Top Scaffolding Failures and What To Do About It

Wednesday, 01 Sep, 2021

Scaffolding is a staple of construction needed on building projects of any scale; it’s also hazardous, so it’s essential to make sure everything is in place to avoid any harm to the operation, and more importantly, the workforce.

What has to be looked out for? The top safety failures have been revealed thanks to research from an international scaffolding inspectors’ app company – used to improve safety in more than 365,000 scaffold inspections weekly. 

The International Scaffolding Association reports that most common failures, which include injuries to workers, as well as the scaffolding itself breaking down, are caused by the following— obstructions (50%), debris (14%), poor board condition (10%), and missing/misplaced guard-rails and toe-boards (4%).


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The Effects of Failure

These factors contribute to several costly outcomes, and in the worst cases, are life-threatening. What follows is four expected outcomes and a special note on a hazard that is often overlooked. 

The first outcome is falling. Obstructions on the scaffolding, boards in poor condition, and missing or misplaced safety features like rails can all lead to workers falling from the scaffolding. At the least, this could cause serious injury, and at worst, death. As such, it’s crucial to ensure the stability of scaffolding and the proper implementation of safety features, including personal harnesses when scaffolding is 10 feet or higher. 

The second is scaffold collapse. Poorly rigged scaffolding, or brittle components, can lead to scaffolds collapsing. This threatens to injure multiple people and may cause a lot of destruction. As such, care must be taken to rig scaffolding correctly and look out for any deficiencies, i.e. loose bolts, heavy rusting and so on.

The third is people getting struck by falling material, potentially by debris or obstructions. This may be caused by workers stumbling and accidentally dropping objects—or themselves—on those below. This poses a risk to workers, and in some cases, the public. In any event, while care should be taken to clear obstructions and debris, warning signs should be in place, safety helmets worn, and care should be taken to maintain situational awareness at all times.

The fourth is electrocution. Sloppy placement can expose workers to dangerous wiring. On the other hand, any of the above can also contribute to the risk of electrocution if, for example, someone falls into wiring or if falling objects damage equipment causing wires to become exposed. This is another thing to consider when inspecting scaffolding. 


A hazard that isn’t often considered is the presence of vehicles on or near the building site. Vehicles pose a risk to scaffolding and vice versa. If a car knocks into scaffolding, that could cause any of the outcomes listed above. On the flip side, falling debris or scaffold collapse could damage vehicles below, injuring occupants or even broader damage if the vehicle is transporting hazardous materials.

Again, the solution here is situational awareness on everyone’s part, but also the setting up of concrete barriers, especially if the scaffolding is in a public place, i.e. a sidewalk, in which less safety-minded civilians could pose a risk.

The tools for a safer working environment are available; however, they must be coupled with the correct implementation.


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