Safety Corner: Scaffold Safety

Working Safely at Heights 

by Darin Douglas, CEO, Lowe Roofing, Inc., & president, Merge 3 Technology, Inc. 









(Editor’s Note:  Darin Douglas began roofing in 1997 after graduating from Black Hills State University in Spearfish, South Dakota.  Lowe Roofing, Inc., is a family-owned roofing company that has been in operation since 1975 in South Dakota and Wyoming.  Merge 3 Technology, Inc., helps contractors track and control their safety processes and efforts on a daily basis.  Douglas also served on the WSRCA Board of Directors for nine years and was the chair of the Safety and Health Committee and Low-Slope Committee.) 


Commercial and residential roofing projects often require the installation of edge metals, fascias, gutters, downspouts, and soffits.  In order to get to these areas, scaffolding is often needed, as it provides a solid and safe work area for a roofing crew.  OSHA has estimated that well over 60% of all construction workers have performed work while using a scaffold. 

Scaffolds are a great resource for roofing professionals, but a certain caution needs to be used before climbing on and using a scaffold.  Workers need to make sure they are working on scaffolds that have been installed by trained professionals under the supervision of a competent person.  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 the authorization to take prompt corrective measures to eliminate them.  By doing a visual inspection before use, a competent person can prevent injuries.   

Workers should be equipped with proper protective equipment and trained on the safe work practices of the scaffolding.  Training is a must before using a scaffold, and should include identification of electrocution, fall hazards, and falling objects, as well as proper use of the scaffold, how to handle materials, and the load capacities of the scaffold.  This specialized training should be administered by a qualified person.  A qualified person per OSHA is one who, by the possession of a recognized degree, certificate, or professional standing, or who by extensive knowledge, training, and experience, has successfully demonstrated his/her ability to solve or resolve problems related to the subject matter, the work, or the project. 

Scaffolds are often used by multiple trades on a project, so following some basic safety guidelines will go a long way to keeping everyone onsite safe.  Always wear a hard hat when working on, under, or around a scaffold and be aware of others working above and below you at all times.  Tool Lanyards and toe boards are a good choice to keep objects from falling on others. 

A scaffold that has a work surface over 10′ requires fall protection for everyone working on it.  OSHA requirements state that each employee more than 10 above a lower level shall be protected from falls by guardrails or a fall arrest system.  Before work begins, a competent person needs to make sure the scaffold is constructed correctly, is not overloaded, and can handle the fall protection controls being used.  Proper training should include information on the maximum intended load of the scaffold being used, as well as its load-carrying capacities.  Most scaffolds should be capable of supporting at least four times its maximum intended load. 

Scaffolding provides a stable and level work area, but proper precautions need to be taken.  Roofing contractors utilizing scaffolding need to wear the proper footwear, preferably a strong non-skid pair of work boots.  Additionally, clothing should be well fitted so that it does not snag on the different parts of the scaffold.  Good housekeeping is a must as space is limited on scaffold platforms, and tools and materials at the end of the workday should be picked up.  Any materials left on a scaffold pose a slip, trip, or fall hazard for the next group of workers using the scaffold.   

By following a few simple guidelines, proper training, and using the scaffold as it is intended, many hazards related to scaffold use can be prevented.  Take the time to find a qualified person for training and a competent person for construction, and there will be no problem working safely at heights with scaffolding.