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Maintaining safe scaffolds

This resource provides builders, contractors and workers in the residential construction industry guidance for ensuring that scaffolds are safely used and maintained after hand over by the scaffolder.

Anyone with management or control of a scaffold at a workplace has an obligation to make sure that the scaffold is safely used and that it remains safe until it is removed from the workplace.

The below information gives builders, contractors and workers in the residential construction industry guidance for ensuring that scaffolds are safely used and maintained after hand over by the scaffolder.

Training and induction of scaffold users

Persons using a scaffold need to be made aware of the importance of using the scaffold safely and of maintaining its integrity. They also need to be adequately supervised to ensure safe work practices are followed.  Instruction and training about safe work practices, including emergency procedures, can be provided during site inductions, toolbox meetings or other means.

Workers using a scaffold also have an obligation to take reasonable care of their own health and safety and that of others who may be affected by their acts or omissions at work. This includes not interfering with, or misusing a scaffold.

Housekeeping

Good housekeeping practices when working on a scaffold are essential to prevent workplace injuries. Objects and debris left on a scaffold can fall and seriously injure workers and others.

Everyone using a scaffold to undertake their work activities needs to:

  • keep falling material or debris generated during use confined within the working platform or a catch platform
  • remove waste and material accumulations regularly
  • when finished with their work, leave the area clean and clear from falling objects, waste, and other leftover materials.

Safe and clear access

Safe and clear access and egress must be maintained at points of access and along access platforms, ladders, stairs and work platforms.

  • Do not leave tools or materials on access platforms. A minimum of 450 mm of clear access is required on work platforms.
  • Materials should not be stored on light duty work platforms.
  • When the scaffold is unattended, it should be isolated from unauthorised users and the public.

Safe loading of platforms

Loading of platforms must not exceed their rated duty loads. Scaffold users need to understand the loading limitations applicable to the type of scaffold.

Maximum load and the maximum number of working platforms that can be simultaneously loaded and worked from should be stated in the handover certificate or scaffold tag. If not, seek this information from the supplier.

  • Maximum typical load ratings for modular scaffolds for evenly distributed loads are 675 kg for heavy duty platforms, 450 kg for medium duty and 225 kg for light duty platforms. Maximum concentrated loads allowed as part of the total load are 200 kg for heavy duty platforms, 150 kg for medium duty platforms and 120 kg for light duty platforms
  • A weight of 100 kg per person should be used when working out the load on a platform.

Unauthorised use or alterations

Unauthorised use and alteration of scaffolds are major sources of scaffold failure and injury. Scaffold users must understand the safe use and restrictions relating to the scaffold.

  • Scaffold users must not alter the scaffold in anyway without authorisation, such as by removing planks, ties, braces, guardrails, or any other components.
  • If alterations are needed, a request should be made to the site supervisor or person in management or control of the scaffold.
  • Ensure scaffolds are altered only by competent persons.  Scaffolds from which a person or thing can fall more than 4 metres can only be altered by a licenced scaffolder.
  • Any damaged components must be removed or replaced by the scaffold supplier or licensed scaffolder.
  • Scaffold users must not climb on guardrails or the framework of the scaffold, or work from improvised platforms such planks placed on guardrails, or stepladders placed on decks.
  • Scaffolds and scaffold members should not be used as anchorage points for any chain block, rope block, purchase, snatch block, deflection sheave, barrow hoist or other lifting device, unless the scaffold has been specifically designed for the purpose.
  • Electrical extension leads must not be allowed to be in direct contact with any part of a metal scaffold.
  • Where the scaffold is close to powerlines, the handling of conductive materials (e.g. roof sheeting, reinforcing steel rods etc.), if authorised, must be carried out in accordance with the safe work method statement and in a manner that preserves a safe minimum distance from the power lines.

Protection from impact from mobile plant and vehicles

Mobile plant and vehicle traffic are hazards that can potentially affect the structural integrity and safety of a scaffold. A risk assessment should be carried out and the scaffold protected against impact if the risk assessment deems it necessary.

Protection methods include:

  • Rerouting mobile plant and vehicles and away from the location of the scaffold.
  • Using barricades, signs, posts, bollards, guards or concrete to prevent mobile plant and traffic from coming into contact with the scaffold.
  • Ensuring the scaffold does not have any unnecessary protrusions, such as over-length transoms, putlogs, tie tubes or over-height standards.

Regular inspections

Following initial inspection and handover, scaffolds need to be inspected a number of times while on site to determine the need for any modifications or repairs that may be required to keep the scaffolds in a serviceable condition.

The person inspecting the scaffold should be capable of determining incorrect alterations and faults in scaffolds.  Obvious issues that should trigger a comprehensive inspection include: 

  • Unprotected voids or missing, guard rails, toeboards, planks, or structural ties. 
  • A supporting surface that appears to have been weakened or undermined by flooding, surface run-off, or nearby excavations.
  • An incident or other occurrence that could have affected the integrity, stability or adequacy of the scaffold, such as an impact by plant or a vehicle, severe storm conditions or an earthquake.

Scaffolds should also be reinspected following repairs.

In the absence of more specific requirements of the local workplace health and safety authority, inspections at intervals not exceeding 30 days should be carried out on scaffolds from which a person or thing could fall more than 4 metres, and on hung scaffolds, suspended scaffolds, cantilevered scaffolds and spur scaffolds.

Any issues found need to be addressed prior to any further use of the scaffold and workers prevented from using the scaffold pending rectification.

Scaffolds that are faulty or incomplete, or scaffolds that are left unattended, need to be managed to prevent people gaining access to the scaffold, e.g., by removing ladder access and posting “SCAFFOLD INCOMPLETE – DO NOT USE” signs at points of access.

To find out more, contact HIA’s Building Services team.

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