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OSHA Scaffolding Requirements

Quick Tips #133

The very presence of scaffolding at a job site creates a hazardous work environment. Falls, falling objects and structure instability are all dangerous possibilities. OSHA scaffolding requirements and the 1996 revisions to 29 CFR 1926.451 make working on or around scaffolding safer.

Originally adopted in 1971, OSHA's first scaffolding requirements remained relatively unchanged until 1996. The 1996 revisions are performance-based, which means the rules aren't as rigid as in other standards. The specifics of compliance depend on the types of scaffolding used, the situations they are used in and the personnel using them.

The revisions also address types of scaffolding previously not mentioned, the greater choices of personal fall-protection systems available to workers, and training.

Because of the complexity and size of this standard, this document will only discuss three topics: training, fall protection and working safe distances from energized power lines.

If you need more information on another aspect of this standard, please refer to the OSHA website or 29 CFR 1926.451.


Before 1996, it was estimated that more than 70 percent of workers only received on-the-job training and 25 percent received no training at all. To prevent this from continuing, OSHA strengthened the training requirements.

Because this standard is performance based, there are no specific topics that must be covered during training. However, appendix D of the scaffold standard provides the following outline for the training of all users of scaffolding:

General Overview of Scaffold
  • Regulations and standards
  • Erection/dismantling planning
  • PPE and proper procedures
  • Fall protection
  • Material handling
  • Access
  • Working platforms
  • Foundations
  • Guys, ties and braces

In addition, the rule suggests a more detailed discussion of the following items when using these specific types of scaffolding:

Tubular Welded-Frame Scaffolds
  • Specific regulations and standards
  • Components
  • Parts inspection
  • Erection/dismantling planning
  • Guys, ties and braces
  • Fall protection
  • General safety
  • Access and platforms
  • Erection/dismantling procedures
  • Rolling scaffold assembly
  • Putlogs
Tube-and-Clamp Scaffolds and System Scaffolds
  • Specific regulations and standards
  • Components
  • Parts inspection
  • Erection/dismantling planning
  • Guys, ties and braces
  • Fall protection
  • General safety
  • Access and platforms
  • Erection/dismantling procedures
  • Buttresses, cantilevers and bridges

Retraining is also a focus of the revisions. When the employer has reason to believe that an employee lacks the skill or understanding needed to safely erect, use or dismantle scaffolds, the employer must retrain the employee. Retraining is required in the following situations:

  1. Changes at the worksite present a new hazard for which the employee has not been previously trained
  2. Changes in the types of scaffolds, fall protection, falling-object protection, or other equipment present a hazard for which the employee has not been trained;
  3. Inadequacies in an employee's work involving scaffolds indicate that the employee is not adequately trained.
Fall Protection

Per 1926.451(g)(1), OSHA has determined a 10-ft. fall-protection threshold for scaffolding (also note American National Safety Institute A10.8-2001). This threshold differs from Subpart M (fall protection), which requires the use of fall protection at 6 ft. for most industries.

Different thresholds are required because scaffolds are temporary structures erected to aid workers who are constructing or demolishing other structures, and scaffolds are less amenable for the use of fall protection at the time the first level is erected.

Table I details the types of fall protection needed with specific types of scaffolding.

Scaffolding Type Personal Fall
Boatswain Chair X - -
Catenary X - -
Crawling board X X X
Float X - -
Ladder jack X - -
Needle beam X - -
Self-contained X X -
Single-point adjustable suspension X X -
Two-point adjustable suspension X X -

The employer is responsible for providing fall protection and ensuring its use. Since Sept. 2, 1997, employers are required to have a competent person determine whether fall protection is necessary and feasible for employees erecting or dismantling supported scaffolds.

Energized Power Lines

Scaffolds cannot be erected, used, dismantled, altered or moved closer than the distances stated in table 2 when near energized power lines.

Insulated Lines
Voltage Minimum Distance Alternatives
Less than 300 volts 3 ft. (0.9m) -
300 volts to 50 kv 10 ft. (3.1m) -
More than 50 kv 10 ft. (3.1m) plus 0.4 inches
(1.0 cm for each 1 kv more than 50 kv)
2 times the length of the line insulator,
but never less than 10 feet (3.1m)
Uninsulated Lines
Voltage Minimum Distance Alternatives
Less than 50 kv 10 ft. (3.1m) -
More than 50 kv 10 ft. (3.1m) plus 0.4 inches (1.0 cm)
for each 1 kv more than 50 kv
2 times the length of the line insulator,
but never less than 10 ft. (3.1m)

However, scaffolds can be moved closer if it is necessary for the performance of work, provided the power lines are de-energized or protective coverings are installed to help prevent accidental contact. For more information, refer to 29 CFR 1926.451 (f).

Commonly Asked Questions
Q.   How do you determine whether a person is considered "competent?"
A.   OSHA defines a competent person as "... one who is capable of identifying existing and predictable hazards surrounding working conditions that are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt, corrective action to eliminate them."
Q.   What types of equipment are recommended for a personal fall-protection system?
A.   A personal fall-protection system consists of an anchorage point, body belt or body harness, and might include a lanyard, deceleration device, lifeline or a combination of these.
Q.   Are extension cords considered exposed power lines?
A.   No. Extension cords and power-tool cords are not included in the definition of an exposed power line.


OSHA Scaffolding eTool
29 CFR 1926 Subpart L
Scaffolding Hazards and Possible Solutions
29 CFR 1926.451 Scaffolding

(Rev. 7/2014)

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The content in this newsletter is intended for general information purposes only. This publication is not a substitute for review of the applicable government regulations and standards, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific compliance questions should refer to the cited regulation or consult with an attorney.

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