For over two million construction Laborers, elevated tasks are all in a day’s work, and increasingly, the structures on which they are perched are mast climbing work platforms (MCWPs).

Common MCWP Hazards

  • Falls
  • Improper loading
  • Faulty configuration
  • Failure to use correct mast climber components
  • Instability during dismantling
  • Equipment failure
Alternate description

LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni

“These power-driven, tower-climbing platforms reach higher heights and carry greater loads than traditional tube-and-coupler scaffolds,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “They are also quicker to erect and dismantle. Another feature of the platform is that they are easily adjusted to optimum working heights, which can reduce musculoskeletal injuries and increase production.”

However, as Sabitoni also points out, “MCWPs can be hazardous, and, because they are relatively new in many parts of the country and the industry, more training in assembly, disassembly and operation is essential.”

Eighteen deaths plus a number of serious injuries from 12 mast climber accidents are the impetus for Reaching Higher, a new compilation of recommendations for safe use of MCWPs from CPWR, The Center for Construction Research and Training.

General Scaffold Safety Guidance

  • Scaffold must be sound, rigid and sufficient to carry its own weight plus four times the maximum intended load without settling or displacement. It must be erected on solid footing.
  • Unstable objects, such as barrels, boxes, loose bricks or concrete blocks must not be used to support scaffolds or planks.
  • Scaffold must not be erected, moved, dismantled or altered except under the supervision of a competent person.
  • Scaffold must be equipped with guardrails, midrails and toeboards.
  • Scaffold accessories such as braces, brackets, trusses, screw legs or ladders that are damaged or weakened from any cause must be immediately repaired or replaced.
  • Scaffold platforms must be tightly planked with scaffold plank grade material or equivalent.
  • A competent person must inspect the scaffolding and, at designated intervals, reinspect it.
  • Rigging on suspension scaffolds must be inspected by a competent person before each shift and after any occurrence that could affect structural integrity to ensure that all connections are tight and that no damage to the rigging has occurred since its last use.
  • Synthetic and natural rope used in suspension scaffolding must be protected from heat-producing sources.
  • Employees must be instructed about the hazards of using diagonal braces as fall protection.
  • Scaffold can be accessed by using ladders and stairwells.
  • Scaffolds must be at least ten feet from electric power lines at all times.

Reaching Higher is a must-have for competent persons, supervisors and anyone responsible for specifying, overseeing and contracting work that involves MCWPs. Travis Parsons, the LHSFNA’s Senior Safety and Health Specialist and Chair of the AFL-CIO Building & Construction Trades Department’s workgroup on MCWPs, and Jim Urtz, Curriculum Manager of the LIUNA Training and Education Fund, are among a roster of experts who provided input for this white paper.

Reaching Higher’s major goal is to fill in the gaps of OSHA’s scaffold standard (29 CFR 1926 Subpart L- Scaffolds) when it comes to the use of MCWPs. OSHA’s standard contains general requirements for mast climbers – including capacity, construction, access, loading, clearance from power lines, fall protection and training – but does not address their unique design or potential safety hazards. For that, OSHA relies on the ANSI A92.9-1993 standard, Mast Climbing Work Platforms, which is not mandatory. A new version is expected this year, but ANSI 92 standards focus more on design and manufacture than on-site use.

Reaching Higher’s recommendations, which update 29 CFR 1926, are listed in brief below and explained in full in the easy-to-understand, 32-page publication, which can be downloaded from CPWR. Hard copies can be ordered at 301- 578-8500.

Recommendations from Reaching Higher:

  • Institute new training programs and qualifications for training providers, including (a) awareness training for anyone using, working on or operating mast climbers (the Reaching Higher appendix contains a detailed outline for awareness training); (b) an erector/dismantler course; (c) site- and model-specific training and (d) clear instructor qualifications.
  • Adopt engineering and administrative controls that address involvement of persons qualified in structural engineering as well as shoring, anchorage systems, load tables, enclosures, wind, inspections, maintenance, vertical climbs and fall protection.
  • Define roles and responsibilities of manufacturers, suppliers, distributors, users and site owners.
  • Determine specific qualifications and roles of all participants to improve site safety and oversight.
  • Update OSHA standards and consensus standards to address the unique design and safe use of mast climbers.

Falls and sometimes death can result from improper erection and operation of all types of scaffolds (see sidebar for general scaffold safety guidance). Seventy-two percent of workers injured in scaffold accidents attribute the mishaps to planking or support giving way, to slipping or to being struck by a falling object. According to OSHA, safe operation of scaffolds would prevent 4,500 injuries and 50 fatalities every year and save employers $90 million in lost workdays.

The LIUNA Training and Education Fund’s scaffold-training program includes a mast-climbing module. The Scaffold User Pocket Guide for Laborers is available through the LHSFNA’s online publications catalogue.

All scaffold work can be hazardous. Safety training is vital.

[Janet Lubman Rathner]