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Practice safe scaffolding to prevent accidents

6th December 2018

PDMA Consulting Engineers is contracted to deliver a large range of temporary works schemes and many involve scaffolding to allow access to the structures to be built, renovated or maintained.

Scaffolding is commonplace and until something goes wrong, it is largely ignored by the public, unless it is leaning against their house for many months!

We are currently involved in a large project that required almost six months of calculations to ensure the scaffold required to renovate the Victorian roof does not impart unnecessary loads on the building structure, whilst granting safe access to all levels.

And the sheer scale of this current project and the hundreds of miles of scaffold tube involved, to say nothing of the couplers, ties and boards, really got me thinking about the basics of safe scaffolding.

The safety standards are paramount in the design of any scaffolding structure. People will put their lives in the hands of those designing, building and checking schemes, to say nothing of the public sharing the space and at risk if there’s a collapse.

Call in the professionals

All scaffolds must be designed, although it is permissible to use a standard design for standard scaffolds. However, most scaffolds are not standard which brings us back to the statement that all scaffolds must be designed.

Once erected, the designed scaffold must be approved and signed off by a competent person as being built to the design. This should not be the scaffolder as this is equivalent to checking your own work; it is often the temporary works coordinator on site. Of course, our experience as engineers ensures we have the expertise to inspect and sign-off on schemes designed by ourselves as well as other engineers.

There are several specialist scaffold design companies, but they often do not design the whole scheme. For example, they will not consider how the structure will resist the tie forces nor will they design the foundations.

Our experienced team will undertake all aspects of the design and work out whether the scaffold is safely anchored and assembled to give the support appropriate for its size and what it will ultimately be used for.

Our work typically begins with one or a series of site meetings to understand the detail of the scheme and its purpose. The issue that often arises is the position of the scaffold relevant to the siting of other temporary works structures, like props required for falsework or shoring for excavation.

We are then at an advantage when we have deigned all the temporary works requirements as we can then see how each interacts with the others and we can tailor the designs accordingly.

Watch out for wind

Then we can check our observations and calculations with the those of the original designer, with special consideration given to scaffolds that have sheeting, nets, fans or tarpaulins attached to them.

These must have specific calculations and design conducted by a structural engineer to address the issue of ‘wind-sail’ on the complete structure. This is also an important issue when the property developer wants to add a huge billboard to the scaffold to publicise the development.

The checking and sign-off is the critical step that demonstrates to all concerned that the scaffold is safe and has been built as designed – and it is all in the right place to allow for other temporary works without undue modification to the scheme later on.

If during the inspection we find a problem with the scheme, it can be rectified before anyone uses it, or the construction team begin to install the next phase of temporary works.

The time for a serious problem to surface is not when people are working at height, often with heavy equipment. These days few incidents will be considered accidents; the blame will typically find a source and that can lead to charges and court appearances.

Whether you need a scheme inspected and checked or want help with designing scaffolding as part of the temporary works for a project, please get in touch with PDMA Consulting Engineers for a new approach that delivers confidence and results.