Beginner's Guide: Work Platforms

Beginner's Guide: Work Platforms

There are many types of work platforms: aerial work platforms (such as scissor lifts), scaffolding, or prefabricated, permanently-installed platforms. Which one you choose to use depends on the type of work you plan on doing and the duration of that work.  A quick paint job, for instance, might be done on scaffolding, while replacing light bulbs throughout a warehouse might be done on a scissor lift.  Jobs that require indefinite access to elevated work areas however are probably better served by a permanently installed, customizable work platform (to be clear, some platforms that are “permanently installed” can still be adjusted to different heights or moved a little bit, while others will be unchangeable once in place).  These platforms provide safe, easy access as well as ergonomic positioning for the task at hand.  So, what do you need to know about them?

What is Required?

Information on work platforms is going to be found in multiple locations within 29 CFR 1910 Subpart D (Walking and Working Platforms), but there are a few general requirements that hold true:

  1. Because we are discussing General Industry situations, rails will be required at 4 feet.  This is the height at which fall protection is required in General Industry (Most likely permanent platforms would not be used in a dynamic construction situation. Instead, scaffolding or lifts would be, and each has their own set of fall protection requirements). 
  2. The rail must be 42” high, a mid-rail is needed as well as a 4” toe-board.
  3. If it takes four or more steps to access the platform, the steps must have rails as well.
  4. Access openings must be offset so that somebody cannot step directly into them or must be protected by gates.

While there are many more regulations that apply to a platform’s design and use, these four basics should at least get you going.

Different Platforms, Different Uses

Work safety platforms are often designed, or customized, with a purpose in mind.  For instance, you may have installed a platform so that a machine operator could work with the controls at a proper height, rather than having to reach overhead.  You may also need to access higher sections of this same machine for maintenance purposes.  Just because you have a platform in place though, doesn’t mean that it can serve every purpose.  While the platform may be at a perfect height for operating the equipment, using it to access higher areas could cause you to have to climb rails or perform other unsafe actions.  Make sure that the platform you are using is designed for the purpose you are using it.

Be Aware of the Surface on Which You Are Working

If your work platform is a fixed, non-adjustable platform, then the only surface consideration you need to be concerned with is that it is clean, free of debris or spills, and is not broken or compromised in any way.  But, if your platform can be moved, you also need to consider the surface below your work platform.  Some platforms can be adjusted asymmetrically in order to account for uneven surfaces.  Others are provided with large wheels so that they can be rolled over grating or other holes in the floor.  Without the safeguards mentioned, uneven surfaces or floor openings can be disastrous.  Make sure your platform is equipped with whatever is necessary to keep it level and stable.


If you’re in the design stage of setting up a work platform, you’ve got a lot of opportunities to make the platform as versatile as possible.  Look to the future now, so that you can be prepared for possible changes.  Will the task always be done this way or in this location?  Will maintenance need to be performed that could require additional access?  Is the platform strong enough, not just for what I intend to place on it now, but what I will need to place on it in the future?  Being overly focused on one application could prove costly if you need to make modifications down the road. So take the time to consider any and all future applications.  Once you have, you can build the versatility right into your design.

Mobile scaffolding and aerial lifts exist because you may need a quick, short-term solution to a problem, especially in the dynamic world of construction. However, when you are designing a long-term work platform, don’t rush it.  Take the time to understand what is required, to design it for the present and the future, to train your employees in its use, and to fully understand not only its uses but its limitations.  Done right, work platforms can save you quite a bit of money and countless injuries.

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