Copies could be catastrophic: the risks of buying poor quality scaffolding

01 February 2011

An example of genuine HAKI scaffolding used on the Wadworth Viaduct interchange affecting the A1(M)

An example of genuine HAKI scaffolding used on the Wadworth Viaduct interchange affecting the A1(M) and M18 in south Yorkshire UK.

Major scaffold manufacturers have long argued that their concerns over copy scaffold have been driven as much by safety concerns as by their desire to protect their patents, but in truth only a relatively few companies have chosen to listen.

Independent tests on one "copy" standard revealed that a pocket had not even been welded (not easy to notice by the untrained eye). The question that must now be asked is how many other potentially lethal components have found their way in to the market place?

The largest construction companies have developed industry leading regulations and initiatives to guarantee that scaffold components used on site meet exacting quality standards but most companies operating in the construction sector have so far failed to see the ramifications of the risks associated with scaffold produced in an unregulated environment.

Manufacturers of original equipment claim that the industry has "been lucky" so far and an accident is waiting to happen - this is a genuine concern and not scare-mongering:

Anecdotal evidence that component failures have been blamed on other factors in order to avoid liability are hard to prove - while the claim that there will have to be a death or serious injury before the UK HSE (Health and Safety Executive) will be forced to investigate the problem has been shrugged off as an empty threat.

To make people sit up and take notice, the bona-fide manufacturers quite rightly said that they needed proof , HAKI's Centre of Excellence in Tamworth provided this just a couple of months ago.

A sharp-eyed scaffolder contacted HAKI to say that when he had ordered HAKI standards from a UK scaffold supplier, he had not received HAKI original parts, but copies.

HAKI's managing director, Paul Brunt, explains, "We were given the components to examine and knew instantly that they were not genuine HAKI. The galvanising was substandard and pockets were out of alignment so we sent the component to our factory in Sweden for more tests.

The discovery should start alarm bells ringing for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly, the fault was not immediately noticeable, so it could easily find its way on to site
  • Secondly, used anywhere in a scaffold structure, the standard could have caused catastrophic failure as it could compromise the integrity of the structure as a whole
  • Thirdly, the copy scaffold was superficially so close that it was mistaken for a genuine HAKI part

Mr Brunt said, "As everyone knows, the industry has been struggling financially for the last two years and many users have been forced to look at alternatives in order to contain costs - but this incident shows what the real costs of copy systems can be.

"Most importantly, it may cost a life or lead to serious injury.

"On a commercial level, used on a site where the make of scaffold is specified as part of the QS protocol it would mean breach of contract.

"It could also void a company's PI insurance.

"...and if its use did result in serious injury or a fatality then it could possibly expose directors to actions : civil and criminal".

This chance discovery should certainly make the industry sit up and take note.

"Quite simply, with scaffold like this, someone will die. This is an accident waiting to happen and it is not a question of if but when. If substandard products like this enter the supply chain then accidents will happen and it is only a matter of time before this occurs" continues Mr Brunt.

"Furthermore, this particular instance can't be dismissed as a one -off. I have seen evidence of 'factories' where copy scaffold is manufactured and there appears to be no identifiable method of quality control in operation that would identify the problem and prevent the product from entering into the supply chain. If one unwelded pocket has slipped through the net, how many more have followed - and how many partly or poorly welded pockets?

"The culture of the industry is one of self-regulation: the question must surely be - will this shocking evidence generate a trickle down effect from the industry's trail-blazers to ensure that in future all scaffold products will have a unique identification code, which means that it can be audited back to its time and place of manufacture? This is easily achievable and at minimal cost - in other industries, it is de rigueur so as to ensure that if a product recall needs to be carried out, it can be done so quickly and effectively to remove the offending product from the public domain.

"The industry and all of its participants are responsible concerns and we should all work together to ensure that only the products that meet the exacting standards needed are manufactured and placed into the supply chain and that there are no weak links in there - as sloppiness can cost lives and even one fatality or injury is one too many - especially, when steps can be taken to avoid or minimise the risks."

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