eTools Home: Scaffolding FAQ | Standards | Glossary | Credits
Scaffolding eTool Scaffolding Search
  Fall Protection
Fall Protection
The number one scaffold hazard is worker falls. Fall protection consists of either personal fall arrest systems or guardrail systems, and must be provided on any scaffold 10 feet or more above a lower level (two-point scaffolds require both PFAS and guardrail systems). This is especially critical with suspended scaffolds, because they often are operated at extreme elevations. Note: Except where indicated, these requirements also apply to multi-level, single-point adjustable, multi-point adjustable, interior hung, needle beam, catenary,
and float (ship) scaffolds.


General
  • Each employee on a scaffold more than 10 feet above a lower level must be protected from falling to that lower level. [1926.451(g)(1)]

  • Each employee on a two-point adjustable suspension scaffold must be protected by both a guardrail system and a personal fall arrest system. [1926.451(g)(1)(ii)]


Fall-Arrest Systems
  • In addition to meeting the requirements of 1926.502(d), personal fall-arrest systems used on scaffolds are to be attached by lanyard to a vertical lifeline, horizontal lifeline, or scaffold structural member. Note: Vertical lifelines may not be used on two-point adjustable suspension scaffolds that have overhead components such as overhead protection or additional platform levels. [1926.451(g)(3)]

    • When vertical lifelines are used, they must be fastened to a fixed safe point of anchorage, independent of the scaffold, and be protected from sharp edges and abrasion. Safe points of anchorage include structural members of buildings, but not standpipes, vents, electrical conduit, etc., which may give way under the force of a fall (Figure 1). [1926.451(g)(3)(i)]

    • It is dangerous and therefore impermissible for two or more vertical lifelines to be attached to each other, or to the same point of anchorage. [1926.451(g)(3)(iv)]

    • When horizontal lifelines are used, they must be secured to two or more structural members of the scaffold. [1926.451(g)(3)(ii)]

    • When lanyards are connected to horizontal lifelines or structural members, the scaffold must have additional independent support lines and automatic locking devices capable of stopping the fall of the scaffold in case one or both of the suspension ropes fail. These independent support lines must be equal in number and strength to the suspension ropes. [1926.451(g)(3)(iii)]
  • On suspended scaffolds with horizontal lifelines that may become vertical lifelines, the devices used to connect to the horizontal lifeline must be capable of locking in both directions. [1926.502(d)(7)]

Tip: Almost all incidents that involve scaffold failure would not lead to fatality or serious injury if proper personal fall-arrest systems were in use. Hence, such incidents almost always involve two violations: One that causes the scaffold to fall, and the other when workers fail to use (or their employers fail to provide) appropriate safety harnesses, lanyards, lifelines, etc..

Figure 1. The ropes pictured are vertical lifelines. Are they safely secured to a fixed point of anchorage independent of the scaffold?

Figure 1.
The ropes pictured are vertical lifelines. Are they safely secured to a fixed point of anchorage independent of the scaffold?

See Personal Fall Arrest Systems in the OSHA Construction eTool.



Guardrail Systems
  • Guardrail systems must be installed along all open sides and ends of platforms , and must be in place before the scaffold is released for use by employees other than erection/dismantling crews (Figure 2). [1926.451(g)(4)(i)]

  • Each toprail or equivalent member of a guardrail system must be able to withstand a force of at least 200 pounds applied in any downward or horizontal direction, at any point along its top edge. [1926.451(g)(4)(vii)]

    • The top edge height of toprails on supported scaffolds must be between 36 inches and 45 inches. When conditions warrant, the height of the top edge may exceed the 45-inch height, provided the guardrail system meets all other criteria. (Note: The minimum top edge height on scaffolds manufactured or placed in service after January 1, 2000 is 38 inches). [1926.451(g)(4)(ii)]
  • Midrails, screens, mesh, intermediate vertical members, solid panels, etc., must be able to withstand a force of at least 150 pounds applied in any downward or horizontal direction, at any point along the midrail or other member. [1926.451(g)(4)(ix)]

    • When midrails are used, they must be installed at a height approximately midway between the top edge of the guardrail system and the platform surface. [1926.451(g)(4)(iv)]

    • When screens and mesh are used, they must extend from the top edge of the guardrail system to the scaffold platform, and along the entire opening between the supports. [1926.451(g)(4)(v)]

    • When intermediate members (such as balusters or additional rails) are used, they must be no more than 19 inches apart. [1926.451(g)(4)(vi)]
  • Guardrails must be surfaced to prevent punctures or lacerations to employees, and to prevent snagging of clothing, which may cause employees to lose their balance. [1926.451(g)(4)(xi)]

  • Ends of rails may not extend beyond their terminal posts, unless they do not constitute a projection hazard to employees. [1926.451(g)(4)(xii)]

  • In lieu of guardrails, crossbracing may serve as a toprail or midrail, providing the crossing point is:

    • between 20 and 30 inches above the work platform for a midrail, or

    • between 38 and 48 inches above the work platform for a toprail. [1926.451(g)(4)(xv)]

For other scaffolding guardrail requirements, see 1926.451(g)(4).

Figure 2. This scaffold does not have guardrails along all open sides and ends, has no midrail, and its occupants are not wearing personal fall arrest systems.

Figure 2.
This scaffold does not have guardrails along all open sides and ends and has no midrail, and its occupants are not wearing personal fall-arrest systems.




Erectors and Dismantlers


Competent Persons
  • The employer must designate a competent person, who would be responsible for determining the feasibility and safety of providing fall protection for employees erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds. [1926.451(g)(2)]
 
 
eTools Home: Scaffolding FAQ | Standards | Glossary | Credits