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What is a Scaffold: Hazards, Standards, and Installation of Scaffolding

What is a Scaffold: Hazards, Standards, and Installation of Scaffolding

Aug 23rd 2022

What is a Scaffold: Hazards, Standards, and Installation of Scaffolding

Scaffolding Explained

A scaffold is a movable or temporary platform that provides workers access to a work area when working at a height above the floor or ground. They are erected using scaffolding poles, which are interconnected to form a secure structure. Scaffold refers to the temporary platform itself, while scaffolding refers to the entire system, including the poles, brackets, and all other components. They are typically made of metal tubes, couplers, and frames, all classified as plant under the applicable Work Health and Safety (WHS) Act. Scaffolds are commonly used in construction and repair work, such as painting or repairing the exterior of a building.

Generally, scaffolding must be designed and constructed in accordance with Australian Standards, and a qualified engineer must inspect it before use. However, there are also specific requirements regarding the height of scaffolding, the type of materials that can be used, and the maximum load that can be applied to the structure.

Failure to comply with these requirements can result in serious injuries, so all scaffolding work must be carried out in accordance with the relevant regulations. In Australia, these requirements vary between states and territories, so it is important to check the relevant regulations before work commences.

Scaffolding Hazards

A recent incident prompted NT WorkSafe to issue a warning to workers in the construction industry not to modify scaffolding if they are not authorised to do so. In the latest incident, a worker on a Darwin construction site was found to have modified scaffolding to allow the placement of formwork by a crane. This caused a co-worker to suffer an accident.

While it was fortunate that the worker did not sustain serious injuries, this incident highlights the dangers of modifying scaffolding without proper training or authorisation. Strict guidelines are enforced regarding scaffolding and its modification for good reason. Scaffolding that has been tampered with can be incredibly dangerous, as this latest incident demonstrates. Workers attempting to modify scaffolding incorrectly are putting themselves and their co-workers at risk of serious injury or death.

Scaffolding work involves erecting, altering or dismantling scaffolding, and must be carried out by a qualified person. While scaffolds offer several benefits, they also pose some hazards to workers if not installed and used correctly. Scaffolds and scaffolding work pose various risks to workers, including:

  • Falling from heights – the most common type of accident associated with scaffolds.
  • Collapsing scaffolds – occur when the scaffold is not properly constructed or maintained.
  • Working near power lines – workers can be electrocuted if they come into contact with live wires or overhead power lines.
  • Falling debris or objects – include tools, scaffolding equipment and materials that are not adequately secured. Falling objects are a hazard both to workers on the scaffold and those working below.
  • Deteriorating or collapsing ground – unsafe ground conditions such as subsidence.

Who has duties under the law?

The workplace is a space where we all have specific duties to fulfil. These can be found under relevant state and territory regulations, which every worker should know, especially if their work is classified as high-risk construction work. The range of people who have specific responsibilities for scaffolds and the work that goes into them can be found in the General Guide for Scaffolds and Scaffolding Work, and additional support information can be found on the state and territory regulators' websites.

Licensing

Anyone working with scaffolding over 4 metres must have a high-risk work licence. This is regulated by the individual state and territory governments, which sets strict guidelines for how scaffolding must be erected and used. There are three classes of scaffolding licence:

  • Basic scaffolding licence – required for work involving modular or prefabricated scaffolds, cantilevered materials hoists, ropes, gin wheels, fall arrest systems and bracket scaffolds.
  • Intermediate scaffolding license – this license allows workers to erect, alter, and dismantle cantilevered crane loading platforms, cantilevered scaffolds, spur scaffolds, barrow ramps and sloping platforms, scaffolding with perimeter safety screens and shutters, mast climbing work platforms, and tube and coupler scaffolds including covered ways and gantries.
  • Advanced scaffolding licence - is for scaffolding work involving cantilevered hoists, hung scaffolds or suspended scaffolds.

Types of Scaffoldings

There are three main types of scaffolds: supported, suspended, and aerial.

  • Supported scaffolds – are the most common type of scaffold. They are supported by rigid, immovable objects such as buildings or walls. The three main supported scaffold types are bricklayer’s square, putlog, and single pole.
  • Suspended scaffolds – are supported by ropes or wires attached to an overhead structure. They are used when workers need to access hard-to-reach areas, such as the sides of a tall building. The two main types of suspended scaffolds are baskets and boatswain’s chairs.
  • Aerial scaffolds – are also known as cherry pickers or boom-supported scaffolds. They are supported by a hydraulic or pneumatic device, allowing workers to move vertically and horizontally.

Suspended Scaffolding

SafeWork Australia has specified more types and their corresponding guidelines in the Guide to Scaffolds and Scaffolding:

Birdcage scaffold – has more than two rows of standards connected by ledgers and transoms. It's utilised for single-level construction, like ceilings. They are also ideal when access is needed from all sides of the working platform and while cleaning or repairing towering buildings. They can also be used for decorating or plastering lower ceilings. When mounting and removing modular birdcage scaffolds, you must follow the designer's or manufacturer's instructions.

Trestle scaffold – typically assembled from prefabricated components, including trestles, braces and accessories. Various trestle scaffold designs include 'A-frame' and 'H-frame' scaffolds. Trestle scaffolds are commonly used by bricklayers, plasterers, and painters and are also often used for general fit-out and finishing work. While trestle scaffolds do not generally require a licensed scaffolder for erection or dismantling, they should be installed and progressively dismantled by a competent person.

Hung scaffold – a scaffold that hangs from another structure but is not capable of being raised or lowered when in use. A competent person should design it, verifying that the structure to support the hung scaffold can bear the design load. If any damage is found, the hung scaffold should be taken out of service immediately and repairs made before it is used again.

Single pole scaffold – has a single row of standards connected by ledgers and putlogs placed into the building's wall. Because a single pole scaffold rests on the structure against which it is erected, no components should be removed until dismantling.

Suspended (swing stage) scaffold – is a temporary platform capable of being raised or lowered while in use. This is often used in construction and renovation projects, providing a safe and efficient way for workers to access high areas. Suspended scaffolds can be powered by either hydraulic or electric motors and are typically raised and lowered using a pulley system. In addition to providing an easy way for workers to reach high areas, it can also be used to transport materials to and from the work site.

Tower and mobile scaffolds – is a standalone scaffold made of two frames joined transversely to create a scaffold with one bay or four vertical standards connected longitudinally and transversely. A tower scaffold that is put on wheels is a mobile scaffold. Mobile scaffolds are often used when work needs to be done at a high level, like painting or decorating.

Special duty scaffolds – have a defined design load. They differ from light, medium, and heavy-duty scaffolds with specified maximum load ratings and minimum dimensions. Heavy-duty and special-duty scaffolds are the ones used for demolition works. Common examples of this type include:

  • Cantilever scaffold – support workers and materials during construction, repair, and maintenance. It is a temporary platform supported by beams or trusses. When access to the work area is limited, like when renovating a skyscraper, cantilever scaffolds are employed. When operating on a bridge, they offset the working platform's weight. To ensure worker and pedestrian safety, a competent person must certify the cantilevered scaffold's supporting structure.
  • Hanging bracket scaffolds – are systems that rely on frames attached to buildings or other structures for support. The brackets are usually in the shape of an upside-down ‘L’, with one arm fixed to a vertical surface and the other projecting horizontally to support the scaffold plank. These types of scaffolds can be beneficial in situations where access to a traditional scaffold would be difficult or impossible. They are generally much easier and faster to set up than traditional scaffolds, making them a popular choice for time-sensitive projects. However, it is essential to note that hanging bracket scaffolds can only be used on relatively small-scale projects.
  • Spur scaffold – supported by inclined load-bearing members, typically two or more post shores. The term "spur scaffold" refers to the fact that the load-bearing members are typically positioned at an angle to the vertical (i.e., they form a "spur" when viewed from above).

Tube and coupler scaffolding – tube and coupler scaffolds get their name from their two key components - tubing (tube) and joining or fixing components (couplers). Due to their versatility, these scaffolds are frequently used on structures with unusual designs, shapes or functions. Tube and coupler scaffolds can be assembled in a wide variety of different configurations.

Prefabricated scaffolding – is a type of scaffolding made up of prefabricated components. These components are manufactured in such a way that the geometry of the assembled scaffold is pre-determined. Modular scaffolding, tower scaffolding, cantilever scaffolding, hung scaffolding, and suspended (swing-stage) scaffolding are all examples of prefabricated scaffolding.

Managing Risks

SafeWork Australia recommends the following steps be taken to manage risks associated with scaffolding:

1. Identify Hazards – identify hazards by observing the environment and work activities, inspections, asking the workers, or reviewing your records. You can use Plant & Equipment Register to assist you in identifying which plant or scaffolding equipment is being used on your work site, its maintenance, and its registrations and licenses.

2. Assess Risks – determine how serious the risks are and what can be done to minimise or control them. Conducting a risk assessment can help you determine what steps to take and when to take them. A Plant Risk Assessment Form can help you assess the risks associated with using scaffolding on your work site.

3. Control Risks – develop and implement measures to control the risks identified in the risk assessment process. The hierarchy of risk control is a system for ranking the ways of controlling risks from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. You must work through this hierarchy when managing risks, starting with the controls at the top. A Risk Management Plan is one safety document that can assist you in controlling any risks on your work site.

4. Review control measures – ensuring your control measures are regularly working. Control measures must be assessed often to ensure they remain effective, taking into account changes, the kind and duration of work, and that the system is working accordingly.

Scaffold elevator fenced off

Documentation

Depending on the type of scaffolding being used, a range of documentation may be required to comply with safety regulations. For example, prefabricated scaffolding must be registered with the relevant authorities to ensure that it has been designed and built to the appropriate standards. Following are some examples of the documentation that may be required:

#1 Designer’s safety report for construction work

Designers of scaffolds must prepare safety reports detailing any potential risks associated with the scaffold and the measures that will be taken to control those risks. For traditional scaffold designs, the risks are generally known and well understood, and so the safety report will simply detail the measures that will be taken to control those risks.

However, new dangers may not yet be fully understood for unique or unconventional scaffold designs. In these cases, the safety report must not only detail the potential risks but also explain how those risks will be controlled. By taking these precautions, designers can ensure that all scaffolds are safe for use.

#2 Safe work method statements (SWMS) for construction work

High-risk construction includes any construction work with a risk of a person falling more than two metres. Scaffolding work is defined with a four-metre threshold for licensing purposes. It is possible that the erection of a scaffold will not require a high-risk work license when the scaffold is less than four meters in height; however, a SWMS will still be necessary even if the scaffold is a little more than two meters in height.

#3 Scaffolding plan

When erecting, using, altering or dismantling scaffolding, it is essential to have a plan in place to ensure the safety of all those involved. A scaffolding plan will help identify potential hazards and implement measures to mitigate these risks. It is essential to consider all those affected by the scaffolding work, including other workers and public members.

#4 WHS management plan for a construction project

Before beginning high-risk construction work, the principal contractor for a building project must take all the reasonable steps necessary to obtain a copy of the Safe Work Method Statement (SWMS) relating to each PCBU performing the work. This must be done before the work begins. In addition, the principal contractor must generally prepare a written Work Health and Safety (WHS) Management Plan for the workplace if the construction work is valued at $250,000 or higher before work on the construction project starts. These measures are designed to ensure that the construction project is carried out safely and efficiently.

#5 Scaffold design registration

Prefabricated scaffolding is considered plant, and designs for specific scaffolds must be registered with the relevant authorities before they can be used. For example, prefabricated scaffolding must be registered under Part 1 of Schedule 5 of the WHS Regulations (QLD), with all jurisdictions in Australia sharing similar requirements.

Design registration ensures that scaffolds are designed by a competent person and built to the appropriate safety standards. By registering the design of a scaffold, designers can be sure that the relevant authorities will accept their designs and that they are safe for use.

#6 Emergency plan

In the event of an emergency, it is vital that businesses have a plan in place to ensure the safety of their employees. The emergency plan should cover all aspects of the response, from evacuation procedures to medical treatment and assistance. It should also provide for communication with emergency service organisations and other businesses in the vicinity.

Safety documents such as Falls Emergency Rescue Plan can provide detailed instructions on evacuating a person who has fallen from scaffolding and may be suspended by a harness or other more serious concerns.

Erecting Scaffolding Safely

Many precautions must be taken before scaffolding work can commence. Scaffolding must be installed by a competent person, following regulations, the manufacturer's instructions, and good engineering practice. The following are the phases that need to be considered for safe installation and use of scaffolding:

1. Choosing the appropriate type of scaffold

To help manage risks in scaffolding works, it is important to start deciding how scaffolds will be used at a workplace and what type of scaffold will be the best and safest for the job. Employees should be adequately trained to use and assemble the scaffold safely. Employers should also provide fall protection equipment, such as safety nets or guardrails.

2. Designing the scaffold

Eliminating risks starts from the design stage of scaffolding. Design should focus on eliminating risks through good design. The scaffold should be designed to support the intended loads and the environment in which it will be used. The goal is to minimise the likelihood of failure and to provide adequate fall protection. The design should also consider the needs of the workers using the scaffold, including access and egress, work positioning, and fall protection.

3. Inspections and maintenance

Handover and post-handover inspections are essential for any scaffold. This is to ensure that repairs, modifications or additions have been completed correctly and that the scaffold is safe to use. After repairs, modifications or additions have been carried out, a thorough inspection should be conducted to check that the scaffold is still secure and stable.

If any changes have been made to the scaffold, such as adding new parts or removing existing ones, this should be reflected in the inspection report. It is the responsibility of the person with management or control of the scaffold to ensure that these inspections are carried out regularly.

Here are safety documents you can use in conducting inspections: Plant Hazard Checklist - Non-Mobile Plant and Construction Site Inspection Daily Checklist.

Person inspecting scaffolding

4. Erecting Scaffolding

Preparations for the scaffold should include preparing the foundations and installing sole boards and baseplates where required. The scaffold should then be erected, providing adequate access and work platforms that minimise the risk to those working on it and those using it.

Safe practices you can follow when erecting a scaffold:

  • Follow a safe work method statement procedure
  • Tighten scaffold fittings and connections
  • Install scaffolding bracing, ties, man ropes, and buttresses
  • Use loading platforms or back propping to avoid overloading the building floor or scaffold
  • Get certification before putting scaffolding on awnings
  • Check loads when erecting or dismantling scaffolding
  • Do not climb guardrails to gain height
  • Do not climb on the outside of a scaffold

Ensure Safety in Scaffolding Work with SafetyDocs

Risk management in scaffolding is essential since safety is at stake. Safety documentation can double your risk management measures for scaffolding work. Preparing the right documents can make all the difference in protecting your employees, company, and clients.

SafetyDocs by SafetyCulture is Australia's leading provider of safety document templates. With our extensive catalogue of documents available, we have a template for every stage of scaffolding work, such as SWMS, SOPs, management systems, and management plans. Check out our selection of documents related to scaffolding below:

You have the ability to make the following modifications to our documents:

  • Tailor our safety plans and templates to your specific needs, ensuring compliance with Australian standards.
  • Integrate the documents into Microsoft Office Mobile App
  • Add our documents to your existing management system
  • Customise the document fields, such as adding your company logo or changing the document title
  • Save time by using our safety documents that provide options and checklists for every task involved in activities on the worksite.

If you would like more information on developing an all-encompassing safety program for your workplace, get in touch with SafetyDocs


Available for instant download and supplied in fully editable MS Word format for use in your business.

Please note that the above information is provided as a comment only and should not be relied on as professional, legal or financial advice.

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