Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to access the outside of a building while it is being constructed, cleaned or repaired.

Each year there are dozens of serious incidents involving scaffolds, including a number that result in fatalities.

What is a scaffold?

A scaffold is any temporary structure specifically erected to support access or working platforms, and includes:

  • modular or prefabricated scaffold
  • tube and coupler scaffold
  • bracket scaffold
  • cantilevered scaffold
  • spur scaffold
  • hung scaffold
  • suspended scaffold
  • mobile scaffold.

Duty holder obligations

As an employer, principal contractor, and/or a PCBU, you have the main responsibility for the health and safety of everyone in your workplace, including visitors. This is your primary duty of care.

There are specific laws about working with plant, including scaffolding to make sure it is safe for users and people nearby.

Operation Scaff Safe 2019

We recently targeted scaffold compliance on construction sites, visiting more than 700 sites statewide between 1 April and 30 September 2019.

Inspectors spoke with site supervisors and workers and issued more than 800 notices including $109,000 in on-the-spot fines for falls risks.

Our inspectors investigated:

  • if scaffolds were built to Australian Standards
  • if any were were missing components
  • if workers erecting, dismantling or altering scaffolds (where the risk of an object or person falling is four metres or more) held the correct high risk work scaffolding licence
  • that scaffolds remained safe and compliant throughout the build process.

We observed slight improvements in scaffold safety since 2018, however there was still a high level of non-compliant scaffolds.  Forty four per cent had missing parts, and thirty six per cent of sites had scaffolds that were altered by unlicensed workers.

On-the-spot fines of up to $3,600 were issued to PCBUs who placed workers lives at risk by not protecting them from falls from heights and for anyone conducting high risk work without a licence (this included scaffolding work where a person or object can fall more than four metres).

We will continue to focus on scaffold safety as part of our building and construction WHS sector plan to 2022.


Scaffold incidents most commonly involve:

  • people falling from scaffolds that are poorly erected, incomplete or have been altered without authorisation
  • people falling from scaffolding due to misuse (e.g. standing on guardrails)
  • scaffold collapse or failure of components due to incorrect assembly, incompatible componentry, overloading or unauthorised alteration e.g. tie removal)
  • objects falling off scaffolds and hitting people below
  • scaffolds being struck by mobile plant or vehicles, or being snagged by a crane.

Safe systems of work

Principal contractors or other persons with management or control of the scaffold, must control the hazards and risks in relation to the scaffolding, so far as reasonably practicable. This may include systems to;

  • ensure effective planning is in place for the sequencing of work and trades
  • ensure effective consultation is taking place with affected workers
  • ensure site-specific Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are in place for all high-risk construction work
  • prevent unauthorised modifications, alterations or overloading of the scaffold (e.g. training, site induction and supervision)
  • ensure scaffolding is regularly inspected, including before first use, prior to use after alterations or repairs, prior to use after adverse weather that could affect scaffold integrity or stability (e.g. high winds or storms), and at regular intervals not exceeding 30 days
  • ensure scaffold inspection tags are placed by the scaffolder at each access point
  • ensure an appropriate handover certificate is provided when erection is complete and following any alterations (the certificate should be kept on site until the scaffold has been dismantled).

Conduct a scaffold safety check

To ensure you have a safe and effective scaffold on site, you should check;

  • the scaffold is built on solid foundations
  • the scaffold has safe access and egress
  • scaffold decks are fully planked and have adequate edge protection (guardrails, midrails and toeboards)
  • the gaps between the working deck or hop-ups and the building face are less than 225mm (horizontal)
  • there are adequate ties to the building
  • loads are within the scaffold's duty rating
  • there is vehicle access protection installed at vehicle entry points
  • the scaffold can withstand the additional wind loads when containment sheeting is used
  • containment sheeting is fire resistant
  • the scaffold is complete and has a valid handover certificate before allowing use by non-scaffolders
  • the scaffold remains complete throughout the job, with no unauthorised removal of components - handrails, midrails, toeboards/brick guards, ledgers, planks, hop-ups
  • the scaffolders hold the appropriate High Risk Worker Licence where the risk of falls is 4 metres or more.

The checklist can be downloaded and used by principal contractors or scaffolders to conduct a basic inspection to look for common scaffold deficiencies.

Training and licensing

An appropriate scaffolding licence must be held by anyone performing scaffolding work on a scaffold where a person or object could fall four metres or more.

The type of scaffold to be erected and dismantled will determine the class of scaffolding licence required, for example, basic scaffolding (SB), intermediate scaffolding (SI) and advanced scaffolding (SA).

Unlicenced workers undertaking scaffolding work requiring a licence, and their supervisors, could each be issued with an on-the-spot fine of up to $3,600.

If you are a scaffolder and doing the wrong thing, you could also have your licence suspended or cancelled - and any compliance action taken will be publicly displayed on your licence records.

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