This week in history, we explore the Washington Monument located in Washington DC. A soaring white obelisk at 555 feet in height, it still reigns as the tallest structure in Washington DC. The construction of the memorial started in 1848 as a tribute to the military leadership of our nation’s first president, George Washington. Lack of funding and political turmoil put the construction of the monument on hold. Eventually, after going through two major phases of construction, the monument was completed in 1884.
The walls of the monument are 15 feet thick at the base and only 18 inches thick at the top shaft. The Washington Monument suffered some damage from an earthquake in 2011 and was closed for renovation. Currently, the monument is shrouded in a sleek, mechanical looking scaffold that safely holds workers while they make repairs. The scaffold system was designed by New York Architect Michael Graves and weighs 500 tons. A light blue mesh covers the scaffold and at night, 488 decorative lights shine through the darkness. There are mixed reactions regarding the scaffold—some visitors like the shroud that the monument wears, some find it irreverent, while others want to make it permanent.
Scaffolds are used on work sites throughout the United States. It comes in very handy when working on repairs or construction projects. On exterior building surfaces where workers may attach or repair building components, the use of a scaffold is more feasible than a ladder or PFAS (Personal Fall Arrest Systems). Scaffolds are a great way to protect multiple workers from fall exposures. But if they are not erected properly or used correctly, these scaffolds can become a fatal hazard.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics stated in a Census of Fatal Occupational Injuries (CFOI) that 54 fatalities occurred from scaffolds in 2009—and 72% of workers injured in scaffold-related accidents cited the following reasons: the planking or support gave way, they slipped, or they got struck by a falling object. The numbers don’t lie… so how can you keep your employees safe? Employees need training to recognize the hazards related to improper scaffold construction or use. Scaffolds must be constructed according to manufacturers’ specifications, must have guardrail systems on open sides and ends, and must be 10 feet above a lower level. Safe access must be available and workers must never use the cross braces to climb up the scaffold.
Here are some free resource pages related to scaffold safety from OSHA.gov: