There are times when something can be perfectly legal but not necessarily smart. Recently the author observed the construction of a new steel framed building where large steel girders, beams and posts were being welded at various joints. What caught my attention was the suspended scaffold being used by the welders to reach both the interior and exterior sides of the weld joints.
Suspended scaffolding has been used for centuries. They are common place for many applications including window washing, painting, masonry and quality inspections. They can accommodate several workers or a single worker on a boatswains’ chair. OSHA Section No. 1926.451 states the following: “A suspension scaffold contains one or more platforms suspended by ropes or other non-rigid means from an overhead structure, 29 CFR 1926.450(b), such as the following scaffolds: single-point, multi-point, multi-level, two-point, adjustable, boatswain’s chair, catenary, chimney hoist, continuous run, elevator false car, go-devils, interior hung, masons’, and stone setters’.”
Generally the use of suspended scaffolding is safe when properly rigged and inspected. As with any temporary piece of equipment the suspended scaffold should be used only when it is safe to do so. That means that such a mechanism should not be used during high winds, rain, and lightning storms.
When comparing the regulations to the suspended scaffolding observed at the above construction site we do not see any specific violations but does that make it smart? Specifically, when welders are welding right next to suspended scaffolding supported by ropes? Clearly, as we see in the Photo #2 sparks from the arc are in close proximity to the uncovered ropes. Even where the ropes are covered by what appears to be flame retardant blankets as seen in Photo #3, portions of the ropes are exposed and can be damaged by an errant welding spark.
What is considered to be legal is not always safe. There are too many examples to discuss in a single article. The hope is that common sense will prevail in addition to rules and regulations. In a study booklet for the California firearms safety certificate course it notes that the use of the safety on a firearm should be used but not relied upon. The same can be said about the OSHA safety rules. They should be referred to, respected, followed and carefully considered to make sure that individual work sites address their specific safety needs.
When it comes to the use of a suspended scaffold for welding it would be highly advisable to consider non flammable materials such as the one used by the attached scaffold seen in Photo #4.
The scaffold is securely attached to the steel frame, guardrails provide additional fall protection, and the welding mechanic is using proper personal fall protection attached to the wire railing with a safety lanyard. That setup is both legal and smart.
The fine line between regulations, safety, and being smart can merge creating the best possible working conditions.