Scaffolding-General Requirements-Construction 29 CFR 1926.451

OSHA Top 10 Series: Scaffolding-General Requirements-Construction 29 CFR 1926.451

The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) has announced its preliminary Top 10 most frequently cited workplace safety standards for fiscal year 2021. Scaffolding (29 CFR 1926.451) was ranked 4th with 1,948 violations ( National Safety Council ). Violations of OSHA’s scaffolding standard are a mainstay on the agency’s annual Top 10 list of most cited standards, also ranking fourth in FY 2020 and third in FY 2019. According to a “Toolbox Talk” on scaffolding safety released by OSHA as part of its National Safety Stand-Down to Prevent Falls in Construction, “Hardly a workday goes by without a construction worker falling off a scaffold to his death. These deaths can be prevented” ( Safety & Health Magazine ).

Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to aid in the construction and/or maintenance of buildings. Scaffolding (also referred to as staging) is widely used to gain access to areas that would otherwise be difficult to reach. An estimated 2.3 million construction workers, or 65 percent of the construction industry, work with scaffolding. OSHA stresses that protecting workers from scaffold-related accidents could prevent some of the 4,500 injuries and over 60 deaths every year (Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), 2003 and 2004 data for the private sector). In a recent BLS study, 72 percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents attributed the accident either to the planking or support giving way, or to the employee slipping or being struck by a falling object. All these accidents can be controlled by compliance with OSHA standards, such as creating a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) for scaffolding jobs.

In addition to OSHA 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L (Scaffolds), employers in California must also adhere to the California Code of Regulations, Title 8, §1637 ( 8 CCR 1637 ). California’s plan is one of 25 state and territory scaffold safety plans that has been approved by OSHA. Cal/OSHA has many  publications available on scaffolding safety .

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The Top 5 most frequently cited serious scaffolding violations in 2020 were:


  1. Use of fall protection while in a basket

OSHA standard 1926.453(b)(2)(v) requires workers to wear a body belt, with a lanyard attached to the boom or basket, when working from an aerial lift, including a scaffold.

  1. Use of fall protection above 10 feet

According to OSHA standard 1926.451(g)(1), anyone working on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falling to that lower level. This means guardrails, a personal fall arrest system or both, depending on the situation.

  1. Safe access above 2 feet

Workers may be tempted to climb cross braces to access the scaffolding platform, but standard 451(e)(1) prohibits it. Instead, if the platform is more than 2 feet above or below the point of access, a ladder, stair tower or other means of access outlined in the standard should be used. Steps and ladders used for climbing from one level to another must have slip-resistant treads and extend at least 3 feet above the platform level.

  1. Full planking on all working levels

Every platform on all working levels of a scaffold requires full planking or decking between the front uprights and the guardrail platforms.

  1. Training by a qualified person

Standard 126.454(a) requires that anyone working on a scaffold be trained by a qualified person to recognize the hazards associated with that type of scaffold — including falls, electrical hazards and falling object hazards — and understand how to control or minimize them. Training should include scaffold use, material handling and load capacity.

One method to prevent scaffolding accidents and injuries is to use a Job Safety Analysis (JSA) or Job Hazard Analysis (JHA) . According to OSHA , a job hazard analysis is a technique that focuses on job tasks as a way to identify hazards before they occur. It focuses on the relationship between the worker, the task, the tools, and the work environment. Ideally, after identifying uncontrolled hazards, management should take steps to eliminate or reduce them to an acceptable risk level.

One of the best ways to determine and establish safe scaffolding procedures is to complete a JSA/JHA before each job. Consider these scaffolding safety tips when creating your companies JSA/JHA :

  1. Don't overload a scaffold

According to OSHA, scaffolding must be able to support at least four times the maximum intended load, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe to exceed the manufacturer's stated capacity. Contractors should not use a scaffold to store extra tools or material or overload it with too many workers.

  1. Make sure scaffolding footings are on stable, level ground

Don't set up scaffolding so it's resting on frozen, muddy, or soft ground. It also shouldn’t rest on concrete blocks or anything else that can shift while employees are on the scaffolding.

  1. Check and re-check the scaffold assembly

Ensure that all wheels and castors are locked, that platforms are fully decked or planked with gaps of no more than 1 inch, that all sections are pinned or secured and that the front face of the scaffolding is no more than 14 inches from the work. In general, all scaffold assembly must be supervised by a competent person.

  1. Secure tall scaffolding

If the scaffolding is four or more times taller than the width of its base, tie the scaffolding off or secure it to the building or another stable structure.

  1. Train all scaffold workers

This bears repeating: OSHA standards on scaffolding require that anyone working on scaffolding be trained about the hazards they might encounter and how to control or minimize them.

Safety and Health Magazine also created a list on how to prevent scaffolding injuries and fatalities. Employers should use these tips on JSA’s and JHA’s to remind employees of safe scaffolding practices:

  • Make sure scaffolds are inspected daily. Check the guardrails, connectors, fastenings, footings, tie-ins, bracing and planking. Remove any damaged scaffolds from service immediately.
  • Don’t climb cross-bracing.
  • Never stockpile materials on scaffolds. Remove all tools and leftover materials at the end of the day.
  • Ensure the area near the scaffold is free of debris, unneeded equipment or material, and any other slip, trip or fall hazards.
  • Climb the access ladders provided with each scaffold. Don’t climb off the end frames.
  • Use a rolling scaffold only on level surfaces, and lock caster brakes when the scaffold isn’t in motion. Make certain the route is clear of holes and overhead obstructions when you’re moving it and secure all loose materials.
  • Use personal fall protection equipment tied off to an anchorage point from a lanyard, lifeline and/or deceleration device.

Construction scaffolds are a commonly overlooked workplace hazard. No matter how thoroughly a qualified worker has erected the scaffolding, they still pose several risks at a job site. From falling debris to slip and falls, workers and employers should always use scaffolds cautiously. To minimize the risks associated with these structures, employers should develop a Job Safety Analysis prior to each scaffolding job.

To make the JSA process as effective as possible, consider using JSABuilder.

Note: images, links, brands discussed or displayed in this article are not endorsements or recommendations. They are for illustration of various products and types of products. JSABuilder does not recommend products, does not endorse, or express any opinion as to the applicability to any given use case or job hazard. Again, consult your safety professional to obtain authoritative opinions on applicability, selection and fitting of all the various types of PPE, then work smart and safe.