Rent Smart: 6 tips for scaffold safety

The U.S. Department of Labor estimates scaffold-related accidents cause approximately 4,500 injuries and 50 deaths every year. Some of the most common mistakes can easily be avoided. Below the Scaffold Industry Association and rental companies offer tips on proper scaffold precautions.

  1. Plan ahead. Will you need scaffolding for indoor or outdoor use? Note the elevation you must reach, as well as available clearance. If outdoors, note any obstructions and power lines. Also note ground conditions. Sloped, uneven or frozen terrain could pose a problem.
  2. Make a smart selection. Common rentals include tubular welded-frame scaffolding and drywall scaffolding, as well as systems scaffolding or mast climber units for bigger projects. Most can be built to size, so the scaffold rig and height is adjustable based on the number of towers you want to add. Consider renting an access ladder for easy entry and exit, or a tower unit with built-in stairs.
  3. Check your list twice. Some rental companies assist customers by providing instructions on scaffold assembly and/or a parts checklist. Don’t leave the rental store until you’ve received all parts necessary for proper assembly, such as specialty locking pins or tie-in materials, guardrails, midrails, cross braces, etc.

    OSHA standard 1926 requires the installation of guardrails, midrails and toe boards on all open sides and ends of scaffolding when the platform reaches 10 feet or higher. Fall protection equipment, such as a harness, must also be used at heights of 10 feet or more.

  4. Enlist the right help. A scaffold competent person must be on site to help erect and dismantle the scaffold. With scaffolding higher than 125 feet, a professional engineer must supervise. A competent person has the experience or education to recognize existing or predictable hazards and correctly eliminate any problems.

    “Drywall scaffolding can be built as you climb, but other scaffolds require many parts and aren’t a one-person assembly job,” says Gary Lewis, product manager, Home Depot Tool Rental.
    If you or one of your workers is not a verified competent person, contact a rental professional for assistance. Many scaffold rental providers, such as NES Rentals, offer erection services. Several organizations also present scaffold safety training programs.

  5. Don’t take shortcuts. “The higher the scaffold, the easier it is to tip,” Lewis says. Not installing scaffold safety braces or outriggers just to save a few steps could lead to an accident later. Therefore, it’s crucial to build the scaffold using proper base material.

    When you’re working on an uneven surface and need stability, outriggers – or extra “legs” that attach to the four main legs of a tower – branch out to widen the base. Outriggers come equipped with leg jacks so you can adjust their height to suit surface conditions. Other ways to bear the base’s load: allow the scaffold’s legs or frames to rest on dunnage (material used to brace or prevent movement), base plates or mud sills.

    If you’re indoors and need mobility, you can request casters. Just be sure to lock them in place before you begin to work.

  6. Be aware. “Visual inspection is critical for each shift change,” explains John Miller, president, Scaffold Industry Association. A competent person should inspect all safety components before another crew comes in to work.

    Per OSHA, scaffolding should be anchored to a structure after reaching 20 feet. The types of anchors will depend on your scaffold. For instance, supported scaffolds (ones supported by legs, brackets or outriggers) with a height-to-base of more than 4 to 1 should be restrained from tipping by using ties, braces or guys.

    Guardrails must be installed between 38 and 45 inches in height from the platform, and midrails must be halfway between the top rail and the platform, or placed between 20 and 30 inches above the platform. If you remove a guardrail to do work, remember to properly replace it.

    For planking or decking, don’t try to save money with cheap replacements – rent solid sawn lumber or laminated planks that meet OSHA regulations, says Jon Beaulac, contracting services manager, scaffold division, NES Rentals. The planking must support at least four times the maximum intended load for all types of scaffolding except suspended scaffolding, which should handle at least six times the intended load.

    Remember to use as much care when dismantling scaffolding as when it’s being erected. “There is still high potential for the structure to tip, so go level by level and secure the scaffolding to the ground so it can be dismantled,” Beaulac says.

To access OSHA’s Guide to Scaffold Use in the Construction Industry, visit

Sources: John Miller, president, Scaffold Industry Association; Gary Lewis, product manager, Home Depot Tool Rental; and Jon Beaulac, contracting services manager, scaffold division, NES Rentals.

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