Watch out! Scaffolding ahead

Scaffolding is a very common construction component, one that should never be taken for granted.

caffolding collapses occur because of the number of companies who enter the business without proper certifications or training
caffolding collapses occur because of the number of companies who enter the business without proper certifications or training

Scaffolding is a very common construction component, one that should never be taken for granted. Accidents involving scaffolding are always in the news - but effective safety systems and stricter regulations can keep a check on them, says Shikha Mishra.

A scaffolding collapse is always bad news. What is an effective work platform can suddenly be transformed into a twisted mangle of steel and wood. A collapsing scaffold destroys equipment, buildings and in the worst case scenario, can be the cause of death on a construction site.

Scaffolding is used for access and support of buildings and for maintenance on construction sites. The most commonly used scaffolding brands are SCV, RMD, and Quickform.

Building scaffolding requires well-trained people because it is a safety sensitive business.

"Since the copyright on scaffolding is not applicable anymore and does not lie with one company, these brands are now manufactured by companies which use the same design and manufacture scaffolding all over the world," says Al Futtaim Engineering's managing director, Dawood Ozair.

An important requirement in the scaffolding industry is a team that has the ability to design and build the scaffold scheme.

"Building scaffolding requires well-trained people because it is a safety sensitive business," says Ozair.

According to statistics released by Dubai Municipality earlier this year, out of the total number of accidents at construction sites, a considerable percentage occur due to negligence of safety practices.

For instance, falling from heights constituted 45% of the total 865 accidents from 2004 to 2007. Other types of accidents were: collapses at work sites (23%); accidents involving cranes and other machinery (14%); and fire and electrical shock (7%).

Scaffolding collapses occur in the UAE because of the number of small or medium-sized companies who enter the business without proper certifications or training.

There is also cut-throat competition, which can induce corner-cutting and the industry is populated by too many people with less than optimum experience.

"Such companies just register themselves, hire people and begin installing scaffoldings. They don't have a design and a safety office or team in place. It is very important that while installing scaffolding, it has to be designed and checked by qualified people," says Ozair.

Only a qualified design team is trained to do a wind load test on the scaffold, understand the pressure or load that will be applied on the scaffold, the direction it should be erected in, and how it should be anchored to the ground.

It is necessary that the government formulate regulations to monitor the scaffolding business closely.

Experts feel that as more regulations are falling into place within the construction industry, the same will happen with the scaffolding industry as well.

It is also vital for the government to put in systems that ensure scaffolding is not erected by people or companies who don't have safety offices or cannot fulfill all the safety and design requirements.

Usually what causes scaffolding accidents to occur repeatedly is the fact that the reason behind such accidents is difficult to pin down.

The element of human error also plays a major part in scaffolding accidents, such as the failure to wear a safety harness, improper maintenance and installation.

"After an accident, it is difficult to decipher what caused it. If the contractor doesn't follow the design that was provided or puts additional weight on the scaffolding, then we can attribute the accident to the collapse or failure of the equipment," says Al Dhabi Scaffolding's area manager Mark Chandler.

Apart from its role on building sites, scaffolding is also used to support advertising billboards and if not installed properly it can prove to be extremely dangerous.

"Due to high winds, these ad boards and the scaffold supporting it can fly off if they are not installed correctly. This can be highly dangerous as there is a huge amount of timber and scaffolding involved," says Ozair.

In the future, safety has to be a priority in the scaffolding industry and it has to permeate to each level from the government to the contractors, suppliers and consultants.

"I foresee heavy government interference in terms of quality control in the equipment itself. Some kind of regulations and certifications will have to be put in place.

We have to make sure that men are trained more effectively and certified to sign off that the equipment is safe. I can see the government coming down harder on suppliers," says Chandler.

Safety tips for scaffolding

1. Be sure to have a secure stable base.

2. Make sure there are no missing pieces such as guardrails, pins and base plates.

3. Inspect scaffold for changes, shifting, and damage at the beginning of each shift and throught the day.

4. Be sure employees are accessing the scaffold by approved means (i.e. not climbing on the cross bracing).

5. Be aware of dangerous conditions such as high winds.

Credit: Safety Resources

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