The four most important "S" words that should be on every job site.

Scaffold: Like it or not, this “S” word is a large part of most of our lives.

Safety: Sadly, this “S” word is many times taken for granted until someone gets hurt.

Set up: The importance of this “S” word must never be ignored.

Sensible: This “S” word is the required mindset that must be maintained while working atop safely set up scaffolding.

According to the Department of Labor statistics, 2.3 million (65 percent) of construction workers frequently work off of scaffolding. Annually, there are 4,500 injuries, 50 fatalities, and $90 million in lost workdays associated with these numbers. Of these, 72 percent were due to planking or support giving way, slipping, or being struck by a falling object.

I consider myself lucky that I have dodged more than one bullet in my career due to lack of following the four “S” words. In retrospect, some of the examples of my blatant disregard for these words give me goose bumps still. Young men feel 8 feet tall and bulletproof, and easily forget that the rules of gravity apply to them also. I still remember the day I looked down from my perch atop a 6-foot frame and instantly knew this would be the day I would climb down the ladder bars instead of jumping, as had been my preferred method of descent up till this point. All those years of having older guys tell me it would tear up my knees jumping like that finally kicked in. Either that or the pains in my knees finally registered in my brain. Either way, from that day forward, I never jumped off of a scaffold again.

Some of us reach that plateau much later than others. My close friend and fellow finisher, Roy, still to this day navigates his way across a 2x10 to the staging in an open foyer while wearing stilts. His partner and wife, Mary, has had to close hers eyes waiting for the thud of his falling body for almost 20 years now. While such antics provide fodder for countless entertaining conversations the fact is Roy, you are not 8 feet tall, and you certainly are not bulletproof. Go buy Mary a dozen red roses, take her to dinner, and for Pete’s sake, stop walking on planks with stilts on!

Horror stories

The following are humorous, although potentially tragic examples of the lack of following the “S” words.

Gary Bolles, of Buffalo Plastering, of Buffalo, N.Y., relays, “I was plastering on the exterior of a restaurant. I was in my early 20s and back then, we’d work off orange crates and a 2x4. We set up over the top of a courtyard window. In the courtyard was a fountain with naked concrete statues. The scaffold collapsed and the three of us fell into the statues. We all ended up in a big pile of arms, legs, finish, a plank and crumbled naked statues. Everyone in the restaurant stood up to look at us, even the cook, who ran out to check on us in his big chef’s hat. No one ended up getting hurt (physically).”

Tracy Woods, of Jims’ Drywall, Edmonton, Alberta, was more than happy to relate her husband’s clumsiness. “Jim had headed out to a house to do touch ups. The next thing I know, the job super shows up and tells me Jim’s broken his ankle. I thought he was joking, I mean it was only a couple of touch ups in a totally cleaned-out house. Everything was out of the house except the scaffold! Jim had stepped back off the bench and his foot landed on the caster. See, those things can be dangerous even when you’re not on them! Jim says the funny part came the next day when I had to sand the house we were working on. The siding guy told me Jim was probably at home, sitting in the sun with his foot up, enjoying a nice cold beer.”

Arlie Grunseth, a plasterer from Local 82, in Scio, Ore., tells us about an unusual injury.

“I was working on a Baker Scaffold set only 30-foot high. We were using a limestone plaster that was scraped after it had set to achieve a ‘natural look.’ I was almost finished scraping the lid I was working on when I took a step to reach that last little area. I stepped right off the end of the scaffold and down I went. I landed right, bent arms and legs, and I thought I was all right. Then I noticed that I jammed my arms. I couldn’t even pick up my tool bucket.

“Later, I learned I had broken both of my arms in almost identical breaks. I don’t know what was worse, the questions about who or how I wiped my @$#; the nurse who busted out laughing every time she saw me because I walked like Popeye with those casts; or the fact my company didn’t have light duty for me. SAIF (insurance) found light duty for me hanging women’s clothing up in a thrift store. I was back to slinging stucco in five weeks, and yeah it hurt, but not nearly as much as hanging up women’s lingerie.”

Safety is a must!

The reason we can laugh at the preceding is because no one was seriously hurt. Had there been permanent injuries, no one would be laughing. Philip Bender, president of Hobbit Plastering Inc., Taylors, S.C., brings us back down to earth with the following sobering account.

“My friend, Red, was working on a high-rise swing stage for several months. One day toward the end of the job, he decided to check and see how well the swing was anchored on the roof. Everything looked fine except the safety lines that were coiled neatly on the roof, attached to nothing. They had been that way for the entire duration of the job.”

And if that was not sobering enough, Bill Rogers, executive director of the Plasterers Job Corps Training Program, shared the following horror story. “A rolling unit was being used for fireproofing on a three-story structure. The crew was rushing because of multiple reasons, so they all jumped up to add guardrails and toe boards to the unit. The unit was cantilevered to extend outside the building to shoot the perimeter beam. When the last crew member climbed up onto the scaffold, it tipped towards the cantilever, dumping all three men off. If the unit had been in the middle of the building, they would have just been embarrassed and bruised. Unfortunately, the scaffold was at the edge of the building and the men were thrown 50 feet to the ground, the scaffolding tumbling down on top of them. The results: one dead, one permanently and severely disabled, and one with such severe motor control problems he will never be able to work again. The two survivors were brother-in-laws and the deceased was a second-period apprentice who was a brother of one of the other two. A moment of stupidity resulted in the destruction of

a family.”

It’s hard to read accounts like these without drawing some personal parallels. Next time you are confronted by either a baby Baker or a wall full of staging, remember the moral of these stories. Life is short. Don’t create a shorter one for yourself or someone else by failing to follow the four “S” words.

And remember: Let’s be careful out there!

A fifth “S” word is shirt: Send in your company’s design on either a photo—or to your greater benefit (hint)—the actual street wear for our Second Annual Dry T-shirt Contest. Contestants who send in a picture of themselves, wearing a company shirt, on a scaffold will receive honorable mention for their safety initiatives. But don’t forget: These are to be mailed to Adventures in Drywall in c/o John Wyatt, Walls & Ceilings magazine, 755 W. Big Beaver Rd., Suite 1000, Troy, Mich., 48084, by May 26.