For most people in the construction industry, scaffolding is something that is worked with on a daily basis. Over 60% of construction workers – such as bricklayers, painters and window washers – operate on the structures frequently.
However, the temporary structures are inherently unstable and constantly changing. Many Aussie construction workers have been injured or killed from working with the structures. Many of these accidents are triggered by a lack of education and training.
Due to the risks posed by the structures, it is vital that safe practices and the use of scaffoldings are implemented and maintained.
What scaffolding is
It is a temporary, elevated working platform which comes in three main types – supported, suspended and other (e.g. scissor lifts, man lifts, cherry pickers). It is used to support workers and their materials in the construction and maintenance of buildings and other man-made structures. It is typically made from metal which is sturdy and easy to assemble and disassemble.
The main types of accidents and how to prevent them
There are a range of preventative measures that can be taken in order to minimise the likelihood of a scaffolding-related accident occurring. These include education and training, appropriate selection of equipment and appropriate use of equipment. The most common accidents are:
People falling from the structures account for over 30% of all construction-related deaths. It is essential that the proper selection, installation and use of railings and fall prevention systems are ensured in order to reduce the number of falls that occur. Ensure that all gear meets current standards and that they are installed as directed by the manufacturer. Gear should only be used as directed. All employees should be educated on how to use scaffolding and how to follow the safety procedures.
Falling work materials, debris or tools can cause injury or death. Ensure that your scaffolding is equipped with toeboards in order to limit the likelihood of this occurring. At a minimum, toeboards should be equipped with guardrails on all open sides. You may also need to provide a safety screen to prevent hazards.
Electrocution is another risk associated with scaffolding. The structures should not be used or assembled close to power lines without prior consultation from a qualified person. Care should be taken whilst operating power tools or electrical wiring, and all workers dealing with these should be properly trained and educated first.
The collapse of scaffolding typically occurs as a result of faulty parts, overloading and incorrect assembly. The structures are engineered to support a specific load when correctly erected. To prevent structural collapse, ensure that the structure is assembled and loaded according to the manufacturer’s instructions. You should be aware of how much workers and materials weigh and ensure that the building being used to support the structure is capable of holding the required load.
The overturning of the structure usually occurs when it is not adequately tied. Follow an engineer’s instruction to determine the correct spacing and location of the ties. Be aware that adding an enclosure on top of the structure can potentially overturn it as a result of a wind loading increase. Ensure that the structure is correctly assembled, starting with a site survey and hazard assessment carried out by a qualified person. The structure should be set on base plates in order to prevent it from slipping or sinking.
Unfortunately, scaffolding accidents can’t be completely prevented. However, implementing and maintaining proper practices, such as providing education and training to workers, and the appropriate selection and use of gear, will hugely reduce the likelihood of accidents occurring and causing harm.