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Image courtesy of bil-jax

Frame-type scaffolding as a manufactured product came about during, or shortly before, the Second World War. Up until then, contractors were building their own scaffolding out of wood — in some places around the world they still build it out of bamboo. It was constructed for one job and then torn down. In the scheme of things, manufactured frame scaffolding is a relatively young product in the construction business.

There have been some new innovations over the past decade or two. Crank-up scaffolding, for example. It makes the job of the mason more efficient, less tiring — and you don't have to take the scaffold up and down or adjust your levels repeatedly — you can do it all with a crank.

The other innovation has been the mast climber, scaffold that Masonry magazine covered last June. It gets you to the platform height you want to be at much easier and quicker. You can even use it to move materials up and down much like a hoist.

European style frame scaffold is being used in limited applications in the U.S. but it's not used in masonry much because the platform isn't wide enough to accept a cube. Basically, in the masonry side of it, everybody uses the open-end frame that they've used for years, and the bracing and platforms are pretty much the same as they have been for decades.

"In masonry, you want to use an open-end frame because it allows you to create multiple platform levels so you can walk from one frame to another," explains David McDonel, National Sales Manager for bil-jax, a multi-line scaffold manufacturer in Archbold, Ohio. "It also allows you to hang your side brackets or personnel brackets on the side so the mason can move up or down on the frame to keep his work in front of him at waist height."

He continues, "Then there is a systems scaffold — to the layman it looks like tinker toys of verticals, horizontals and diagonals that can be connected in a lot of different configurations, so they can go around the interior of a boiler or the outside of a setup where a frame and brace type scaffold wouldn't work. That can give you multiple levels or it can be single-platform height. It is a very flexible system.

"The final type would be the European frame scaffold, a scaffold that is a multiple-level scaffold similar to the open-end frames, but because the walk boards are part of the system it doesn't take as many diagonal braces which opens the sides to freely pass materials much easier."

Staying Safe
Companies that build and sell or rent scaffolding frames make every possible effort to provide design, material and construction methods that assure safety and long life for their products. McDonel notes, "With every shipment of scaffolding that we send to any customer, we supply a scaffold safety packet. In that packet are four pieces of literature. One is a piece that we've created with scaffold erection procedures. It's both text and line drawings of scaffolding and it explains how scaffolding is erected, referring to specific OSHA regulations on how to erect that scaffold properly.

"We also include the complete OSHA regulations with regard to scaffolding. Then there is a sheet from the Scaffold, Shoring and Forming Institute called 'Scaffold Erection Safety Tips' and another sheet from the same source, 'Tips on Scaffold Safety.' All manufacturers that we know of make pieces like that available to their dealers. Contractors can pick it up through the dealer where they purchased or rented the scaffold. Or, they can contact the scaffold manufacturer directly and find out what's available to them."

Contractors need to go beyond the literature provided by manufacturers, though. First and foremost, the contractor should designate a competent person in regard to scaffolding. That competent person is one who has either been trained — completing a class in scaffold safety and proper erection procedures — or who has good experience in scaffold erection procedures and has been given the ability to make decisions as to whether the scaffolding is safe for use for those persons on the job site.

OSHA's regulations on scaffolding have increased the importance of the competent person in scaffolding safety. According to Steve Storrer, Product Safety Manager for bil-jax, "When the OSHA regulations were rewritten in 1996, there was a much stronger emphasis put on this competent person requirement. The competent person is somebody at the job site that has the authority to shut the job down, and is knowledgeable in proper scaffold assembly and use. How they obtain that knowledge is open for discussion. Taking classes or having outside training is an option, but sometimes it's simply because you've built scaffolding for the last 20 years."

And while experience is acceptable, having knowledge of the rules is also important. Storrer continues, "We would say, as a minimum, that competent person should be very familiar with the OSHA regulations as they relate to scaffolding. They're also going to need to know things like capacities of the various components. That's one of the first things an OSHA inspector will ask when they step on a job site: 'What's the capacity of those platforms you have up that have that palette of block on them.' Some of those issues change from manufacturer to manufacturer."

Competent Person Training
Experience comes over time but training can be taken in short bursts. MCAA offers a video presentation titled "Putting it All Together: Scaffolding Safety." The video is designed to be a part of a scaffolding training program by showing workers how to safely erect and dismantle scaffolds.

Image courtesy of bil-jax
The Scaffold Industry Association (SIA), Woodland Hills, Calif., in partnership with the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology (SAIT), has developed several courses for those workers involved with the use, rigging, erection and dismantling of scaffolds. These programs can be taught utilizing frame, system, or tube and coupler type scaffold components.

The SIA Primary Access Training course is intended for workers who erect various scaffolding that do not exceed a specific height to base ratio, usually either 4-to-1 or 3-to-1. The course is in the form of a manual sent out two weeks in advance that students are required to study the contents and answer the self-test questions prior to attending a one-day session. The one-day session includes a review of the manual, instructor demonstrations, and practice by the students in erecting and dismantling of a scaffold. Students are evaluated by a written exam, as well as by the erecting and dismantling.

The Scaffold User Hazard Awareness Program, for example, is designed to help the scaffold user recognize the hazards on various types of scaffold. It lasts approximately three hours and incorporates a Microsoft PowerPoint slide presentation that encourages student participation. This course is not designed to teach workers how to erect scaffold, but more for overall use and safety for the entire crew.

The Competent Person Training course is intended for workers who actually erect the various types or configurations of supported scaffolds or who are going to be the designated competent person on the job site. The course is in the form of a student manual sent out three weeks in advance that students are required to study — approximately 25 hours — the contents and answer the self-test questions prior to the one-day session. The one-day course includes a review of the manual, instructor demonstrations, hands on practice by the students erecting and dismantling both rolling and stationary scaffold towers and a scaffold run. Again, students are evaluated by a written exam, as well as their proficiency in erecting and dismantling the scaffolds.

Scaffolders with work experience in the rigging, erection and dismantling of scaffolds may choose to enter the Challenge Program. This tests their overall knowledge and a passing mark allows them to receive their SIA Training Program Scaffolder I.D. card and certificate. This option is available for suspended or supported scaffolds and consists of a pre-test to initially evaluate his/her level of knowledge and determine any areas of weakness.

The Scaffold Training Institute (STI), League City, Texas, is also recognized for its safety programs. The heart of their program is a 250-page manual that is laid out in a competency-based format in accordance with standard government accepted specifications for training materials. This guide has the objective of giving the student a thorough knowledge of the OSHA scaffolding standard.

STI believes the great advantage of this manual is that pictures and graphics are included. "In order to develop the training manuals and accompanying videos, we actually erected all three types of scaffolding, took hundreds of photos during the assembly procedure, and placed them in the manual," claims STI's website. "We built both simple one section high towers and complex four tier multiple bay scaffolds. These scaffolds demonstrate applications such as: putlogs used to span obstructions, suspended 'dead legs,' staircases, highly uneven ground conditions, and other unusual field situations."

As a result, the manual contains assembly instructions complete with pictures. For example, if the written instruction says "attach the cross braces to the frame," a picture showing cross braces being attached to the frame is placed adjacent to that instruction on the page. To compliment this manual, a video of the procedures is also available. The training participant can watch a crew of professional erectors assemble the scaffold live on video and follow along with the same pictures and instructions in the manual. This linkage of videos, manual and photographs provides a complete multimedia training experience.

As the manual and videos progress through the assembly procedure, topics such as pre-job planning, component identification, equipment inspection, adequate foundations, proper planking, scaffold tie-ins, diagonal bracing, platforms loading, safe use, and others are discussed in sequence. After taking the participant though the step-by-step assembly procedure in the manual and on video, a thorough scaffolding inspection checklist is covered.

In addition, STI provides an instruction guide for in-house trainers and self-paced instruction that can be done without a formal instructor or classroom participation. Their "Train the Trainer" program provides the instructor's guide, videos, and training manual and instruction necessary to conduct the class in-house. Their instructor will spend one day walking you through the procedure to teach the course. The course takes approximately eight hours. This can be accomplished in three different ways: you can send the in-house trainer to the STI facility near Houston; they can send someone to your location; or it can be done by correspondence.

One Safety Fits All
Are scaffolding safety procedures universal across all types and manufacturers? Or are there variations between products? Storrer responds, "There are many universal aspects that apply to all types. For example, when you need to have guardrails, when you need to have toe boards, proper use of side brackets, full decking requirements — when the entire platform has to be fully decked with no openings from one side of the scaffold to the other. Those would be general requirements that apply to all types."

He goes on to say, "Then each individual type of scaffolding, like system scaffold, tube and clamp, crank up, or tube and cross brace, would also have unique issues to deal with for the worker. To handle that, many of our components have instructional decals on the product. Some, like side brackets, walk boards and hoist arms that are common in masonry set ups, are actually going to have capacities printed right on the product so the end user will know what the capacity is."

He admits, "We don't do that with scaffold frames because of the wide variation of the way they can be set up. If a customer is interested in the load bearing capacity of scaffold frames, they need to call us so we can get more information as to how they're loading them and then we can give them the capacities that way, based upon how they are using them."

Bil-jax also offers a 20-minute video as part of a safety-training package called "Commitments to Safety." The second half of that video covers maintenance, an often overlooked and critical component to safety.

Maintaining the Scaffold
"A generic checklist of things to look for when inspecting scaffolding would obviously include watching for any bent components," says Storrer. "Another area of concern is rusted components, not just surface rust but where the rust has pitted the steel or where you can tell the rust is starting to pit into the metal. That material should be taken out of inventory.

"Sometimes metal cracks right next to a weld," he adds, "especially if the component has been overloaded. Any cracked welds, or cracks around the weld, disqualifies the scaffolding."

Side brackets are a very key component, what bil-jax calls personnel brackets. They're the brackets that hang from the side of the scaffolding on which the mason stands next to the wall. "They need to have special attention paid to those brackets," acknowledges Storrer. "In particular the saddle, the part that hangs on the scaffolding frame itself. You need to make sure that's not spread open or in some way twisted, bent, or deformed. That can indicate that the side bracket's been overloaded at some point. That should certainly be pulled from service if that's found."

A main safety issue is that side brackets, like this bil-jax Adjustable Saddle Hanger, should be used for personnel only.
One of the important things to watch for, especially as it applies to masonry, is proper footing under the scaffold. "Masons need to make sure they're not setting the scaffolding up on recently back-filled areas where you can have settling and displacement of the soil under the scaffold," Storrer cautions. "Because the nature of masonry assumes a heavy duty loading, you need to make sure you have good footing underneath. Along those lines, you want to use what we call 'mud sills,' generally 2-by-12-inch planking run underneath the legs. The idea is to have the legs sit on base plates or leveling jacks and the base plates sit on top of the mud sill to help distribute the weight of all the brick and block that's going to be up there with the workers."

One thing some masons and mason contractors want to do is cheat on bracing "just a little bit." They have a tendency to want to take some of those cross braces out. Storrer hopes you don't do that. "What you find if you get too many of those out, it drastically reduces the load capacity of the scaffolding. If masons are going to remove cross bracing to load the platform with material, they need to get it back in after the material is up there."

One contractor we spoke with pointed out that putting up worker protection — a canvas "tent" on top of the scaffolding in inclement weather — can turn it into a giant sailboat. What is the advice for dealing with inclement weather protection? "Under those circumstances you need to drastically increase the number of ties you have into the building," responds Storrer. "It's not something where there's a hard and fast rule, it's really going to depend on how high the scaffolding is, the velocity of the wind, etc. This is a situation where you might need to get an onsite engineer to take a look at the system. The competent person, depending on his level of training and expertise, might be able to determine how many additional ties they need and where they should be placed."

We mentioned "cheating" on side braces. There's one other thing that masonry contractors have a tendency to do that's really not a good practice. As Storrer says, "It has to do with the use of side or personnel brackets. Those are used between the scaffold and the wall that's going up, to support the planks for the masons to stand on. There's a tendency for contractors to not only put those brackets on the wall side but also on the side of the scaffolding away from the wall. They have a tendency to set palettes of block up there, half on the bracket and half on the scaffolding itself. If you're not careful you overload those side brackets. Once that happens you run the risk of them failing. Remember, those side brackets are designed to support about 500 pounds, not the 1200 to 1500 pounds of a cube of blocks or bricks."

So those are some tips and techniques to avoid scaffolding accidents and failures. Let us know if you have any other tricks of the trade to pass on to other mason contractors working with these frames that reach for the sky.



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