There are many unsung heroes in the construction industry, and it’s safe to say that the less visible their skills are in terms of the finished product, the more essential they are likely to be. Perhaps the most important function in terms of site safety and success of the finished project is that of the scaffolding contractor. Highly-trained and rigorously tested, the scaffolder is the guy that enables other trades to get the job done on time, and on budget.
The job might be a relatively straightforward residential or commercial build, or something larger-scale, such as Georgia Power’s new nuclear units at Plant Vogtle. The extra capacity will produce enough electricity to cover the needs of approximately one million homes and businesses in the state. The company providing the industrial scaffolding for this build were South Eastern Carpenters, and their impressive 2.6 million man hours for the main contractor, and an additional one million for the sub-contractor resulted in no serious injuries; an excellent record for such a build.
Not every job goes quite so smoothly in terms of its safety record, however. Workplace safety is an ongoing concern in the US construction industry, and the Department of Labor’s list of the ten most frequent health and safety violations published last October served only to underline that the list never really changes. Year on year, inspectors report the same workplace hazards, and whilst the figure of 4,500 people who die at work every year might be sobering enough, the figure for those injured at work – some 3 million – is staggering.
Considering that scaffolding projects usually involve working at a height, it’s no surprise that the top three offenders on that list are fall protection (including poorly-positioned and secured ladders), hazard communication (including inadequate training and hand-off), and scaffolding safety issues. The Bureau of Labor Statistics keeps a record of deaths at work – the Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) shows 54 deaths from scaffolding and staging falls in 2009. The accidents occur most commonly when planks or supports give way, or through worker error or disregard for safe working practices. Slips and falls are easy if workers are tired, or are not concentrating on the job. Failure to alert workers at a lower level when dropping materials to the ground can also result in strike injuries.
However, by following OSHA guidelines, it’s simple enough to take the maximum precautions necessary to minimize the risk of workplace accidents. Following platform construction instructions to the letter, and securing planking are the basics, and additional considerations such as instructions – and regular checks – to avoid unnecessary clutter on the platforms, and guardrails where appropriate on open sides further lessens the risk of trip hazards resulting in falls from the structure.
Key for everything within the building industry is training – in addition to updating and learning new skills, workplace safety qualifications are more than just another certificate to add to a portfolio to impress an employer; one day, they could save not just your life, but those of your colleagues too.