Aerial Work Platforms Versus Scaffolding in the Facility Management Industry

The facility management industry uses scaffolding in a variety of applications. For example, it is used for painting, new construction, renovations, routine maintenance, and removal projects. Although there are many types of scaffolding, scaffolding in general is discussed in this blog. OSHA defines scaffolding as a “temporary elevated platform (supported or suspended) and its supporting structure (including points of anchorage), used for supporting employees or materials or both.”

OSHA and ANSI regulations for scaffolding differ depending on whether it is supported or suspended. The fall protection trigger height for workers on supported scaffolding is 10 feet, whereas workers on suspended scaffolding are always required to tie-off to approved anchor points. For supported scaffolding, passive fall protection is required, such as guardrails. It’s important to ensure that the guardrails meet OSHA’s requirements because cited violations often include improper installation and/or use of guardrails. For example, using cross bracing as guardrails is unacceptable. However, cross bracing can be the toprail or midrail of a guardrail system depending on the distance between the cross bracing.

The facility management industry uses aerial work platforms in a variety of applications as well. For example, they are used for the maintenance or repair of buildings and for short-term construction projects. Aerial work platforms include a boom lift (both powered and vehicle mounted), cherry or stock pickers, aerial lifts, and bucket trucks. An aerial work platform is defined as a powered or manually propelled device supported by a structure from ground level.

OSHA and ANSI regulations for aerial work platforms differ depending on whether the work platform extends out farther than the base. For example, the work platform on an aerial lift extends out over the base, but the work platform on a scissor lift only extends vertically directly above the base. If the work platform extends out farther than the base, active fall protection is required, such as a full body harness and a shock absorbing lanyard. If the work platform extends vertically directly over the base, passive fall protection is required, such as guardrails.

So which system is best, aerial work platforms or scaffolding? This question is hard to answer. Although both aerial work platforms and scaffolding are alternatives to ladders, aerial work platforms and scaffolding do serve different purposes. For this reason, it is hard to give specific circumstances for when to use aerial platforms over scaffolding or vice versa. However, some general circumstances do apply. Use scaffolding instead of aerial work platforms when the following circumstances apply:

  • When a large work area is needed to complete the project
  • When the project will take a long time to complete
  • When an aerial work platform cannot be placed close enough to complete the project safely (Examples include an uneven surface or obstructions.)

Use an aerial work platform instead of scaffolding when the following circumstances apply:

  • When a small work area is sufficient to complete the project
  • When the project can be completed in a short amount of time

Important Notes to Remember When Working with Scaffolding

  • Assess any fall hazards before assembling the scaffolding.
  • Place the footing of the scaffold on a solid surface.
  • Per OSHA, workers must assemble the scaffold under the direct supervision of a competent person.
  • All sides of the scaffold must be protected with passive fall protection, such as guardrails.
  • Cross bracing is not to be used as a complete guardrail system. However, cross bracing may be the toprail or midrail of a guardrail system depending on the distance between the cross bracing.
  • If anyone needs to pass under the scaffolding, workers must install screens to protect against falling objects.
  • Provide a safe method to access both the scaffold and the scaffold platforms that are more than two feet apart vertically or 14 inches horizontally.

Important Notes to Remember When Working with Aerial Work Platforms

  • Assess any fall hazards before using an aerial work platform.
  • Keep your upper body inside of the work platform.
  • The guardrails, ladders, or other devices that extend your work position off of the work platform are not permitted.
  • Only use approved anchor points when tying off. Some manufacturers of aerial work platforms provide anchor points in the aerial lift. Check to see if the manufacturer of your aerial work platform provides approved anchor points that can withstand the forces of a fall event.
  • Assess if swing fall is possible before connecting to an anchor point.
  • Use the shortest lanyard possible that still allows you to complete the project.
  • Do not exceed the manufacturer’s rated capacity for horizontal forces.

Related Posts

Photo of Nathan Muller

Nathan Muller

Senior Technical Writer | Rigidlifelines.com
Nathan Muller is the Senior Technical Writer for Spanco and Rigid Lifelines. Nathan has nearly four years of experience in technical communications and copyediting. He graduated from Bob Jones University with a B.A. in English and a minor in Professional Writing. He is also a member of the Society of Technical Communication.