The very purpose of scaffolding is to allow people to work safely at heights. Ladders and other equipment are limited in both reach and stability. The higher you go, the more precarious it becomes, and the more likely it is for an accident to happen.

Scaffolds provide a stable and flexible working platform. This gives workers a safe and efficient way to reach their task areas, while helping to prevent falls and protect against the hazards of debris dropping from above.

The Australian government has detailed standards and regulations for working at height on scaffolding. There are national laws, and each state also has its own specific additional set of rules.

At What Height Can I Work in Australia Before I Need a Scaffold?

Scaffolding is required for any work undertaken at four metres or more in height. These regulations mirror the Australian Work Health and Safety Act of 2011.

This might seem a bit low, given that a ladder can easily reach up to four metres. However, according to SafeWork NSW, the majority of falls causing serious injuries, happen from ladders between two and four metres. That’s a pretty sobering statistic. So while it’s not very practical to use scaffolding at two metres, regulations kick in as low as feasibly possible in the interests of worker safety.

The main reason for this is stability. At its most basic, a scaffold provides a safely rigid framework for a working platform, which is protected by guard rails. This allows scaffolding at greater heights without putting worker safety into jeopardy. In addition to providing protection, it also creates a more efficient working environment.

Standards and Regulations

The main Australian scaffolding standards are contained in the AS/NZS 1576 set of specifications and requirements. This is the primary body of rules for all scaffolding.

There are two different licence classes when it comes to scaffolding height:

  1. A full high risk work licence (HRWL) is required to assemble any scaffold where either a person or an object can fall through a distance of more than four metres.
  2. A Basic Scaffolding HRWL is required if one is only assembling prefabricated modular scaffolding.

How High Can You Erect Scaffolding?

Australian law places no maximum limit on height. We’ve all seen high-rise buildings being constructed, covered from top to bottom in scaffolding. The reason for this is that, as long as all the regulations are followed, the same levels of safety can be achieved at virtually any height.

Maintaining safety

AS/NZS 1576 clearly lays out all the safety requirements and regulations for ensuring worker safety as height increases. Every single detail of the scaffold construction must be submitted for approval before beginning the projects, including all design aspects and all physical components that will be used in the scaffold assembly. Many of these are aimed specifically at ensuring safety when working at height on scaffolding.

Ties, edge protection and arresting falls

Scaffold ties are central to scaffold safety at heights. They secure the scaffolding to the support structure. Regulations state that these may not be vertically spaced more than four metres apart. This is to help ensure constant stability no matter the height. The higher you build, the more susceptible the scaffold becomes to wind. These ties prevent wind buffering.

Edge protection also plays a critical role in preventing falls as the scaffolding gets higher. It not only prevents workers from overbalancing and falling from the scaffold platform – it also helps to stop objects falling from it.

Fall-arrest systems are used to reduce the impact of falls, thus helping to prevent or minimise injuries. Workers can wear individual fall-arrest harnesses, or this equipment can take the form of industrial safety nets.

What is the Mobile Scaffold Max Height Allowed?

Mobile scaffold towers are also governed by the same regulations. Mobile towers are simple, portable structures, comprising four vertical standards and a platform, mounted on wheels.

There is no specific height restriction on mobile scaffold towers. Rather, SafeWork Australia provides a regulatory formula to govern height. This states that measured from the base of the scaffold to the platform, the height can be “no greater than the multiple of the minimum base dimension” that the manufacturer or supplier specifies.

However, the typical maximum height of a mobile scaffold tower is between 10 and 12 metres. Manufacturers and designers seldom go higher than this, as the wheels can compromise stability and safety.

Author

  • Joshua Knight

    Joshua Knight is the General Manager at ALTA Scaffolding, and has extensive experience with scaffolding hire for commercial, high-rise, residential and mining projects in the Newcastle, NSW area.

Joshua Knight

Joshua Knight is the General Manager at ALTA Scaffolding, and has extensive experience with scaffolding hire for commercial, high-rise, residential and mining projects in the Newcastle, NSW area.

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