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Ultimate Guide to Scaffold Tower Safety

Easy to assemble and simple to manoeuvre, scaffold towers can be the ultimate cost-effective solution for circumstances where work at height is required. Although, it should be remembered that this piece of kit, while helpful, can be a major source of serious accidents and injuries if used incorrectly.

This guide will go through the dangers involved with using a scaffold tower and provide tips on how to prevent them.

Working at Height Legislation

It should be noted that scaffold towers and their use must always comply with scaffolding regulations. These laws were set up to reduce the number of serious accidents and injuries caused by scaffold towers, and failure to follow them can result in heavy fines to you or your business.

Ultimate Guide to Scaffold Tower Safety

What are the Hazards of Scaffold Towers?

  • Falling from a Height – Unsurprisingly, most scaffold tower accidents and fatalities are due to falls. These usually occur during the erection and dismantling stage, or when accessing the platform.
  • Collapse or Overturn – A tower collapsing or falling over, whilst less common, can still be lethal for those involved. This can occur if the tower’s component parts fail or if they were assembled incorrectly. Overloading the structure, poor positioning, being struck by a vehicle and adverse weather conditions can all be contributing factors as well.
  • Struck by Falling Debris – Whether it is work equipment or parts of the tower itself, falling debris can cause serious injuries. This can occur during the erection and dismantling stage, and through use of the working platform.
  • Manual Handling Injury – These injuries can occur when carrying or lifting heavy objects up to the elevated platform. While this is less serious than previously mentioned hazards, it is still important that measures are taken to prevent it.

Scaffold Tower Safety Checklist

Here is our own safety checklist for you to go through and ensure that you’ve eliminated all risks related to your scaffold tower. The list is broken down into three easily digestible parts: planning, erecting and dismantling, and scaffold tower use.

Planning

Risk Assessment

The first thing that should be done when you’ve decided it is necessary to use a scaffold tower is a comprehensive risk assessment. This should be performed by a competent and appropriately trained individual who can detect any risks that could arise from your working environment. This can include making sure that your structure will be positioned on ground that is level and firm, away from overhead power lines and avoids pedestrian and vehicle access.

Trusted Supplier

Whatever scaffold tower you decide is right for the job, ensure you source your equipment from a supplier you can trust. Their scaffold towers should meet safety standards and be in a serviceable condition and ready to use. According to the Working at Height Regulations 2005, suppliers are legally obligated to provide an in-depth instruction manual that will allow for safe construction and use, including any bracing requirements.

Erecting and Dismantling

Instruction Manual

One of the most important steps for preventing accidents is ensuring that your equipment is assembled correctly in accordance with the supplier’s instructions. This means rigorous attention to detail, so make sure you have all the right components and that no outside elements are used.

Ensure that you check the tower’s safe working height that is provided in the safety manual and adhere to it. If it advises you to install stabilisers or outriggers for your selected scaffold tower, then make sure that you do so.

Erecting the Tower

Now that you have firm, level ground to work with, you can begin erecting your scaffold tower. Start by making sure your locked castors or base plates are properly supported. Using anything else in place of these can lead to serious accidents.

The advance guard rail system and the through-the-trap system are the two approved assembling methods recommended by PASMA and the Health and Safety Executive. Workers should wear harnesses to prevent falls if these two methods are not applicable to your tower.

The advanced guard rail system offers protection by utilising a specially designed temporary guard rail unit. This temporary rail can be secured in place from below levels, allowing the user to move it up to the main platform before permanent guardrails can be properly fitted.

Erecting a tower

The through-the-trap method, on the other hand, involves users being in positions of minimum risk whilst they install the higher platform guardrails. It achieves this by placing the operator in a working position in the trap door of the platform. From here they can properly set-up or dismantle the guard rail on the main platform level. Like the previous method, it ensures that users never find themselves on an unguarded platform.

After selecting your required edge protection method, it is important that everyone involved in the construction/deconstruction stages are physically fit, confident when working at height, and have the right protective equipment. Head protection, such as hard hats or climbing helmets, would be required for those putting the tower together (and later for when working on, or underneath the tower).

Stability

Consider the stability of your tower during the construction phase, as this can prevent your it from collapsing or over-turning in the future. Make sure stabilisers or outriggers are installed and that the structure is never erected to a height above that recommended by the manufacturer’s instructions.

Other factors will play a part in affecting stability, such as strong winds, exceeding the weight allowances, hoisting materials and rubbish chutes. The preventive measures that should be employed to battle these scenarios include tying or attaching the tower to a nearby solid structure, and ensuring your tower complies with its intended weight specifications and height to base ratio.

Man working on a Scaffold Tower

What is a height to base ratio?

This is the height of your scaffold tower in relation to its base. Unless otherwise stated in the manufacturer’s instructions, the recommended maximum height should be no larger than three times the minimum base dimension (this can be stretched to three and a half if working indoors or with optimal ground conditions).

Dismantling the Tower

When it comes to dismantling, the same rules and regulations apply. This means the advance guard rail and the through-the-trap systems should be utilized again. A qualified individual, as always, should take charge of these processes.

If using the advance guard rail method, the procedure would begin at the top by installing the temporary guard rail units before removing the permanent guard rail and toe boards. The through-the-trap method would also take this top-down approach, with the dismantling process being done while working through the trap door.

Pre-Use Inspection and Checks

Now that you’ve closely followed the manual and constructed your scaffold tower, it is time for the pre-use inspection. Once again, this must be performed by a competent and appropriately trained member of your team, and according to the Working at Height Act, should be carried out before use to identify any risks while they are still preventable.
(The inspection can differ for smaller towers under 2m compared to larger ones.)

Regular inspections should now be carried out at regular intervals not exceeding a week, especially after adverse weather conditions, if any modifications are installed to the structure, and if an incident occurs that may affect the tower’s stability.

Documentation

Now that all the necessary pre-checks are over, it is important to have a document that demonstrates that they were completed properly. Every inspection thereafter must also be documented and be made readily available at all times. Before anyone uses the equipment, they must be aware of this documentation. This can be a lot easier and effective with scaffolding tags.

Scaff Tags

Are Scaffolding Tags a Legal Requirement?

Scaffolding tags, also known as scaff tags, are not a legal requirement. Their purpose is to act as a supplement to the legally required safety inspections, giving potential users clear visibility of a tower’s safety and usability.

Scaffold Tower Use

Moving the Structure

Now that you’re ready to work, you must ensure that the structure cannot be moved by locking the castors. If you do need to move your tower, make sure you do it carefully and without the use of a powered vehicle. It should also never be moved while people or materials are on any of the platforms.

Barriers

Keeping members of the public safe from harm can be difficult when working in public places. This can be accomplished by maintaining an exclusion zone around the base of your tower that is enforced by temporary fencing.

You must also make sure that your tower is inaccessible when left unsupervised, preventing any form of unauthorised access. You can do this by removing ladders, adding netting, providing security, or in a worst case scenario, you may need to dismantle it.

Team building a scaffold tower

Climbing and Gaining Access

You should always follow the manufacturer’s guide for the appropriate method by which to climb your scaffold tower. This usually comes in the form of a purposefully-built internal ladder. Do not stand on anything to gain extra height when accessing the platforms.

Handling Equipment and Materials

All equipment and materials must be transferred between each individual platform levels, or by using an external rope and pulley system.

Lakeside-Hire.co.uk is a UK scaffolding hire company that provides scaffold hire solutions for your construction project needs. We offer a range of different types of scaffold towers for domestic and commercial use, and all of our solutions are serviced and inspected thoroughly by our PASMA trained staff.

For more information, please visit our website or get in contact today on 0845 154 3907.