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Scaffolding Safety

Updated: Feb 16

It’s so much a part of our daily lives that we hardly give it a second thought when we see it, often dodging in and out of it and treating it as part of the landscape.

What is it?


Although it looks solid enough as we walk past it, there are many safety regulations which apply to scaffolders when they are putting scaffolding up. A reputable and safety-conscious operator will ensure that these regulations are followed but what if they aren’t?

Case Study:

A scaffolder has been sentenced after scaffolding collapsed at a retail site. He had been subcontracted to put up scaffolding, with debris netting along its full length, when roofing work was planned for a retail store.

Together with two of his employees, the scaffolder erected the scaffold but he did not design the scaffold correctly or make sure that it was tied to the building in any way.

Barely two weeks after the scaffolding had been put up, it collapsed into a car park at the side of the store during high winds. Fortunately, nobody was injured as a result but six cars were damaged.

The HSE launched an investigation and discovered that the scaffolder had not properly designed or erected the scaffold in a “safe and appropriate manner” and because of this, members of the public and workers were put at risk.

He pleaded guilty to breaching Section 3 (1) of the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. The court imposed a £1,400 fine and he had to pay costs of over £1,600. He was also sentenced to sixteen weeks in custody, suspended for 12 months.

The case shows how important it is for everybody involved in a construction project to follow guidance issued by industry and safety bodies.

rradar recommends:

Although there is no mention of the part played by the main contractor in this case, it is clear that the sub-contractor’s competence was questionable.

A main contractor should always ensure that they have carried out pre-contractor checks. Properly administered, these go a long way towards weeding out sub-contractors such as the one in this case from being engaged on projects where there is the potential for damage to property and possible injury or loss of life.

Why did the sub-contractor fail in his duty to design and erect the scaffolding safely? We can’t know for certain but there are possibilities:

  • He was not qualified or trained to design and erect that type of scaffold

  • He was working beyond his capability

  • He was trying to cut corners to save time/money

Pre-contractor checks

It is impossible to wholly eliminate the possibility of rogue traders getting work but, as mentioned above, a series of checks can be carried out before appointing sub-contractors.

Checks that could be done include asking:

  • Are the contractors competent?

  • Has a Construction Phase Plan been prepared?

  • Do they have the relevant insurance in place?

  • Are they qualified for their trade/profession e.g. CISRS (Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme)?

  • Can they provide you with their H&S documentation – H&S policy, risk assessments, method statements?

  • Have they been prosecuted by the HSE for H&S failings?

  • Are they members of any professional bodies?

  • Can they provide verifiable references from satisfied customers?

  • Have checks been made for any feedback about the company online?

Of course, a sub-contractor could pass all these checks and yet still fail to carry out their work safely. That’s why it’s also important for contractors not to sit back and take no further part in the safety process once a sub-contractor has been appointed. A process of active monitoring of all sub-contractors is crucial to ensure that the project continues safely.

Active monitoring steps include the contractor asking:

  • Is the sub-contractor complying with their risk assessments and method statements?

  • Are they complying with the Construction Phase Plan?

  • Do they use/wear all the safety equipment that is stated in their risk assessment/method statements?

  • Do they understand their obligations in regard of the contractor’s H&S procedures?

  • Do they leave the site safe and tidy at the end of their shift?

  • Do they sign in/out when entering/leaving the site?

  • Have there been any complaints received about them?

The contractor is the employer and it is their duty to ensure the safety of their employees and others not in their employ e.g. contractors, visitors.

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