Throughout 2016 we have posted a series of blogs about the 3rd most violated section of OSHA’s Top 10: Scaffolding. With a total of 4,681 violations of section 1926.451, too many construction workers still risk their lives unnecessarily each day. To help prevent those risks, we zoom in on the top 5 scaffolding citations and review common violations, the hazards they create and how to prevent them.

So far we have taken a look at the following items:
Scaffolding violation 1: Employee fall protection
Scaffolding violation 2: Means of access
Scaffolding violation 3: Platforms
Scaffolding violation 4: Fall arrest or guardrail systems on unspecified scaffolds

Today, we will look at the 5th and last violation of scaffolding’s top 5 sections cited: Foundation.

OSHA’s 5th most cited scaffold violation

Ranking 5th with 266 violations is OSHA’s 1926.451(C)(2) standard. This standard states that “supported scaffold poles, legs, posts, frames, and uprights shall bear on base plates and mud sills or other adequate firm foundation.”

blog scaffold top 5 foundation

Base plates and/or mud sills?

Because scaffolds are usually found on construction sites, they are often assembled on uneven and sandy or muddy surfaces. To level the scaffold, adjustable/screw jack bases should be used to adjust the poles, legs, posts, frames or uprights.

Unfortunately, in reality we see cases of workers using bricks or scrap material to fill the gap between the surface and the base of the scaffold, thus creating a dangerous situation. As workers move around the scaffold, the forces on it shift. Eventually this may cause the improvised base to fail, resulting in the entire scaffolding to collapse. This is why approved screw jack base plates, that can carry the intended load, are a vital part of the scaffolds construction.

Besides the baseplates, mud sills are required. These help distribute the load of the scaffold more evenly at the base level. By neglecting to do so, workers risk the poles, legs, posts, frames or uprights to sink into the ground or “settle”. This will unbalance the scaffold, with the risk of it falling over or collapsing.

It is a common misconception that just one of the two stated above are ever required for safe scaffolding. However, both OSHA and SAIA stress that the use of (screw jacks with) base plates is always required, whereas mud sills can be replaced by material that give similar or firmer foundation.

Alternative platforms

The violation in section 1926.451(c2) also include the use of inadequate firm and stable platforms. Looking at social media, it is not an uncommon sight that workers use alternative objects to stand on. In practice, workers still use ladders and folding step chairs, and sometimes even crates or buckets, on top of scaffold platforms. This will create a higher working height, but in reality is a very unsafe “solution”. These objects are too unstable for the work being performed and risk tipping over. Also, workers increase fall hazards as the largest part of the body reaches above the guardrails. This issue is addressed in subparagraph 1926.451(c)(2)(iii) where it’s stated that “Unstable objects shall not be used as working platforms.”

Scaffold foundation blog osha

Front-end loaders and fork lifts

Although they will provide sufficient support at the base level, and the risks of tipping over or collapsing is close to nowt, using front-end loaders or fork lifts as scaffolds can still be unsafe practice. The hazardous part is the way the platform is built up and attached.

In 1926.451(c)(2)(iv) OSHA addresses front-end loaders and similar pieces of equipment. Here they state that they “shall not be used to support scaffold platforms unless they have been specifically designed by the manufacturer for such use.”

The use of fork-lifts is addressed in 1926.451(c)(2)(v):
“Fork-lifts shall not be used to support scaffold platforms unless the entire platform is attached to the fork and the fork-lift is not moved horizontally while the platform is occupied.”

Even though OSHA allows the use of front-end loaders and fork-lifts, we believe it is not advisable to do so. For maximum safety, a guardrail system and a safe means of access have to be present, to prevent workers from falling off. Apart from safety, both the effectiveness and cost-efficiency have to be question. A purpose-built scaffold will be lighter, takes up less space and is specially designed for the work that has to be done. Above all, they are designed to do the work safely.

Safe scaffolding is everyone’s responsibility

With this post we conclude our series of blogs regarding OSHA’s Top 5 Scaffold violations for the fiscal year 2015. If you would like to look back at this or any of the other posts, you can check our News page.

On Tuesday October 18, 2016 OSHA and Safety+Health magazine announced the new OSHA Top 10 for the fiscal year of 2016. In the upcoming months, we will review the top 10 and again focus on common scaffolding safety violations. If you would like to receive updates on upcoming blogs, infographics and other scaffolding news, please subscribe to our newsletter.

To download the infographic for the Fiscal Year 2015, click the button below: