Regulation, an aid for scaffold safety

By Maria Hadlow05 September 2011

The changes to UK scaffolding regulations, which occurred at the end of 2010, could help prevent accidents, but only if they are properly followed and enforced, warns Chris Nix, UK sales manager at Scafftag.

The UK's HSE (Health and Safety Executive) recently released figures which indicate that the construction industry is the industrial sector in which the highest number of fatalities occurs. Although numbers are decreasing year on year, 42 people in the UK died in the period 2009/10.

To support the progression of safety within the construction sector and despite recent cuts in funding, the HSE has pledged to conduct unannounced inspections on construction sites over the forthcoming months in a bid to try to reduce the numbers of accidents as well as reinstate the importance of companies being compliant.

In addition there have been several changes in legislation since 2005 affecting the scaffolding industry in order to make construction sites a safer place to work. In late 2010 the British Standards Institution (BSI) formally withdrew BS 5793 and replaced it with the European standard BS EN12811/1, which applies to all scaffolding, from the most basic to the most complex of structures, although primarily based on system structures.

BSEN12811/1 specifies six load classifications for prefabricated structures as well as guidance on materials and weathers. The TG20:08 has also been issued as a technical industry guidance document, based on BS EN12811/1 but addressing specific issues when using tube and fitting scaffolds and is available in two volumes.

Volume 1 specifies the four basic scaffolds for which no specific design is required, plus guidance on erection and dismantling, use and inspection. Volume 2 gives technical information and advice required for the design of scaffolds outside the range of Volume 1.

Although the basic principles of BS5793 remain, the scope is wider and both volumes are essential in understanding the key changes following its withdrawal. The BSEN12811/1 for temporary prefabricated scaffold structures differs from BS5793 in that:

  • There are now six service load classes, some with partial area loads
  • Seven width classes
  • Two headroom classes
  • There is a requirement for a minimum unimpeded area along the full length of the working platform
  • BS 5793 did not differentiate between loading on the main platform and the inside boards
  • The definition of a scaffold classified as 'in service' and 'out of service' has been changed
  • Wind loads on scaffolds must conform to BS 6399/EN1991

These changes crucially affect everyone who is involved in the design, erection and inspection of scaffolding structures, namely scaffolding companies, scaffolding design companies, major construction companies and scaffold inspection houses.

There are many implications with the changes, such as BS EN12811 now covering scaffolds erected in Scotland whereas the BS5973 did not. To ensure maximum safety, unless a scaffold is a basic configuration described in a recognised guidance publication such as NASC Technical Guidance TG20 or the manufacturer's guidance for system scaffolds, the scaffold should be designed by calculation, by a competent person, to ensure it will have adequate strength and stability.

All scaffolding should also be erected, dismantled and altered in accordance with either NASC guidance document SG4 for tube and fitting scaffolds or the manufacturer's erection guide for system scaffolds. For scaffolds that fall outside the scope of 'Basic Scaffolds' as described in TG:20:08 Volume 1, the design information should describe the sequence and methods to be adopted when erecting, dismantling and altering the scaffold.

Scafftag products are designed to help in the management of equipment. In order to help those using scaffolding decipher whether a structure is safe or not, Scafftag has designed a range of inserts specific to either BS EN12811/1 or TG20. The system clearly identifies the key information such as loadings, records of ongoing inspection, ownership details and any potential hazards within the structure.

"Whilst a visual tagging system isn't a legal requirement," says Mr Nix many engineers have recognised the benefits of using such a system and adopted it as a solution to aid the safety inspection process, which is a requirement under law.

"As a result of a combination of changes to the scaffolding regulations together with Scafftags being used more extensively, workplace safety is improving."

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