Basic Guide to Scaffolding Safety

June 23, 2015


Scaffolding work involves risk from several directions. Workers on elevated platforms are at risk of falling. Meanwhile, down below, foot traffic is in danger of being hit by falling objects. Thankfully, handrails and other critical safeguards keep elevated workers safe. There's also stability-centric additions, struts and supports that gift the structure with rock steady solidity. Dedicated codes of practice take these measures further, painting details within the broad strokes of scaffolding safety.

The reasoning behind these detailed requirements comes from the realization that an aerial work environment is a selfless creature, in that the hazards don't end with the workers on the overhead platform. Staff members passing below the scaffolding are also at risk. There are tools and construction materials on the work platform, and those materials are at risk of falling to the ground. On identifying this hazard, we can rightly classify the ground around the scaffolding as a danger zone. Hard hats must be worn by personnel walking around the scaffolding, thus adding protection to the unwary should a stray brick fall from the overhead platform.

Thus far we've pointed accusing fingers at height issues and the danger of falling building materials. It's time to step a little closer and look at the techniques involved in assembling a scaffolding tower. This is a temporary structure built from specialized metal struts. The parts lock together thanks to dedicated fastening mechanisms, meaning only trained personnel should be assigned the duty of erecting scaffolding. Staying in compliance with section 274 of the WHS act, the scaffolding team uses a systematic approach when erecting these parts. It may sound like common sense, but the safety act puts these thoughts into words, establishing the following list of control measures:

  • Erect the scaffolding on level and solid ground
  • Lock wheels on movable towers
  • Only used approved scaffolding components when erecting the tower
  • Provide safety assets that target platform workers and personnel on the ground

The first two factors determine the stability of the assembled parts, determining whether temporary aerial working platforms can be classed as safe for climbing. Additional safety elements are appended at this point, including the principle concept that platforms above the 4 metre mark are classified as high risk. These work areas should only be staffed by licensed labourers. Also, in satisfying the ground worker issue and reinforcing the hard hat regulation, consider adding a safety net to the assembly to catch falling building materials.

There are numerous considerations to consider when erecting scaffolding. Follow the WHS act (Section 274) to stay safe. Keep that 4 metre rule in mind. Use qualified erectors and workers. Maintain the 450 mm wide platform rule. Add angled ground support struts if stability is an issue, and ensure every fastener is locked down to ensure stability issues don't occur. Finally, place warning signs around the structure to warn away site invaders, although a more potent resolution here would be to lock the lower portion of the structure and remove ladders, thus discouraging outsiders from attempting to scale the scaffold.

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