Scaffolding safety is the first and most important consideration in any construction industry work with scaffold requirements.
The Importance of Scaffolding Safety
It’s critically important to prioritise safety over all else in scaffolding practices. The consequences of neglecting it, even in the smallest details, can be enormous, with the risks ranging from equipment or building damage to workers being injured or worse. Scaffolding safety is non-negotiable.
Neglecting scaffold safety is also against Australian WorkSafe laws. These set out the basic scaffolding regulations and detailed scaffolding safety requirements that all PCBUs (persons conducting a business undertaking) must observe.
With this in mind, here are a variety of scaffolding safety tips that you should implement any time you use scaffolds for construction work:
1. Use Appropriate and Functional Personal Protective Equipment
It’s important to ensure that everyone working on scaffolding has the right personal protective equipment (PPE), like certified helmets and sturdy footwear. Safety harnesses are essential, as are items required to work under specific conditions, such as earplugs, respirators and, especially in Australia, sunscreen.
Not only does the right PPE help to prevent injuries, but it also gives workers a sense of safety and confidence. This heightens morale, improves productivity and encourages workers to put safety first.
2. Learn to Identify Scaffolding Safety Hazards
You must be able to recognise any sign of unsafe scaffolding. Construction laws in Australia mandate that someone certified as competent must supervise all scaffolding design and erection. This person will have had comprehensive training on scaffold safety, and how to recognise potential hazards.
According to WorkSafe ACT, the most common scaffolding safety hazards encountered during inspections are:
- Incorrect or no scaffolding tags
- Missing scaffold components like rails
- Gaps between the scaffold and the building which are too large
- Incorrectly placed or missing planks and ledgers
- Untidy sites with trip hazards
Promoting a proactive approach to identifying problems is important. Train your workers to recognise and address potential safety hazards, and foster a culture where everyone feels free to speak up if they spot anything
3. Don’t Exceed the Weight Capacity of the Scaffolding
Scaffolding design and the materials used to build them have weight-bearing limitations that ensure structural integrity. It’s crucial to educate workers on the weight limits of all areas of every scaffold you erect, as these will differ according to the various construction jobs you take on. No one scaffold is the same as the next.
Everyone working on a scaffold must be aware of its weight capacity, which directly impacts the tools they can take with them and how much material they can place on it. You should strongly emphasise the dangers of overloading when it comes to scaffolding safety.
4. Make Sure Scaffolding is Assembled In Line with Regulations
Australia has detailed regulations governing scaffolding safety, covering all aspects of scaffold use, from design to post-project removal. It’s a legal requirement to comply with these regulations.
The National Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA) is the central organisation responsible for ensuring that safety regulations and protocols are implemented. Local site inspections are frequently conducted by state or city authorities too.
In addition to national laws, each state has its own set of scaffold safety rules. Staying up to date with basic Australian scaffolding safety standards is part and parcel of being in the construction business.
5. The Importance of Guard Rails in Scaffolding Health and Safety
Having guard rails is one of the basic rules of scaffolding safety – don’t use it without them. They play a critical role in helping to prevent workers from falling off the structure, a risk that compounds the higher you go.
Guard rails are horizontal railings attached to vertical posts that create protective barriers on the outer edges of the scaffold. They keep workers from inadvertently (and catastrophically) straying over the edge. They also give people a much-needed sense of security when working at higher elevations. They are a simple and effective scaffolding safety measure.
The way that guard rails must be designed and built is governed by the Australian National Code of Practice for the Prevention of Falls in General Construction.
6. Stay Vigilant of Changeable Weather Conditions
The weather can have a strong impact on scaffolding safety, which becomes more marked as you build higher. While scaffolding needs to be built to withstand a certain level of adverse elements, if weather conditions worsen then work must stop in the interests of safety.
Team members must stay alert for changeable weather conditions to have enough time to warn workers and allow them to leave the scaffold.
Storms create especially risky working conditions on a scaffold, not least due to the danger of lightning. Hail is also not conducive to safe work, and heavy rain can create perilously slippery conditions underfoot. Strong or unpredictable winds are also an obvious risk. Do not work on scaffolds under any of these conditions.
Basic scaffold safety guidelines for working in changeable weather conditions include:
- Checking the daily weather forecast.
- Placing flat wood underneath each scaffolding foot to prevent it from sinking into the ground.
- Securing tools and materials for the scaffold structure
- Using anti-slip wood for ledges and platforms.
- Providing gripped gloves and anti-slip shoes.
- Training workers to always use guard rails.
- Stopping work in extremely hot or cold weather.
- Completely inspecting the scaffolding after bad weather.
7. Refresh Scaffold Safety Training with Your Team
Every involved worker on the site must be properly trained in all the necessary scaffolding safety measures. This ranges from the basics of safely moving around on the structure, to dealing with emergencies.
Safety awareness isn’t a once-off training activity. It needs to be constantly reinforced and workers’ safety skills must be kept up to date.
It’s a good idea to encourage your teams to always use a spotter, who can identify potential safety risks before they become a problem. This is particularly useful when moving equipment or materials on the scaffolding. Clear and frequent communication between workers is also a key factor in improving safety and preventing accidents.
8. A Clear, Tidy Site Promotes Safe Scaffolding
Don’t neglect the ground when you’re working with scaffolding. Maintaining a clutter-free work zone around the scaffold is an important safety aspect. It’s easy for one of your workers to be injured by tripping and falling objects even when they aren’t on the scaffold.
Make it a policy to have regular clean-ups throughout your construction projects to eliminate this hazard as much as possible.
9. Inspect the Scaffold Regularly
Daily inspections are crucial to maintaining safe scaffolding and protecting your workers or anyone else who may come on-site. The recommended regimen is to inspect the structure at the beginning or end of each work day. You can do this at the same time as clearing the site of hazardous clutter.
10. Update Your Insurance Policy
Scaffolding is classified as High-Risk work in Australia, so it’s important to have an up-to-date insurance policy to cover injuries or damage to the property you’re working on.
Three of the most necessary insurance types are Workers’ Compensation insurance in case of accidents that cause injuries, insurance against damage to your scaffold, and public liability insurance to protect you if something goes wrong and you cause damage to your client’s building.
BONUS 11. Use an Experienced Scaffolding Hire Service
Hiring a professional scaffold service is an excellent way of ensuring scaffolding safety as much as possible. ALTA Scaffolding is a certified provider with many years of industry experience and expertise in designing, erecting and maintaining safe and compliant scaffolding.
Contact us for peace of mind on your next project.