Each year there are dozens of serious incidents involving scaffolds.
Scaffold incidents are most commonly:
- people falling from scaffolds that are poorly erected, incomplete or have been altered without authorisation
- people falling from scaffolding due to misuse (eg standing on guardrails)
- scaffold collapse or failure of components due to incorrect assembly, incompatible componentry, overloading or unauthorised alteration (eg tie removal)
- objects falling off scaffolds and hitting people below
- scaffolds being struck by mobile plant or vehicles, or being snagged by a crane.
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
Employers have a general duty to provide and maintain a working environment for workers (including contractors) that is safe and without risks to health and safety, so far as is reasonably practicable.
As an employer and principal contractor, you must provide and maintain safe systems of work and plant, including scaffolding.
An employer (including a self-employed person) must also ensure that a safe work method statement (SWMS) is developed before starting any high risk construction work, and that work is undertaken in accordance with the SWMS.
On-the-spot fines of up to $3,600 may be issued to those placing workers lives at risk by not protecting them from falls from heights.
Safe systems of work
Principal contractors or other persons in management or control of the scaffold must have systems to:
- ensure effective planning is in place for the sequencing of work and trades
- ensure effective consultation is taking place with affected workers
- prevent unauthorised modifications or alterations or overloading of the scaffold (eg 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 (eg 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).
- 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 scaffolds 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, mid rails, toe-boards/brick guards, ledgers, planks, hop-ups
- the scaffolders hold the appropriate High Risk Work Licence where the risk of falls is 4 metres or more.
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 on www.licencecheck.nsw.gov.au.
- Erecting, altering and dismantling scaffolds
- Safe Work Australia Scaffolds and scaffolding work general guide
- Safe Work Australia Guide for scaffold inspection and maintenance
- Working at heights
- Pocket guide to construction safety
- Falls from heights poster – Arabic, Chinese Simplified
- Safety alerts
- Incident information releases
- AS/NZS1576 Part 1: Scaffolding – general requirements
- AS/NZS4576: Guidelines for scaffolding