Steel Scaffolding: When Too Much Rust and Corrosion Becomes a Safety Concern

April 10, 2018

Steel scaffolding stands firm in all kinds of weather. Rain hammers the rigid metal, but the alloy barely feels the impact. Later that day, a breeze whips through the construction site. Wooden panels are lifted by the strong wind. Does the metal scaffolding take flight? No, it does not. But wait, ugly blemishes are spreading on the steel frame. Metal-fatiguing rust is attacking the rigid supports.

The Gravity of the Situation

Rust eats metal. The rain, the downfall that didn't seem to impact the scaffolding, has acted as an oxidizing agent. The iron content in the steel supports is corroding. The orange-brown flakes are crumbling. The support beam in question can no longer retain that all-important rigidity factor that makes steel such a desirable structural metal. Shorn of that mechanical strength, the beam no longer supports its rated load factor. In plain English, the flaking metal will collapse if it's loaded. The rust has ruined the staging element beyond all hopes of repair.

Assessing the Effects of Surface Corrosion

Surface corrosion is harmless. Granted, rust compromises special protective coatings. The metal becomes fully exposed to the elements when this happens, so the frame element lacks a corrosion-resistant shield. When this happens, the relevant pieces require careful monitoring. In theory, that surface coating will inhibit further rusting, but it's difficult to guarantee that effect. After all, steam penetrates porous surfaces. In the presence of that vapour, the metal underneath that orange coating is going to rust, too. Surface corrosion is harmless, but the condition still places a question mark over the part, especially when there's water saturating the environment.

More Than Skin Deep

Corrosion becomes a concern when steel segments change dimensionally. Undetected by the human eye, the tubes are thinning. The hard iron has been transformed into grainy iron oxide, a compound that has no mechanical strength. Is the metal surface pitted? Are the tubes noticeably thinner? Scratch that surface coating. If a solid grey surface is revealed, the tube is still dimensionally viable. However, if there's more orange below the existing rust, the alloy is being eaten away by the sustained presence of material-penetrating water, a chemical agent, or galvanic action.

Informed scaffolding rental agencies know all about rust. To deal with this metal eating devil, they source galvanized steel systems. Still, what if this is gear lacks a protective finish? The scaffolding must be stored in a low humidity environment. Dry and safe, a maintenance plan uses calipers and other measuring instruments to separate any of the dimensionally thinned elements.

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