Scaffolding - How are you keeping safe?

Each year there are dozens of serious incidents that occur as a result of improper scaffolding procedures, with a number of them resulting in fatalities. You probably can recount an incident that just occurred last year in Macquarie Park, where two workers were working on a 15-17 metre scaffolding structure, before it abruptly collapsed. Both workers were trapped underneath the rubble for hours, yelling for help, until they eventually went quiet. One worker was taken to Royal North Shore Hospital in critical conditions, while Christopher Cassaniti, an apprentice at the time, was announced dead.

As tragic as this was, what’s most shocking about this incident is that it was all avoidable.

In NSW alone there was 26 fatalities where worker fell from heights, including 3 from scaffolds. There were also 50 recorded incidences on scaffolds where there has been a significant risk that had the capacity to cause serious injury/incapacity; as well as the many incidents or near misses that go unreported each year.

It is very important that workers follow safe scaffolding procedures, so that they can safely carry out work on scaffolds; just as well as it is important that scaffolds are erected by competent person in accordance with Australian standards, Codes of Practice and WHS Legislation. Safe Work NSW has made safe scaffolding a recent focus of theirs, implementing the program Operation Scaff Safe 2019, which visited 700 construction sites between April 1st and 30th of September to assess scaffolding compliance, issuing over 800 notices for fall risks.

So how do you ensure safe scaffolding at your workplace?

Principal contractors/other competent persons who manage scaffolds have the duty to control the hazards and risks related to scaffolding, as far as reasonably practicable. This may include the implementations of safe systems to:

  • Ensure effective planning is in place for sequencing of work as well as consultation with affected workers. Ensure Safe Work Method Statements (SWMS) are in place for high risk construction work

  • Ensure adequate training, site inductions and supervision is in place.

  • Ensure scaffolding is regularly inspected by a competent person every 30 days, prior and after modifications are made, or in the case of adverse weather event.

  • Ensure scaffold tags are placed by scaffolder at each access point, documenting last inspection.

  • Ensure an appropriate Handover Certificate is provided by the scaffolder and kept on site when erection is complete and following any alterations.

Safe Work NSW provides a checklist that can be used by principal contractors/scaffolders to identify common scaffolding deficiencies. It is essential that a scaffolding license be held by anyone who is performing scaffolding work on a scaffold where a person or object could fall from above 4 meters. There are different licenses required depending on the scaffolding structure, which principal contractors or scaffolders will need to be aware of before erecting or dismantling scaffolds. Find out more about licensing at SafeWork NSW.

What can workers do to ensure safety on scaffolds?

It is important for the workers to follow safe work procedures outlined in the Site Safety Management plan, as well as the SWMS. It is important that workers are aware of safe scaffolding practice and apply them when working with scaffolds.

To ensure you have safe and effective scaffolds on site, workers may have a quick and simple list of potential hazards to look out for on the work site:

  • The scaffold structure, ladders, guard rails, kick boards secure.

  • 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) and 300mm (vertically)

  • There are adequate ties to the building

  • The scaffold has been inspected within the last 30 days, after an alteration, as well as after a significant weather event.

  • The scaffold remains clear of materials, tools and waste

  • Containment Sheeting remains intact

As with any hazards observed on the work site, it is important that workers report any defects or unsafe work practices to the supervisor, no matter how small, as it may prevent a serious incident occurring such as the one at Macquarie Park.

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