Scaffolding's "Dirty Little Secret" - Part 1

Posted Mar 2nd, 2016 in Tips & News


We have a HEAVY DUTY problem in the North American scaffolding industry. The issue is: scaffold load calculations and duty ratings.

Required by law, all scaffolds in Canada MUST be built with safety factors. Based on the loads likely to be imposed on them, these ratings must be calculated by a competent person and clearly communicated to the scaffold users. 

It sounds simple enough. Surely, no one would ever build or use a scaffold without knowing what it’s rated for – right?

Wrong! Sadly, it happens every day. 

Common Mistakes We See Every Day

Every day, scaffolds are being erected by personnel who do not, (or cannot) accurately rate the load capacity of the scaffold system. Every day, scaffolds are being used by workers who have NO CLUE what they can safely load on the system.

Last month in Toronto, a supervisor was sent to jail for this very issue. Four workers were killed and another seriously injured because they repeatedly overloaded a poorly rated scaffold in 2009.

So, what are the scaffolds on YOUR site rated for? And how well do you believe you can trust those ratings?

Tips For Finding Your Scaffold Load Ratings For Your Site

Here are some tips that you can use to dig a little deeper into the scaffold load ratings at your site: 

  1. Are your scaffolds tagged? If not, how is the scaffold erector communicating the vital scaffold information to the user? Tagging systems are not specifically required by all regulations – however in practice, they are vital communication devices that should be used on all industrial, construction and maintenance scaffolds.
  2. Is there a rated load? Supported scaffolds are usually tagged with a duty rating: Light, Medium or Heavy. Suspended scaffolds are typically tagged with a net platform load (i.e. 750 lbs, 1,000 lbs, 1,250 lbs, etc). If there is no rated load, how do you prevent the users from overloading and possibly failing the scaffold?
  3. Are all the supported scaffolds on your site tagged with the SAME duty rating? Many scaffold erectors, when they don’t (or can’t) do their load calculations – typically tag everything as “Light Duty” and hope for the best. This could be the sign of a much bigger problem.
  4. Do your scaffold erectors have access to the manufacturer’s technical manual(s) for the scaffold system(s) you have on site? If not, what are they doing their load calculations from?
  5. When asked, are your scaffold erectors able to clearly and calmly discuss the topic of load calculations with you? Or, are they evasive and/or defensive about the subject? Are they “covering up” for their inability to rate their scaffolds? This could indicate a serious knowledge gap.
  6. If you gave one of your scaffold erectors a blank sheet if paper and a pencil – would they be able to produce for you a calculated rated load on any simple scaffold? If not, you know you have a problem. 

If these questions reveal any gaps in your site’s scaffolding program – these problems can be corrected with some remedial training and procedures. But don’t delay, scaffold load ratings are critical to your site’s safe scaffold operations.

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In Part 2 of this series I will get into the topic of the types of load calculations that need to be performed and the circumstances when additional verification, such as scaffold engineering may be necessary.

Get an evaluation of your workplace and get on track with safety and compliance.

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