Scaffold Safety Assessment – European Standards

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Earlier this year, we pointed out the most common scaffolding violations within the standards of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) in the United States. Our conclusion is that most violations in scaffolding are related to incorrect assembly of the scaffolding system.

As a result, we composed a checklist to help assessing the safety of a scaffolding system, prior to accessing it. By doing this, users can assess whether it’s safe to perform work on the scaffold and can identify dangerous situations, which ultimately leads to less violations and safer working conditions.

European standards

The checklist mentioned above was based on the standards provided by OSHA in the United States. The regulations applied in Europe however (EN standards), are slightly different. To provide such a safety assessment checklist for workers in European countries, we have outlined the most important EN regulations to provide a safe working environment that fully complies to the those standards.

1. Fall Protection

Falls from height are a leading cause for serious occupational injuries. So to prevent falls from a scaffolding system, the right safety measures need to be taken.

The safety measure that must be taken is the installation of side protection on a working platform (unless circumstances ask for a personal fall arrest system). The side protection components shall be incapable of removing, except by intentional action and consist of two elements:

  • At least one principal (top) guardrail and/or intermediate side protection
  • A toeboard

Guardrail

The principal guardrail’s top surface needs to be 1 meter or more above the entire working area. Between the working area and the principal rail, intermediate side protection shall be installed in the form of:

  • One or more intermediate guardrails, or
  • A frame, or
  • A frame of which the principal guardrail forms the top edge, or
  • A fencing structure.

The openings in the side protection may never be bigger than the diameter of a 470 mm sphere fitting through.

Toeboard

A toeboard must be in place along the sides of the working platform. The top edge of the toeboard needs to be at least 15 cm above the platform level.

See the image below for a schematic overview of the required dimensions of a guardrail system:

Personal fall arrest system

If the circumstances don’t allow the proper installation of a guardrail like described above, a personal fall arrest system may be used, although the guardrail will always be preferred.

This is because a guardrail prevents a fall from happening instead of stopping it when it happens.

2. Safe Access to the scaffold

Another common violation that is seen a lot when work on a scaffold is performed is unsafe access through cross-braces. Always make sure proper means of access are installed and used. The means of access:

  • Have to be secured against unintentional loosening;
  • Do not rest on ground-level;
  • Have steps or rungs with constant spacing and slip resistant surface;
  • Have a distance from the ground to the first step/rung of max. 40 cm (if the first step is a platform, 60 cm is allowed).

3. Properly decked working levels

Not fully decked working levels provide trip hazards and therefore fall hazards. Gaps, open spaces or planks that can’t support loads on one end without tipping have to be avoided at all times. Openings in a platform and between platforms always needs to be as small as possible, but never exceeding 2,5 cm.

Make sure that the minimum distance in height between fully decked levels is never less than 2 meters, nor more than 4 meters.

Slipping hazards must be eliminated by using platforms that have a slip-resistant surface and working areas need to be as level as practicable. If the slope of the working area exceeds 20% (11.3°), full width footholds need to be securely attached.

4. A firm foundation for stability

The stability of a scaffolding system starts with a firm base. At construction sites where stable substrates aren’t available, the right precautions need to be taken. Base plates will provide a flat, weight bearing surface for load distribution. The area of the base plate shall be at least 150 cm2 and 12 cm in width.

Using stabilizers or outriggers will increase the stability if necessary. They have to be purposely designed as a component of the main structure and provide means of adjustment to ensure contact with the ground.

Assess before starting work

To make sure that a scaffolding system is safe and stays safe after a period of usage, we recommend to do an assessment every day before the work starts. Over time, the construction site may change, weather conditions may affect the scaffolding or other workers unintentionally damage it.

The items above provide a short overview of elements to assess before accessing the scaffolding system. To avoid the most made mistakes on scaffolds that occur, download our complete checklist and use it to provide a safe working environment that complies to all requirements.

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