Earlier this year tragedy struck when a 54 year old worker died after sustaining serious injuries during a fall from a scaffolding on a site in Sydney’s CBD. The scaffolding was just 3 meters high and the damage done was too serious so the worker died at the scene. This is just one of many tragedies that have been reported in Oz involving falls from scaffolding on construction sites. The fact that scaffolding is often indispensable on construction sites cannot be denied but the number of lives being lost is too high and it is clear that more attention needs to be given to scaffolding safety if we are to reduce this number.

Dangers Presented by Scaffolding in Construction

While working from any height above the ground more than 2 meters is dangerous and can present a risk from falling, there is also the chance that scaffolders can fall from incomplete scaffolds during their erection and dismantling. Scaffolders can be exposed to fall hazards especially during the erection and removal of scaffold planks from the open sides or ends of the scaffold and in climbing from one lift of the scaffold to the next lift.

There is also the risk of scaffolding collapsing while workers are on or under it which can cause terrible injury. The collar locking mechanism on scaffolds can be a hazard if operators do not engage the lock correctly. They are progressively being phased out in favour of an adjustable leg that has a compression-locking device, which engages when a weight is applied to the assembled scaffold this method is favoured as it will save collapsing of the scaffold under the weight of workers.

It is vital that the people that erect the scaffold are trained and certified to do so. Scaffolding risks are presented by internal falls,that is during the placement or removal of scaffold plants, from the open sides or ends of the scaffold known as an external fall or when climbing from one lift of the scaffold to the next lift known as a climbing fall.

The risk that seems to be most applicable to construction sites is the risk of external falls as this has been reported more than most other falls from scaffolding so this is what we will discuss.

The risk of external falls from the open sides and ends of a scaffold can be controlled by adopting the “sequential erection” method. According to this method only one-bay-at-a-time is erected, sequential installation of standards and guardrails or guardrails alone. This ensures that scaffolders are not required to walk further than one bay length along an exposed edge of a scaffold platform thereby reducing the risk of falling. Dismantling involves reversing the sequence.

Another risk is presented when workers have to climb the scaffolding. Ensuring that an appropriate access system is in place can control the risk of climbing falls for scaffolders gaining access from one lift to the next. This can be in the form of a stairway or ladder access that is progressively installed as the scaffold is erected.  Employers should ensure that the practice of scaffolders  climbing the scaffold framework is strictly forbidden as this is extremely dangerous and can result in serious injury.

Basically the risks involved with scaffolding can be controlled or managed using a combination of techniques which involve:

  • fully decking each lift
  • using the sequential erection method and
  • progressively providing access as the scaffold is erected

 Points to remember:

  •  Safety harness systems provide an invaluable assistance to workers working on scaffolding, but should not be the only control measure. If a harness is being used  in all instances a scaffolder must not be exposed to a fall prior to being securely connected to the anchor point of the harness. A properly designed harness will permit prolonged worker suspension after a fall without restricting blood flow.
  • Guardrails must be installed on all scaffold platforms in accordance with required standards
  • Hard hats should be worn to protect against falling objects. Mesh, screens, intermediate vertical members or solid panels should be used to safeguard employees and the public at lower levels
  • Workers on suspended scaffolds must use a fall arrest system as protection against the failure of the scaffold or its components.
  • Fall protection is only as good as its anchorage.

Posted by Steven Asnicar


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