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OSHA Scaffolding Requirements in Construction

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. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration’s (OSHA) scaffolding requirements and the 1996 revisions to 29 Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) 1926 Subpart L makes 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 standards do not tell users specifically what to do. Performance-based standards provide guidelines and may specify some requirements, but in general the “HOW” part of the equation is left up to the user. 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 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L, this document will only discuss three topics: training, fall protection and working safe distances from energized power lines.

If you need more information on other aspects of this standard, please refer to the OSHA website or 29 CFR 1926 Subpart L.


When OSHA revised its Scaffolds standard in 1996, the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) studies showed that 25% of workers injured in scaffold accidents had received no scaffold safety training. To prevent this from continuing, OSHA strengthened the training requirements.

Training requirements are discussed in 29 CFR 1926.454. Employers must have each employee who performs work while on a scaffold trained by a person qualified in the subject matter to recognize the hazards associated with the type of scaffold being used, and to understand the procedures to control or minimize those hazards. If applicable, the training must include the following:

  • The nature of any electrical hazards, fall hazards and falling object hazards in the work area;
  • The correct procedures for dealing with electrical hazards and for erecting, maintaining, and disassembling the fall protection systems and falling object protections systems being used;
  • The proper use of the scaffold and the proper handling of materials on the scaffold;
  • The maximum intended load and the load-carrying capacities of the scaffolds used; and
  • Any other pertinent requirements.


Fall Protection

Per 1926.451(g)(1), OSHA has determined a fall-protection threshold of 10 feet for scaffolding (also note American National Safety Institute A10.8-2011). This threshold differs from Subpart M (fall protection), which requires the use of fall protection at six feet for most construction activities. 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 to the use of fall protection at the time the first level is erected.

Table 1 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. Supported scaffolds consist of one or more platforms supported by rigid load-bearing members, such as poles, legs, frames, outriggers, etc.

Safe Distances from Energized Power Lines

Per 29 CFR 1926.451(f)(6), scaffolds cannot be erected, used, dismantled, altered or moved closer than the distances stated below in Table 2 when near energized power lines.

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

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)(6) Exception.

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 in the surroundings or working conditions which are unsanitary, hazardous or dangerous to employees, and who has authorization to take prompt corrective action to eliminate them." 29 CFR 1926.32 (f)
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 Scaffolds – General Requirements


(Rev. 9/2015)

Find even more information you can use to help make informed decisions about the regulatory issues you face in your workplace every day. View all Quick Tips Technical Resources at

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Please Note:
The information contained in this publication is intended for general information purposes only and is based on information available as of the initial date of publication. No representation is made that the information or references are complete or remain current. This publication is not a substitute for review of the current applicable government regulations and standards specific to your location and business activity, and should not be construed as legal advice or opinion. Readers with specific questions should refer to the applicable standards or consult with an attorney.

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