Falls are one of the leading causes of serious injury and death in the workplace, and OSHA is serious about preventing them. Four of the agency’s 10 most cited standards in 2017 were related to fall prevention, including the rules for ladder safety and scaffolds.
In 2016, OSHA updated its general industry walking-working surfaces standards (found in 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D) and its scaffold standards (found in Subpart I). With the exception of some requirements for updating fixed ladders, the requirements of the updated standards became effective in 2017.
Workers must be protected from falling when they use fixed or portable ladders, as well as mobile ladder stands and platforms. OSHA requires all ladders to be:
- Capable of supporting their maximum intended load. Mobile ladder stands and platforms must be capable of supporting four times their maximum intended load.
- Inspected before each work shift for defects that could cause injury.
Portable ladders are the kind you might use at home: folding stepladders, straight ladders, and extension ladders. Employers are responsible for ensuring that portable ladders:
- Have slip resistant rungs or steps
- Are secured and stabilized when they are used on slippery surfaces
- Are not moved, shifted, or extended while a worker is on them
- Are not fastened together to provide added length (unless they are designed for this kind of use)
- Are not placed on boxes, barrels, or other unstable bases to obtain added height
In addition, employers must ensure that employees do not use the top steps and caps of stepladders as steps.
As of November 19, 2018, all existing fixed ladders are required to have a cage, well, ladder safety system or personal fall arrest system. However, under the revised standard, cages or wells for fall protection are being phased out. Employers have until November 18, 2036 (20 years from the date of publication of the revised standard) to replace cages and wells on all ladders extending more than 24 feet with a ladder safety or personal fall arrest system. That’s a generous amount of time – but it may also represent a significant capital outlay, especially if you have a lot of long fixed ladders to replace or retrofit. It’s important to start mapping out your compliance strategy now.
A scaffold is an elevated, temporary work platform. Supported scaffolds have rigid supports; suspended scaffolds are suspended by non-rigid means, such as ropes, from an overhead structure.
There are dozens of different types of scaffolds, each with its own set of hazards and protective measures. Make sure that you know what kind of scaffold you’re using, and how to erect, dismantle, and use it safely. In general, supported scaffolds must:
- Be designed by a qualified person.
- Be able to support 4 times the maximum intended load.
- Be fully planked, with no gaps larger than 1 inch between the planking and the uprights (with limited exceptions that allow a gap of up to 9 ½ inches). Each platform must be at least 18 inches wide.
- Have solid footing, and be secured against tipping by guys, ties, or braces at regular intervals.
- Be equipped with a means of safe access. Use of crossbraces for access is prohibited.
- Have guardrails along all open sides and ends, except during specific activities.
- Be kept free of ice, snow, or other slippery materials.
- Have toeboards, screens, or other means of protecting workers against falling objects; in addition, workers must wear hard hats.
All employees must be trained by a qualified person to recognize scaffold hazards and how to control or minimize them. The training must include fall hazards, falling object hazards, electrical hazards, proper use of the scaffold, and handling of materials.
Workers may be exposed to greater fall hazards while the scaffold is being erected or dismantled. Employers must evaluate fall protection measures that are available during erection and dismantling, both to ensure that workers are protected and to ensure that fall protection does not create a greater hazard for workers.
Check out the entire list of OSHA’s Most Common Citations and How You Can Avoid Them in a report published by Intelex Technologies, Inc. It is available as a free download.