10th May, 2023
Scaffolding can help your construction project reach new heights, but are your scaffolds safe? The design, installation, alterations and dismantling of scaffolding, and other events, could put your scaffold (and its users) at risk. Here are the three times your scaffold must be inspected.
Scaffolds are a form of access used on most construction sites in one form or another. If you look at any construction site, you will probably be able to spot some scaffolding.
Large fixed scaffold structures are commonly seen externally - in refurbishment work, it might be the first sign from the outside that a construction project has started.
These temporary structures can be large and complicated installations. So it's no surprise to know that they have to be designed and installed by specialists. They should also be inspected, regularly.
Formal inspections should happen at least weekly, but other occasions may mean you need to inspect your scaffold sooner. Let's look at why, and when you must inspect your scaffold.
On new builds, refurbishments, inside, outside, and roof work. Scaffolding is used to create a safe working platform at height.
However, working at height is high risk. In 2021/22 there were 29 fatalities, and falls from height were the leading kind of fatal accident to workers.
Many falls from height involve scaffolds not being installed or used correctly.
However, it is important to remember that the access equipment itself, while there to make the job safer, has its risks. A collapse of scaffolding is rare, but nearly always results in serious injuries or fatalities if occupied at the time of the collapse.
The HSE will prosecute any company (and directors) whose scaffolding is below the required standards. After one company was fined in December 2018 for a fall from incomplete scaffolding, the HSE inspector said that...
"This case highlights the importance of following industry guidance to ensure scaffolding is erected correctly and in a safe manner so that workers using it are not placed at risk."
The worker involved in the above accident suffered a neck fracture. But all too often, these falls from height can be fatal.
There are a huge range of scaffolding options available - single, double, cantilever, suspended, trestle, and mobile towers. One thing all types of scaffold have in common is that they are covered by the Work at Height Regulations.
Scaffold inspections should be carried out at regular intervals by a competent person. The Work at Height Regulations contain the requirements for when these inspections must take place.
- Every employer shall ensure that, where the safety of work equipment depends on how it is installed or assembled, it is not used after installation or assembly in any position unless it has been inspected in that position.
- Every employer shall ensure that work equipment exposed to conditions causing deterioration which is liable to result in dangerous situations is inspected—
- at suitable intervals; and
- each time that exceptional circumstances which are liable to jeopardise the safety of the work equipment have occurred,
to ensure that health and safety conditions are maintained and that any deterioration can be detected and remedied in good time.
There are three times* your scaffolding needs to be inspected:
*This doesn't mean each scaffold only needs to be inspected three times. It needs to be inspected when any of these three events happen.
Because scaffolding is work equipment, the regulations require inspection after installation or assembly. So the first inspection will be once the scaffold has been erected. This inspection will usually be recorded in the form of a handover certificate.
Selecting the right access equipment is important to ensure safe access and egress, as well as a safe working platform.
After your scaffolding has been installed or assembled in any position (including when it has been altered) it should be inspected by a competent person to confirm it is safe.
The scaffold should not be used until it has passed this initial inspection.
After this inspection is passed, the scaffold is safe to use.
Once the scaffold has been inspected as safe, it should be further inspected at suitable intervals.
But what are 'suitable intervals' ?.
Well, the regulations have been kind enough to tell us what suitable intervals are, in the case of working platforms like scaffolding.
- Without prejudice to paragraph (2), every employer shall ensure that a working platform—
- used for construction work; and
- from which a person could fall 2 metres or more,
is not used in any position unless it has been inspected in that position or, in the case of a mobile working platform, inspected on the site, within the previous 7 days.
Regular inspections are routinely needed every week the scaffold is in use or likely to be in use - until it is removed from the site.
If the scaffold has not been inspected for more than 7 days, no one should be allowed to use the scaffold.
You may need additional inspections if, for example, the scaffold is altered between inspection dates (as triggered by inspection reason #1).
You should also carry out additional inspections after exceptional circumstances. This could include severe weather, as strong winds have been known to damage and even blow down scaffolding.
This could also be if something impacts the scaffolding, like a machine or vehicle.
Or if you notice any signs of damage, vandalism or unauthorised alterations.
It's not just scaffolding that should be subject to this inspection regime. These inspection requirements apply to any working platform used for construction work from which a person could fall more than 2m.
The inspection will look at the various components of the scaffold. Footing, bracing, guard rails etc. It will check for any failings in the scaffold, signs of damage, or unauthorised changes.
Here's a list of 40+ daily scaffolding safety checks and common faults to watch out for.
The result of the inspection will either be that the scaffold is safe and work can continue, or that the scaffold is unsafe and action is required. If action is needed, then work should be stopped and access prevented until the scaffold has been made safe.
The inspection must be recorded and the record retained on site for the duration of the construction work and held at an office for at least 3 months after project completion.
This article was written by Emma at HASpod. Emma has over 10 years experience in health and safety and BSc (Hons) Construction Management. She is NEBOSH qualified and Tech IOSH.
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