Top tips for safe scaffolding

The findings from a recent scaffolding safety inspection blitz on NSW construction sites revealed that: 

  • 44% of scaffolding on inspected sites was missing parts (in other words, almost half of the scaffolding assessed was non-compliant)
  • Unlicensed workers on 36% of sites had altered or removed scaffolding components.

These figures highlight an alarming lack of compliance and awareness around the importance of scaffolding safety. But when scaffolding is suitably designed, erected, altered, used and maintained it provides an efficient alternative to ladders and other access equipment for working safely at height

Staying safe on and around scaffolding requires us to know the risks; spot the hazards; and to commit to working safely and follow all necessary steps to keep people out of harm’s way. Here we explore some common scaffolding hazards; look at ways to minimise risk; and answer some of your frequently asked questions about working safely with scaffolding.

What are the hazards of using scaffolding?

Working at height always comes with a degree of risk. 

Here are some of the hazards associated with working with scaffolding:

  • Falls from height – whilst working on scaffolding, during scaffolding set up and pack down.

  • Scaffolding collapse – from a lack of knowledge, inadequate design and/or installation, or a collision between heavy equipment and scaffolding on site. 

  • Falling objects – whilst working on scaffolding, or from items falling from scaffolding onto areas below during dismantling.

  • Electrocution – if live wires or lightning come into contact with scaffolding.

Working safely with scaffolding

There are many considerations for working safely on and around scaffolding.

  • Safe design: Safety compliant design and installation of scaffolding structures is critical.

  • Duty rating: Scaffolding structures are typically categorised as light, medium or heavy duty, and come with limitations around the number of decks that can be installed – so it’s important to know the duty rating of your scaffolding and design your set up accordingly.

  • Heavy equipment collision: To further reduce the risk of scaffolding collapse, scaffolding should be designed to allow adequate space for heavy equipment to move freely around site.

  • Load limits: Scaffolding comes with load limits – so know these limits, communicate them with your team and strictly enforce limits at all times. Also consider the load bearing capacity of the surface where scaffolding will be installed.

  • Education: Ensure your workforce completes the necessary training, and obtains the necessary licences to work safely with scaffolding, and supply adequate scaffolding PPE (including helmets and harnesses).

  • Inspections: Always thoroughly inspect the scaffolding before and after use. And ensure areas below scaffolding are cleared prior to dismantling scaffolding to prevent impact from falling items.

  • Adverse weather: Certain weather conditions present additional risk when using scaffolding. To prevent slips and falls avoid using scaffolding in heavy rain, icy conditions or strong winds. To prevent electrocution never use scaffolding during an electrical storm.

Scaffolding Quick Q&A

How much weight can a scaffold tube hold? 

Unfortunately there is no definitive answer to this question – it depends on a variety of factors like the brand of scaffolding, and the design of your structure. However, to adhere to Australian workplace safety standards, all scaffolding must be able to support its own weight, plus four times the maximum intended load (whether this load is applied or transmitted). 

Do I need a licence or training to erect scaffolding?

A high-risk work licence is required for working with any equipment that presents a risk of a person or object falling more than four meters. If the maximum fall distance is four metres or less, a high-risk work licence is not required. A safe work method statement (SWMS) is required for any structure with a risk of falling 2m or greater. 

How high can scaffolding safely be constructed?

For tower frame scaffolding, the maximum number of working platforms is determined by the manufacturer, and outlined in supporting safe use documentation. If in doubt, contact the manufacturer or talk to an equipment hire specialist.

More information on working safely with scaffolding (including your obligations as an employer and all of your training and licencing requirements) can be found on the Safe Work Australia website

Talk to Coates Hire for all your scaffolding needs – or find your local branch.

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