Scaffold Planking Q and A: Buyer Beware
Scaffold planking is a common sight on most construction job sites, and can often be taken for granted. However, planking is a key element in not only doing a job quickly and efficiently, but also safely. Due to the very nature of the materials being handled on the job site, masonry work is especially prone to excessive loading of plank. This makes the use of recognized and certified scaffold planking even that much more necessary.
Two experts in the field of scaffold planking for use in the masonry industry Mike Gilleran of McCausey Lumber Co., Roseville, Mich., and Jared Kennison of Kennison Forest Products, Sulphur, La. joined us for an in depth look at what mason contractors need to be aware of when it comes to scaffold planking, and how not asking the right questions could hurt you in the long run.
What's the biggest concern in the industry when it comes to scaffold planking?
Kennison: The main concern within the scaffold plank industry is everyone being on the same playing field all industry standards for LVL [laminated veneer lumber] and DI65 plank should be met. The fact of the matter is there are new products and companies entering the market that may not sell and represent a reputable product. When I say 'reputable,' I mean that they do not meet the testing requirements or the manufacturing requirements of scaffold plank. Do you agree with that, Mike?
Gilleran: Yes, I do.
I also think that one other thing that we might want to emphasize is: There are a lot of contractors that don't realize the importance of using the OSHA recognized, scaffold grade product. To this day, we still have some lumber dealers or product wholesalers that knowingly realize that they are selling material that has not been properly inspected, tested or graded as a genuine scaffold plank. They know that the contractor is using it for scaffold plank, but they continue to sell product that is not necessarily up to grade.
I guess, in a nutshell, contractors need to be aware especially mason contractors, where their application is considered heavy duty. They are loading their planks with very heavy materials, and if they're not using planks designed to carry the intended loads, there could very well be an accident. Official, scaffold grade plank is purposely selected to be stronger and will not fatigue as fast when it is exposed to the weather elements and repeatedly loaded with heavy materials. That would be one of my biggest concerns.
People need to be aware that they should only use OSHA recognized grades of solid sawn lumber or a specific type of engineered wood plank that is proven to be certified by a nationally recognized, third party inspection agency.
Kennison: I agree with that. Not all mason contractors consider this point when making their purchase. Not all scaffold plank are created equal. I feel that our customers make safety a priority, as they do on every job. They purchase quality equipment for their workers; scaffold plank shouldn't be any different.
What are the possible repercussions that mason contractors might incur if they use uncertified scaffold planking?
Gilleran: First and foremost, death and injury. It's senseless for someone to get injured or killed just because of irresponsible choices or actions pertaining to safety in the field.
Also, if an OSHA inspector visits a job site and finds the contractor is not using OSHA recognized products, the job could be red tagged and basically a stop work order is put into place until those planks are replaced. Fines could also be involved; it just depends on the severity and the circumstances.
Finally, it is my understanding that if there is an accident of some nature in the field, the burden of proof lies on the contractor's shoulders. If the plank failed and someone got hurt, the contractor is responsible to prove that the material that his or her men were working on was ample enough to carry the intended load.
Kennison: Besides the obvious safety concerns, they are going to experience a loss of time, productivity and the expense of having to replace the uncertified plank that they've already purchased.
Do you feel that uncertified lumber will not last as long as the certified types of scaffold planking?
Gilleran: In general, brand new OSHA recognized solid sawn plank or laminated plank, is already stronger than non certified products. Therefore, by reasonable deduction, it should last longer. However, it is like any piece of equipment in the field; you need to take care of it and only use it for the application it is designed for a work platform.
Kennison: That's generally what mason contractors always ask. 'How long is this going to last?' Everyone expects a warranty with products, but with scaffold plank there's no real warranty, aside from the manufacturer's warranty. It all depends on the work environment and general usage. Scaffold planks take a lot of abuse, so they must be inspected on a consistent basis. Care should be taken to ensure proper storage and inspection of all certified scaffold plank.
Gilleran: Most manufacturers and suppliers of reputable products publish their own proper usage and care guide. Also, the SIA [Scaffold Industry Association] Platform Council has developed a user care and handling guide for solid sawn and laminated planks. The best thing to do is reference these user guides and study how the plank should be properly stored and handled. Believe it or not, some contractors use their scaffold boards for ramps and mudsills this exerts a tremendous amount of load on the boards that can easily cause a fracture within the plank. If it goes undetected and that plank makes it back into the scaffold system, someone could likely get hurt.
We were previously discussing the possible repercussions that mason contractors might have to deal with. What are the possible repercussions that legitimate companies, such as Kennison Forest Products and McCausey Lumber, might have to deal with if these uncertified and unsafe planks end up on the job site.
Kennison: Having uncertified planking on the same job site as certified products, with them being mixed together, is certainly a concern for us. If an accident occurs, people may automatically assume that it is all plank on site as a whole is to blame. Uncertified scaffold plank ruins the image of quality plank in the market; however, the credibility of our company would be at stake as a leader in the industry. Our goal is not only to provide quality scaffold plank, but to educate customers on safety and care of scaffold plank.
Gilleran: Basically, if uncertified and certified planks are mixed together on the same scaffold assembly and there's a failure, and someone is hurt or killed, both suppliers will be under the microscope. From a litigation standpoint, they're going to go after anybody and everybody involved, especially the contractor because he or she knowingly let their people work with potentially unsafe plank.
However, as a long time supplier to the industry, the biggest repercussion would probably be the effect on my conscience. Despite legal expenses and the effect upon our good reputation, it is the lives at stake and families affected that matters most. I would feel tremendously guilty if I did absolutely nothing to share my knowledge and experience.
Kennison: I can't stress enough how important it is for the contractor to re inspect job sites for damaged plank using a competent and trained person. These measures combined with strict storage and handling procedures will help prevent accidents and save lives.
Now, there are different agencies and associations involved in the subject of scaffold planking. You've got ANSI [American National Standards Institute] in charge of creating the standards, OSHA is in charge of regulating the job site, but then you also have associations, like SIA, that have a strong role in the industry.
Kennison: Each agency has a different role to play. Basically, for the contractors' information, they need to know OSHA does not approve scaffold plank; they police the job sites for standards and designs as set by ANSI. In regards to grading the products, LVL should be certified by a qualified, independent, third party inspection agency, and DI65 grading standards are set by the Southern Pine Inspection Bureau, followed by TP [Timber Products] and overseen by American Lumber Standards Committee. Meanwhile, SIA is 'the voice of the industry.'
Gilleran: That's right, ANSI writes the guidelines pertaining to the strength performance standards for scaffold plank. OSHA then observes these minimum requirements and does it's best to enforce that safe plank products are being used.
The SIA is primarily there to educate, whereas OSHA is there to regulate and enforce. And that's where some of the issues lie nowadays; there are only so many resources available to regularly enforce safety in the field. Unfortunately, it's much like your local police department; they're there after the crime has been committed. There's no way you can have a police officer sitting in every convenience store waiting for a robbery.
Unfortunately, OSHA has limited resources available to do that on an on going basis. That's why SIA is so involved in educating.
What can mason contractors do to help fight this problem with uncertified planking?
Gilleran: I guess I would say the main thing is that they strive to learn all they can about the products they are considering and be sure the products have the proper credentials. They ought to have their own checklist by which they could go to their supplier and say 'Hey, I need some scaffold plank and these are the qualifications that I need the material to adhere to.'
Kennison: Absolutely. They need to do their research, quite simply. They need to ask the right questions to make sure that the products they are buying are certified. Knowledge is power. All contractors must know the consequences of buying uncertified scaffold plank.
Gilleran: The whole thing basically boils down to: Buyer beware.
The strength and performance of a scaffold plank is reduced by moisture.
Store in a dry, well ventilated area. Storing in wet or unventilated areas will accelerate wood decay and plank deterioration. Always allow wet planks to dry quickly by providing proper air circulation.
Protect planks from extreme weather conditions, including excessive exposure to water and temperatures exceeding 150 degrees Fahrenheit. Store planks under a roof or under a porous cover that will shed water while allowing moisture to escape.
Stacking Stored Planks
Keep planks stacked in bundles off of the ground and supported by sticks spaced no more than eight feet apart. Be sure to line up the sticks between the bundles with the ground sticks. This will allow easy forklift access and provide air circulation. Misalignment of the sticks can damage the planks by creating a bow. Do not store heavy objects on the planks.
Remember to immediately remove damaged scaffold planks from service. Damaged planks may result in injury or death.
Solid Sawn Scaffold Plank
- Can the supplier provide written documentation substantiating that boards were graded by an inspector, certified by the American Lumber Standards Committee? When in doubt, ask for a certificate of grade.
- Is each board stamped "SCAFFOLD PLANK"?
- Is each board stamped with a mill number, identifying what lumber mill actually produced and graded the lumber?
- Is each plank stamped "OSHA"?
- What is the designated grade of lumber noted on the ink stamp of the boards?
Southern Yellow Pine: DI65
Douglas Fir: 171B
- Can the supplier provide written documentation to substantiate that boards are tested by a nationally recognized, independent, inspection agency?
- Can the supplier provide literature with appropriate span charts according to the OSHA deflection limits?
- Is each board stamped "SCAFFOLD PLANK"?
- Is each board stamped with the manufacturers name and information?
- Is each board stamped with "OSHA"?
About the Author
Masonry, the official publication of the Mason Contractors Association of America, covers every aspect of the mason contractor profession - equipment and techniques, building codes and standards, business planning, promoting your business, legal issues and more. Read or subscribe to Masonry magazine at www.masonrymagazine.com.