As mast climbing scaffolds become more and more prevalent in North America’s construction industry, more attention needs to be paid to the new technology’s proper use, its supervision and safety training – or retraining – for scaffold workers, according to the LHSFNA’s Senior Safety and Health Specialist Travis Parsons.
“It is no surprise that these scaffolds are enjoying wider use,” says Parsons. “They are proven to increase production while alleviating many safety issues, particularly those pertaining to ergonomic injuries.” Mast climbers are relatively easy to move and erect and they allow safe work at higher levels than traditional scaffolds. They are used in brick and masonry work, glazing, restoration projects and many other similar activities. Mast climbers are becoming the scaffolds of choice in the construction industry.
Although there are many benefits to the use of this equipment, it is important to note that it is not fool-proof. The significant number of fatalities (see sidebar for a partial list) indicates that safety supervision and training in the U.S. has fallen a step behind the new technology.
With proper workforce training, mast climbing scaffolds are safer than other options, but they still have significant pitfalls. Common hazards include:
Inadequate training, supervision
“The sad thing,” says Parsons, “is that these mast climber fatalities could have been prevented had the appropriate safety precautions been taken. Workers must be better trained. In many cases, workers who are accustomed to using to older scaffold types – that is, tube and coupler or suspended scaffolds – are assigned to mast climbers for the first time, without adequate knowledge and training.”
Such assignments are direct violations of OSHA regulation CFR 1926.454(c): “When the employer has a reason to believe that an employee lacks the skill or understanding needed for safe work involving the erection, use or dismantling of scaffolds, the employer shall retrain each such employee so that the requisite proficiency is regained to that specific scaffolding.”
The Laborers-AGC Education and Training Fund has long conducted instructor training in all aspects of scaffold use. In recent years, increased emphasis has been placed on mast climbing scaffolds, and “Powered Mast Climbing Scaffolds” is an important module in the Fund’s new scaffold training program. In addition, the Laborers-AGC established a relationship with Hydro Mobile, Inc. – a major North American manufacturer, based in Canada – so that Laborers’ training funds can purchase mast climbers at a discounted group rate for use in local training programs. Several funds throughout the Laborers’ training network have taken advantage of this opportunity.
“There needs to be a conscious effort to retrain workers on the hazards and proper usage of mast climbing scaffolding,” says Parsons. “There also needs to be adequate competent persons, who are qualified to work with this type of scaffolding, on every construction worksite. With the appropriate safety considerations, this equipment can be beneficial to the employer and employee.”
For further information and safe practices for mast climbing scaffolding, contact a local Laborers’ training fund or see the following:
America National Standards Institute (ANSI) (ANSI/SIA A92.9-1993)
Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) (Subpart L-Scaffolds)