Danger lurks on every jobsite. But workers can maintain a healthy distance; it depends on how they treat it. The worker who's horsing around on a 50-foot scaffold is dancing with danger. The worker who cuts brick without attaching side shields to prescription glasses is playing hide and seek with it. But the worker who's laying overhand brick in a full body harness is keeping danger well in abeyance.

Sadly, danger has come close enough to kill just under 100 masons in the last five years. Thousands of others were "lucky" to keep their lives but ended up paralyzed, blind or otherwise injured.

Nobody needed to lose their life or health. Even though danger is present on every jobsite, risks can be minimized with safe work practices. After realizing this, many masonry contractors have introduced such a strong safety ethic onto their jobsites that their crews practice safe techniques as a matter of course. "We want them to adopt safe work practices automatically, just like they put on their seat belts without thinking," says Wayne Baum of Morton, Ill.-based Otto Baum & Sons Inc., which adopted an intensive safety improvement program eight years ago that dropped its experience modification rating from 1.54 to 0.6. This lower rating reflects a successful campaign to heighten awareness of the leading jobsite dangers and to show workers exactly what they had to do to prevent them.

Falls from scaffolds When crew members work higher than 6 feet, they must receive fall-protection training according to OSHA's regulations. A "competent person" must supervise the erection (and dismantling) of scaffolds that should not be boarded before this person has inspected them and said they are safe for use (see "Getting a grip on OSHA's Scaffolding Regulations," July 1997, pages 339-342). Scaffold-grade planks should be laid over the complete walking area of the scaffold with no uneven areas that could cause tripping (except for allowable 12-inch overlapping of plank at supports). The planks or decking material should extend at least 6 inches over the edge or be cleated to prevent movement.

To prevent tipping, the actual work platform or planks must not extend more than 12 inches beyond the end supports. A clean scaffold will prevent both tripping and falling of objects. "If a bundle of brick or block falls over, or if there's rubble or hard mortar, we immediately clean it up," says Ken Nessler, of Phoenix-based Sun Valley Masonry Inc.

Guardrails are absent in many falling accidents; they should be attached to scaffolding that is higher than 10 feet. The top guardrails should be 42 inches high (+ 3 inches) and the mid-rails should be about 21 inches high. The top rails should be strong enough to withstand a weight of 200 pounds, and the midrails should withstand 150 pounds of downward or outward force. Intermediate members or openings should be no greater than 19 inches.

Guardrails do not have be attached to the front face (closest to the wall) of stock planks.This condition is only for masons when there is a gap of no more than 14 inches between the wall and the scaffold.

When supplies have been delivered or when the cross braces are set in place, workers sometimes are tempted not to replace guardrails, which must be done unless the cross braces are adequate guardrails. Dave Eatherton of Denver-based Eatherton Masonry Inc. borrowed an idea from another contractor and now has specially fabricated guardrails that can be put in place in conjunction with cross braces.

Falling objects The presence of 4-inch (nominal, 3½-inch actual) toeboards reduces the risk of heavy material or supplies being accidently kicked off a scaffold. However, they also restrict workers who can hit them with their feet when climbing onto scaffold or who can trip on them. Screens, canopies, nets, guardrails and platforms can all work by preventing objects from falling to the ground. Where tools, debris or materials are piled higher than the toeboard, a screen must be built from the toeboard to the top of the guardrail (see "Getting a grip on OSHA's scaffolding regulations," July 1997, pages 339-342).

Another way to limit the danger of falling materials or supplies is to set up "no-entry zones" with yellow "caution" tape around the bottom of a scaffold. People cannot be harmed if they cannot be hit.

Falls from access ladders Many workers fall from access ladders. Ladders that are incorrectly positioned provide ample opportunity for falls. Starting at the bottom, the footings must be stable on even ground.Materials and supplies should be delivered (whenever possible) to the scaffold by forklift or crane to avoid this dangerous situation. (Carrying a load increases the risk of sprains and strains.) Access ladders should extend 3 feet above the surface against which they lean.

Falls from roofs Masons who are working where the risk of falling is high, such as overhand bricklaying, are required by OSHA to wear personal fall-arrest systems or be well-protected from falling by scaffolding unless there is a fall-protection plan. A written fall-protection plan describes the hazards a mason faces and describes what the masonry contractor will do to protect the mason from them. In rare circumstances, such a plan can be an acceptable alternative to fall- arrest systems and scaffolding (when it is too awkward to use them).

When a personal fall-arrest system must be used, there are many types to chose from. They all diffuse the fall force throughout the body and leave suspended workers who have fallen from a height hanging comfortably until rescue. (Please note that since January 1, 1998, body belts are not allowed for fall arrest.) Fall-arrest equipment that is incorrectly positioned can cause internal injuries to the fallen worker, so it should be put on with care. There are several parts to a fall- arrest system. A full-body harness, which must have the dee-ring centered at the back (see Photo 4) is attached to a lanyard. This can be made from rope, nylon strap or steel. (Steel lanyards must have built-in shock absorbers.) Never tie the lanyard in a knot--it decreases its strength by half-- and do not tie it around any sharp edges.

It's important to remember that lanyards with shock absorbers extend (like a bungee) up to 3½ feet more than ones without. Retractable lanyards are made from nylon strap or steel cable and must be attached to a locking snaphook. (Non-locking snaphooks are not allowed anymore.)

The choice of anchor point is an important factor in the safety of the fall-arrest system. This point must be picked by the competent person or the owner, and it should be directly above where the harnessed worker will be working (to avoid swing hazards). The anchor point should be able to support 5,000 pounds. Usually steel structures, beams or columns are suitable anchor points.

All of this equipment should be checked daily for nicks, fraying edges, chemical splashes, etc. (There are many other fall protection aides not covered above. For explicit details of suitable canopies, bridges, screens and other materials used, see information on the Construction Safety Council's fall-prevention training guides at the end of this article.)

A controlled access zone must always be set up on the unscaffolded or unbraced side of a new wall. These zones extend from the base of the wall outward to a distance equal to the height of the newly constructed wall plus 4 feet where masons must lay brick in such hazardous conditions (doing overhand bricklaying.Only qualified employees have access to these controlled zones. This eliminates all other subcontractors from the area and lessens the risk of a mason being tipped off the edge by equipment or supplies. Only trained workers should be allowed into the area.

Falls through openings Skylights, elevator shafts and stair openings prove especially dangerous when daylight is low (usually at the beginning and the en