Scaffold Safety – Planning, Design, Erection and Use

Workers building scaffolds risk serious injury from falls and tip-overs, being struck by falling tools and other hazards and electrocution from energized power lines. Before starting any scaffold project, the employer should conduct a hazard assessment to ensure the safety of workers. Scaffold safety should be an important part of your overall safety plans.  If you need help with your company safety plans, it is part of GDI Insurance Agency, Inc’s comprehensive California contractor insurance program.  Call us today 1-888-991-2929!

Tube and Coupler Scaffolds—Planning, Design, Erection and Use

A tube and coupler scaffold has a platform(s) supported by tubing, and is erected with coupling devices connecting uprights, braces, bearers and runners. Due to their strength, these scaffolds are frequently used where heavy loads need to be carried, or where multiple platforms must reach several stories high. These scaffolds can be assembled in multiple directions, making them the preferred option for work surfaces with irregular dimensions and/or contours.

scaffold safety

Scaffold Safety Planning

Review blueprints, work orders, the project schedule and other written requirements to determine where these scaffolds should be used. Next, select the appropriate-sized scaffold for each job. Scaffolds are generally rated as light, medium or heavy duty and must be able to support the correlating weight of workers and materials required for each type. Light-duty scaffolds can support 25 pounds per square foot. Medium-duty scaffolds can support 50 pounds per square foot. Heavy-duty scaffolds can support 75 pounds per square foot.

The following factors should be considered in the scaffold safety planning phase:

  • The shape and structure of the building to be scaffolded
  • Distinctive site conditions and any special features of the building structure in relation to the scaffold (e.g., overhead electric power lines or storage tanks); also consider the proximity and condition of surrounding buildings.
  • Weather and environmental conditions
  • Fall protection requirements for workers using scaffolds, such as guardrail systems or personal fall arrest systems
  • The type and amount of scaffold equipment needed to access all areas to be worked on
  • Proper storage and transporting of scaffolding components, materials and equipment
  • The manner in which workers will access the scaffold (e.g., via ladders, stair rail systems)

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Scaffold Design

Scaffolds must be designed by a qualified person. Tube and coupler scaffolds over 125 feet in height must be designed by a registered professional engineer. Tube and coupler scaffold design must comply with 29 CFR §§ 1926.451–.452. The scaffold design must include the following:

  • Proper materials to construct the scaffold
  • The erected scaffold must support its own weight and at least four times the maximum intended load. To accomplish this, the scaffold design must incorporate a realistic assessment of maximum intended loads on the scaffold at all stages of erection and loading. For example, if wrapped with mesh, will the scaffold support expected wind loads? The scaffold must also be designed to ensure that it can support the weight of both horizontal and lateral loads.
  • Construction and loading must comply with engineered designs and manufacturers’ requirements.
  • Guardrails and toeboards
  • The amount of time needed to erect and dismantle the scaffold

Erecting the Scaffold

  • Use footings that are level, sound, rigid and capable of supporting the load without settlement or displacement.
  • Plumb and brace poles, legs, posts, frames and uprights to prevent swaying and displacement.
  • Position the first level of bracing as close to the base as possible.
  • Plumb and level the scaffold as it is being erected.
  • Fasten all couplers and/or connections securely before assembling the next level.
  • Install guys, ties and braces according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Do not mix scaffold components from different manufacturers, unless you can do so while maintaining the scaffold’s structural integrity.
  • When platform units are abutted together to create a long platform, each abutted end must rest on a separate support surface.
  • Once erected, provide toeboards on all railed sides to prevent falling object hazards.

Using the Scaffold

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  • Make sure that a competent person inspects the scaffold before each work shift.

If during the inspection a defect or damage to the scaffold is discovered, the scaffold must be tagged out and not used until repairs are made. Attach tags at the access point of the scaffold.

  • One common tagging system uses the following tags:
    • Red tag indicates: unsafe, do not use.
    • Green tag indicates: ready to use.
  • Use scaffolds according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
  • Never load a scaffold beyond its maximum intended load or rated capacity.
  • Do not use makeshift methods to increase the working height of the scaffold platform, such as with ladders, buckets or blocks.
  • Employees must not work on platforms covered with snow, ice or other slippery material.
  • The employer must provide suitable access to and between scaffolds, such as portable ladders, hook-on ladders, attachable ladders and stairway-type ladders.

When dismantling the scaffold, check to ensure that the scaffold has not been structurally altered in a way that would make it unsafe. Before beginning dismantling procedures, reconstruct and/or stabilize the scaffold as necessary.

Train Workers on Scaffold Safety

Only trained and authorized persons should be allowed to use a scaffold. This training must be provided by a qualified person who understands the hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used and who knows the procedures to control or minimize those hazards. Training must include how to safely do the following:

  • Use the scaffold, handle materials on the scaffold and determine the maximum load limits when handling materials
  • Recognize and avoid scaffolding hazards such as electric shock, falls from heights and being hit by falling objects
  • Erect, maintain and disassemble fall and falling object protection systems

Erectors and dismantlers of tube and coupler scaffolds are at particular risk because their work starts before ladders, guardrails and platforms are completely installed. These workers must also be trained to do the following:

  • Recognize scaffold hazards
  • Properly erect, move, operate, repair, inspect, maintain and disassemble the scaffold
  • Identify the maximum load-carrying capacity and intended use of the scaffold

Implement Scaffold Safety to Avoid Hazards, Employers Must Do the Following:

  • Ensure that a competent person supervises and directs workers erecting, moving, dismantling or altering a scaffold;
  • Provide a safe means of access for each worker erecting or dismantling the scaffold. As early as possible, install hook-on or attachable ladders;
  • Ensure that workers do not climb diagonal braces to reach the scaffold platform;
  • Provide fall protection for workers erecting or dismantling the scaffold; and
  • Secure scaffolds to the structure during erection and dismantling.

For more information on scaffold safety, contact GDI Insurance Agency, Inc. and visit OSHA’s Safety and Health Topics page at

Article sourced from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration,

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