Without scaffolding, many modern construction jobs would be impossible. Although it’s easy to use effectively, it is still equipment that comes with a risk. Fall hazards are the leading cause of construction worker deaths in the UK, so it’s imperative to follow best practice guidelines.
Whether you're erecting a more ambitious modular scaffolding system for a large construction job, a single access tower for a piece of repair work, or some moveable trestle scaffolding for an internal painting job, there are a number of points that should always sit in the back of your mind. If you want to stay safe and get the job done properly without hurting yourself, your workers or any unfortunate members of the public, please read on.
Safety regulations dictate that anyone working from height on scaffolding is required to be properly trained. It's important that this not only relates to observing proper safety practices and protocols (how to get on and off it safely, how to prevent falls etc.), but to how they are designed and put together.
Anyone working on scaffolding should also be fully licensed. You'd be surprised how many scaffolding rogue traders are operating in the UK and how professional they can appear at first glance. However, their equipment is often poorly maintained and they are often untrained. When hiring scaffolding or looking for help, make sure to check references and do some research.
Although free-standing scaffolding towers do exist, most types of scaffolding are required to be supported against an existing structure. If it's not braced against a building, your scaffolding will more than likely be a wobbly mess that could easily become dislodged. Suspended scaffolding is also common, particularly with short-term repair work. This is supported from above and is also perfectly acceptable.
It's also important that your scaffolding is perfectly level and that its structural integrity is above reproach. This means that all of the parts are secure, in good condition, and regularly maintained.
The most obvious initial preparation is to check the weather. If it's overly wet or icy, it's recommended that all workers steer clear of any scaffolding unless absolutely necessary. Secondly, any potential scaffolding obstructions such as trees, bushes, wires, or vehicles should be cleared wherever possible. Before starting work, a foreman should always give it one last once over.
If your scaffolding is going to be erected at least 10 feet above ground, guardrails must be installed on all sides that don't face the building. Workers should also always be strapped in wherever possible with a scaffold harness, particularly in major construction work where it's common for work to take place hundreds of feet above ground.
Be aware of your fellow workers at all times. Remember, there's every chance that there will be workers below and above you, so keep both eyes open and remember to look up and down.
There's no way around it; it's probably going to be a little cramped up there. That means you're going to need to make the most out of the available space. Make sure tools are put away safely when not in use and that the scaffold guardrails are free from clutter. Your walkways should also be completely free from waste. This includes building materials, tools, and rogue lunch boxes. Items like these are dangerous because they could cause a trip or a fall from height, and even potentially be blown off the scaffolding by a gust of wind and injure those on the ground.
Depending on the job, your scaffolding is undoubtedly going to be put under some heavy loads with workers and equipment. Overloading scaffolding is one of the most common mistakes made by workers who are eager to get the job done expediently. You should always make a note of the load limit and stick rigidly to it. It's not just an ancillary number, it's there for a reason.
Strong and secure headgear should always be a given when you're working in construction in any capacity, but also consider anti-slip shoes (particularly if rain is forecast) and scaffolding harnesses where necessary.
Before erecting scaffolding in either a commercial or residential capacity, check if you need to obtain street closure permission and if you need to work during certain hours in order to protect members of the public.
In addition, if you're working in public, ensure that you erect barriers and signs to make members of the public aware of your work. Finally, when the job is done and you're ready to pack up and go home, make sure you dismantle scaffolding section by section in the same order it was erected.