Scaffolds are a key part of the equipment needed for construction, and virtually any kind of building project will require them. Given that scaffolds are used to help builders to work at potentially dangerous heights it should come as no surprise that there are a large number of safety regulations around them, and that it is very important to minimize risks.
Identifying the risks
The first step in any safety assessment is to identify the potential risks. When building at heights falling is obviously the key danger to the people doing the work, but it isn’t the only thing to worry about. Falling tools and rubble from the construction can injure people working down below, while you also need to worry about less obvious threats such as the sun and the weight capacity of your structure.
You will also need to regularly inspect the site and look for any possible hazards. Any interaction with pedestrians or vehicles can be a potential danger as well, as can rust in humid areas or after rainfall. After you have identified the risks, you need to mitigate them.
The design of the scaffolds will carry different risks, based on how you set it up. You will need to give your workers access to all of the areas they need to go to, and let them get there safely. This will often mean you need mechanical lifting abilities and harnesses – which pose hazards of their own.
Mitigating the hazards
Once you have identified the hazards around your scaffolds you need to take any and all reasonable steps to manage them. People working at heights should be secured (usually by using a harness or on a secure platform) and anyone working underneath the structure needs protective equipment such as a hard hat.
Your scaffolds will also need to have a number of fall-backs in case your initial safety measures fail. A harness on its own can break, for example, especially under sudden heavy pressure (such as when someone falls). A mechanised platform can also be dangerous, even if less so than standing on a narrow ledge. Railings on the platform will often be too low to be really effective, so as not to get in the way of work.
With falling objects being such a big risk it is best to avoid manual lifting wherever possible, so you can set up pulleys or cranes to get tools and construction materials moved where you need them. If you have the capacity to add a moving platform to your scaffolds then you can also use this to get yourself and your workers moved around without needing to climb. You should also make sure that anyone working nearby wears appropriate protective equipment, such as hard hats.
Restricting access to the site is also a key aspect of safety in all kinds of construction. You can do this by fencing off the boundaries of the site and having very clear areas (away from the building) for parking. You also need to work out ahead of time exactly where your machinery will go, such as cranes and digging equipment, so you can plan your scaffolds around that to help everything go smoothly.
Working out in the sun all day is another big risk, and is one that isn’t limited to people who need to get on the roof or work on high walls. Luckily this is easy to mitigate with sunscreen, hats and long sleeves. Your workers will also need more water on hot days.
Harnesses and mechanical platforms may be a requirement to mitigate the height risks, but they pose problems of their own. If a harness gets tangled in machinery then it can end in tragedy, so you will need to find a way to ensure that this doesn’t happen. You will also need to regularly inspect all of the pulleys and engines attached to your scaffolds to make sure that they are in full working order and won’t break when you have equipment or people on them.
Regulations to be aware of
When it comes to scaffolds there are a number of Workplace Health and Safety (WHS) rules to be aware of. You will need documentation to ensure that the design is in line with best practices, and meets the engineering requirements to support your workers, materials and equipment. You will also need to create a Safe Work Method Statement if anyone working for you or with you will be at a height of over two metres.
Scaffolds also require a high risk work licence to set up and use. You will need to ensure that you only allow people with this documentation to use the structure, and a lot of other construction equipment you use will also require the same licence.
As you can see you need to be very careful about safety when you are working with scaffolds. There are a lot of potential risks to be aware of and mitigate, and you need to ensure that all of your safety measures are in good working order.