Enforcement and Inspection

OSHA Ladder and Scaffold Inspection Essentials

OSHA has its up and down days … the days it inspects ladders and scaffolds. This Friday, our Safety Training Tips Editor says you need to do those inspections before they do.

OSHA requires a “competent person” to inspect scaffolds. According to the agency, a competent person is one who:

  • Has been trained to understand the requirements of OSHA’s scaffold standards (29 CFR 1910.28 for general industry and 29 CFR 1926.451 for the construction industry)

  • Is capable of identifying scaffold hazards

  • Has the authority to take prompt measures to correct defects and eliminate hazards

OSHA also says that scaffold inspections must be made after the scaffold has been erected and before it is used, and “periodically” thereafter. Unfortunately, the standards don’t specify how often “periodic” actually is. OSHA says that’s because the frequency depends on a variety of factors such as the type of scaffold, site and weather conditions, intensity of use, age of equipment, and how often sections or components are added, removed, or changed.

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These factors, OSHA points out, determine how quickly safety-related faults, loose connections, degradation, and other defects can be expected to develop. But generally speaking, “periodic” means frequently enough so that, taking these factors into account, problems will be found before they pose a hazard to employees.

In addition to initial and periodic inspections, OSHA also requires that scaffolds be inspected for visible defects before each work shift. And, of course, scaffolds should also be inspected after any event that could make the scaffold unsafe—for example, after being hit by a construction vehicle or following a strong storm.

Having a comprehensive scaffold inspection checklist can help. Here are just some of the things a qualified employee inspecting a scaffold should look for (check the appropriate standard for the rest):

  • The scaffold does not block exits, egress, paths, fire alarms, and fire suppression systems.

  • The scaffold is erected at a safe distance from power lines.

  • Safe access is provided by ladders, stairs, ramps, etc.

  • Scaffold is plumb and level, and resting on stable footing and a firm foundation (including base plates on supported scaffolds).

  • Diagonal cross-bracing is in place to support legs.

  • Required guys, ties, or bracing is installed to maintain scaffold unit stability.

  • Working level platforms are fully planked between guardrails and secured to prevent movement.

  • Scaffold platforms are at least 18 inches wide.

  • Indoor scaffolds are made of fire-retardant wood or other suitable materials.

  • Platform is free of debris and slipping/tripping hazards.

  • Platform guardrails are firmly in place on all open sides/ends, where required.

  • Installed toe boards, screening, area barricades, or canopies, provide adequate protection against falling objects.

  • Employees are using personal fall arrest systems when working more than 10 feet above a lower level.

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Employees can inspect ladders themselves before each use. Although maintenance personnel should inspect ladders periodically and after any tipovers to make sure they’re safe, employees can generally conduct inspections themselves each time they use a ladder. Here are some of the things they should look for (depending on the type of ladder) when they conduct an inspection:

  • Steps or rungs are in good repair.

  • Steps are free of mud, grease, oil, or sticky substances.

  • Side rails have no cracks or splits.

  • Metal ladders are free of dents.

  • Metal parts are lubricated.

  • Rope is not worn or frayed.

  • Spreaders or other locking devices are in place and working properly.

  • Splinters or sharp edges have been removed, or sanded or filed away.

  • Safety feet are solid and in place.

When inspection uncovers a problem, employees should not use the ladder. Instead they should remove the ladder from service and put a “DO NOT USE” tag on it to make sure nobody else uses it until it has been repaired by qualified maintenance personnel.

Why It Matters…

–Falls from ladders and scaffolds kill or injure many workers each year.
–Defective or poorly maintained equipment is responsible for a significant number of accidents involving ladders and scaffolds.
–Simple inspections of ladders and scaffolds before use can identify most safety problems and prevent accidents and injuries.