OSHA's Scaffolding Interpretation: Questionable Policy vs. Proven Practice
Recently in Massachusetts and Florida, OSHA issued citations for violations of 29 CFR 1926 250(b) (5), the prohibition against leaving more materials on scaffolding than necessary for immediate operations. When the Boston contractor disputed the violation, a request for interpretation was submitted to OSHA. In response, OSHA's Office of Construction issued a directive, now published on its web site, confirming that it is in fact a violation to leave more than even incidental amounts of materials on scaffolding at the end of the work shift.
Now as we all know, it's a common industry practice to leave some materials on scaffolding at the end of the shift each day; we've been doing this since the first scaffold was erected ? or at least prior to the promulgation of the scaffolding regulations in 1971. We in the industry would argue that some materials provide greater stability to the scaffolding. In addition, tenders normally only put enough materials up for the bricklayers to complete part of the job, working in corkscrew fashion, in order to avoid moving them continually from one work area to the next. More importantly, removal of most materials would require the dismantling of scaffolding guardrails, thus creating fall hazards.
So why all of a sudden is this now an issue? MCAA officials were asked just that recently in a meeting with OSHA's Director of Construction, Bruce Swanson. We all agreed that it must have been a case of an overly ambitious "competent person" or in oxymoronic terms, an OSHA inspector who interpreted the standard far too literally. But we also made it very clear to Swanson that removing materials from scaffolding would cause far greater health and safety hazards than it would ever prevent. Understanding that economic concerns are secondary to OSHA, MCAA officials, including MCAA's President, Bill McConnell, pointed out that the cost implications of their interpretation are enormous.
To coin a phrase from "Jerry Maguire," we asked OSHA to let us help them help us resolve this problem. Swanson suggested we send OSHA a letter outlining our concerns and ask that they define "incidental amounts of materials." We have done just that, placing particular emphasis on the safety concerns we believe OSHA may have overlooked, including: possible injuries and fall hazards due to unnecessary handling of loose materials and dismantling of guardrails; space restraints that preclude storage of materials elsewhere; and the stability that incidental amounts of materials provide to the scaffolding, while also preventing uplift of the scaffold planks throughout the night that might be caused by severe wind or inclement weather.
We suggested OSHA attempt to define "incidental amounts of materials" as any tools or equipment needed to lay masonry units within two, subsequent work shifts. This includes mortar boards and tubs, grouting equipment, unbound cubes of material, and any other equipment that increases the risk of unsafe handling.
We understand the need for the competent person to inspect the scaffolding before every shift; however, we believe these incidental amounts of materials left on the scaffolding do not prevent a proper inspection. Scaffolding inspection can be done from below the scaffold planks, thus giving a more accurate assessment of any damage.
MCAA has assured OSHA that our members are committed to providing the safest masonry workplace possible, and that we want to work with them to revise and reissue a new interpretation that takes into account potential safety hazards created as a result of the June 10th ruling.
Our organization is hopeful that OSHA will address this problem expeditiously so that additional citations can be avoided. In an effort to speed things along through the channels at OSHA, I have also met with Congressional staff who directed the health and safety agency to find a reasonable solution to the scaffolding issue at the earliest possible date. Thus far, we are encouraged by the dialogue, both with OSHA and Congressional contacts, and will keep you posted on further developments.
MCAA is also in the process of forming an alliance with OSHA on several issues important to our industry, including scaffolding. We expect that once Assistant Secretary of Labor John Henshaw and MCAA's President McConnell sign this Alliance, we will be able to work closely with OSHA to put together a scaffolding safety program amenable to both parties. It is MCAA's hope that the Alliance will be in place early this month.
About the Author
Marian J. Marshall was the Director of Government Affairs for the Mason Contractors Association of America.