspections or repairs

Improper Loading or Overloading

Riggers know the importance of never exceeding the Working Load Limit (WLL) and scaffolds are no different! Overloading can cause excessive deflection in planks and can lead to deterioration and breaking. Keeping track of the weight of materials being brought up the scaffold is key to ensure you do not overload. Also, note that if materials are left overhanging the edges of the scaffold platform it can cause the scaffold to become imbalanced leading to overturning.

Platforms not Fully Planked or “Decked”

Platforms that are not fully planked or decked can cause injury during both erections/dismantling and general use. You can avoid these safety hazards by following the following tips, as suggested by the CCOHS.

  • Use wooden and metal decks according to job requirements, standards, occupational health and safety regulations, and manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Only secure planks at the ends to prevent lengthwise movement. Wiring down planks can also prevent movement, provided wire does not create a tripping hazard. Where planks overlap, rest the cleated end on the support. Do not secure elsewhere on the plank to prevent splitting.
  • Make sure that adjoining planks are of uniform thickness for an even platform.
  • Lay planks side by side across the full width of the scaffold.
  • Check hooks and hardware of prefabricated platform units regularly for looseness, distortion, and cracks. Damage can occur if the platforms are dropped or thrown.
  • Do not jump on the planks to test their strength. Jumping can cause undetectable damage.

Platforms Without Guardrails

Over one-third of the falls from scaffolds are from platforms less than 3 meters (10 feet) in height. Health in Safety laws generally do not require fall protection to be in place until the height exceeds this height (but it’s never a bad idea to use fall protection anyways!), so it’s important that guardrails are a measure in place for not only high platforms but lower ones as well. Falls from even just 10 feet can still cause injury, and I think everyone can agree they’d like to avoid them. Typically, guardrails are recommended during normal use for all
scaffold platforms over 1.5 meters (5 feet) high.

Guardrails for all working platforms should consist of a top rail, a midrail, and a toeboard!

Failure to Instal All Required Components

Have you ever completed an Ikea project just to realize there’s a bolt or screw still sitting in the bag and decided it’s probably fine without it? While you can probably get away with this when we’re talking about a cheap bookshelf, you cannot get away with this on a scaffold. This is a typical hazard seen when workers cut corners, especially on scaffolds that are only a few frames in height. But no matter the height, failing to install components like base plates, braces, adequate tie-ins or proper securing devices can lead to a serious safety hazard. You’ll regret being in a rush when the project has to go on hold as workers spend time off due to injury, or worse – Use the knowledge you take in during training and ensure you’re performing all the proper steps.

Climbing Up and Down

This is another big one, with 15% of scaffold-related injuries occurring when workers are climbing up and down the scaffold. Climbing up and down scaffold frames is, unfortunately, a common practice, but is not an acceptable practice. Ladders should always be used to climb up and down scaffolds unless the structure has been specially designed to be climbed. A staircase should be built if the scaffold is going to be used for an extended period of time.

Bonus Tip: Ensure you’re using proper climbing techniques when using the ladder to climb up and down the scaffold, including the three-point contact rule.

Electrical Contact with Overhead Wires

While it is not common for scaffolds to come in contact with electrical wires, when it does happen, it unfortunately, has been linked to fatality. Often times these hazards occur when moving scaffolds, so when moving them in outdoor open areas, ensure that no overhead wires are in the immediate vicinity. If there are overhead wires that may come in contact with the scaffold while moving it, it should be partially dismantled to ensure it has a safe clearance.

The required minimum safe distance from overhead wires as determined by the ISHA are the following, but may differ in your jurisdiction:

  • 750 to 150,000 volts = 3 metres (10 feet)
  • 150,001 to 250,000 volts = 4.5 metres (15 feet)
  • over 250,000 volts = 6 metres (20 feet)

Planks Sliding Off or Breaking

Many scaffold injuries involved problems with the planks – usually caused by the planks being uncleated or unsecured any sliding around or completely off. Scaffold planks are also known to break if they are in poor condition or overloaded, which can also present a serious safety hazard. Therefore, it is very important that you use the proper grade of lumber. The excessive overhang can also cause a plank to tip up if a worker were to stand on the overhanging portion.

It’s also important that planks are regularly inspected for large knots, wormholes, steeply sloping grain at the edges, spike knots, and splits. Splits wider than 10 mm (3/8 in), lengthwise closer than 75 mm (3 in.) to the edge of the plank, or lengthwise longer than ½ the length of the plank is not acceptable. Discard immediately any planks showing these or other defects. Also ensure ice, snow, oil, and grease are cleaned off planks – Platform decks should be slip-resistant and should not accumulate water.

Moving Rolling Scaffolds with Workers on the Platform

Moving a rolling scaffold with workers on the platform can be very dangerous. If it is impractical for workers to climb down before moving a scaffold, and it’s taller then 3 meters (10 feet), all workers must be tied off with a full-body harness and lanyard with lifelines attached to a suitable anchor point other then the scaffold. However, in some jurisdictions moving a scaffold with workers on the platform at all is prohibited if the platform exceeds a certain height, so ensure to check for these and other related regulations.


Click on the image above to view the full course details.

As mentioned above, all of these tips are meant to be things to keep in mind for workers who have already completed a scaffold safety course. If you’re still in need of proper scaffolding safety training, reach out to The Hercules Training Academy!

The Hercules SLR Scaffolding Safety Course is designed to assist the participant in reaching the objective of obtaining a thorough knowledge of the hazards associated with the erection and dismantling of scaffolds. The program is a combination of theory and practical training. Students are evaluated by means of a written and
practical evaluation. Upon successful completion of the program, a certificate will be issued which is valid for 3 years as per Provincial Legislation Requirments.

Content includes:

  • Regulations and Standards specific to System Scaffolding
  • Components of System Scaffolding
  • Parts Inspection
  • Erection/Dismantling Planning
  • Guys, Ties, and Braces
  • Fall Protection
  • General Scaffold Safety
  • Access and Platforms
  • Erection and Dismantling procedures

LOOKING TO BRING YOUR WORKPLACE SAFETY TO THE NEXT LEVEL? CALL US—HERCULES SLR OFFERS AN EXTENSIVE SUITE OF HIGH-QUALITY SAFETY TRAINING AND CERTIFICATION COURSES.