Safely Using Scaffold To Work At Height

Earlier this month three people were injured when scaffolding collapsed at a derelict shopping centre in Reading. A full investigation is being carried out by the HSE, which could result in prosecutions if serious failings come to light. Earlier this year a scaffolding company was fined over £24,000 after scaffolding collapsed near a primary school in Penarth. The scaffold had not been designed or installed to withstand foreseeable loads.

Health and Safety Fines

Scaffolding should remain robust, rigid and stable while it is being built, used and dismantled. However, there have been plenty of occasions when this has not been the case.

One of the most substantial fines related to scaffolding collapse was given to two building firms after 30 tonnes of scaffolding collapsed from a 12-storey office building in Cardiff’s city centre in 2000. Luckily no one was injured as the collapse happened during a storm in the early hours and the area was deserted. An investigation revealed that the scaffolding should have withstood the 87mph wind gusts. However, 70 per cent of the ties designed to hold the scaffolding in place were missing, and those that were present had been screwed into the building to an insufficient depth. The two firms admitted not correctly installing and inspecting the scaffolding and paid fines totalling £320,000.

Scaffold Design

Most scaffold structures used around residential properties are built to an established, set design. If a bespoke design is needed, an appropriate designer must be used, which could be an organisation or an individual. A scaffolding company becomes liable to the criminal health and safety law associated with designers when they appoint a scaffold designer or have any input in the design.

A scaffolding contractor must not rely on the designer. They must proactively manage the design and document all decisions made. If an incident occurs that brings the scaffolding design into question, a regulator will look at how risks were assessed, the decisions taken, and who made them. Proactive management includes checking the qualifications and experience of the scaffold designer, keeping minutes of design-related meetings, checking and questioning the design, and addressing any concerns in the design risk assessment supplied by the designer.

The Health and Safety Executive has a scaffolding checklist that clarifies when a bespoke design is needed.

Scaffold Requirements

The British Standard applicable to the performance requirements and general design of scaffolding is BS EN 12811 2003. It addresses how a scaffold should be designed to take loads, minimum headroom for workers, the use of guardrails, and how workers should be able to move between levels of the scaffold.

There are minimum requirements for the materials used in the scaffolding. Metal tubing, fittings and boards must comply with the appropriate British Standards. Proper materials must also be used if the contractor includes brick guards, sheeting or debris netting.

Access to and egress from scaffolding also has to be appropriate and comply with regulations. Some of the factors to consider when determining how the workforce is to enter and leave the scaffold include:

  • the height and width of the scaffold
  • the number of people using the structure at any one time
  • emergency evacuation requirements in the event of a fire.

Making access and egress easy is crucial if workers have to wear specialist equipment (for example, full-face respirators when removing asbestos from buildings).

Who Is Responsible For Health And Safety?

Only a builder or scaffolding contractor who is trained and competent to put up scaffolding is allowed to do so. Competency includes having the necessary skills, experience and knowledge to manage health and safety. A qualified scaffolder will have a valid Construction Industry Record Scheme (CISRS) card. The card shows a person’s progress in an industry recognised scaffold training scheme that has operated since the 1960s. If a builder or other trader is using a scaffolding contractor, it is their responsibility to check that the scaffolder is competent before any work begins.

When scaffolding is needed for work on private property, the scaffolder, builder, or contractor using the scaffolding is responsible for maintaining safety on site.

However, the rules are different for scaffolding used for work carried out on business properties or as part of a business that builds or manages properties. This includes property developers, rental and estate agents, and landlords. In these cases, the involved companies have to abide by the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, which states that their primary responsibility is to ensure their project is suitably managed. This means taking responsibility for the health and safety of anyone who might be affected by the work, including the general public.

If scaffolding is erected only within the boundary of a property, there is no need for a licence. If the scaffolding extends to the pavement or road outside the property, the builder or scaffolder must get a licence from the local council. It is down to them to obtain the licence, but it is the property owner’s responsibility to check they have the appropriate paperwork. Work must be scheduled for quiet times, or a highway closure must be obtained from the local council if scaffolding work planned on a property poses a risk to the public.

By law the hirer or user of scaffolding must check it to make sure it is safe at the following times:

  • Before the scaffolding is first used
  • Every seven days when it is in place
  • After any alterations, damage, extreme weather conditions or any other circumstance liable to jeopardise the safety of the installation

Every inspection should be carried out by an appropriately competent person and recorded.

Other Articles That May be of Interest

You may also be interested in another article related to scaffolding:

Falls From Height – Single Biggest Cause of Fatal Injuries” which discusses how to plan to prevent falls from height and enable you to plan for work in a way that will minimise the risks.

About Health & Safety Guidelines and Scaffolding” which talks about working at height on erected scaffolding or a mobile elevated work platform (MEWP) and the associated risks.

For more information on the services provided by New Broom Training please call us on 01795 500816 or email