Tower Scaffolding Safety - a manager's responsibility
Tower Week is a safety initiative established by the Prefabricated Access Suppliers’ and Manufacturers’ Association (PASMA) to bring the whole industry together to promote positive stories, images and messages about mobile access towers, prefabricated tower scaffolds and low level work platforms.
As part of Tower Week, PASMA have run an excellent series of webinars including Keeping workers safe on towers: a manager’s responsibilities. The focus of this webinar was the importance of managers knowing what “good” looks like when managing tower scaffolding. The session was hosted by Chris Smith and Rhona McCallum of PASMA and Ray Cooke from the No Falls Foundation and former principal inspector for the HSE Construction Division.
Although it’s fairly well understood that people working at height must be appropriately trained and skilled, it’s less appreciated that the people managing or supervising the work must themselves be competent. This principle is part of the Work at Height Regulations 2005 as well as the HASAW Act:
5. Every employer shall ensure that no person engages in any activity, including organisation, planning and supervision, in relation to work at height or work equipment for use in such work unless he is competent to do so or, if being trained, is supervised by a competent person
Although competence isn’t specifically defined in the legislation, in the L153 Guidance to the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015, the HSE suggests that
“a competent person is someone who has sufficient training and experience or knowledge and other qualities that allow them to assist you properly. The level of competence required will depend on the complexity of the situation and the particular help you need”.
Although in theory it's possible to be competent without any formal training, it’s widely accepted that appropriate training is key evidence in demonstrating competence. Failing to adhere to the governing legislation can have serious consequences, as well as fines, guilty individuals can receive a prison sentence and a criminal record. It's important to understand that during an investigation the HSE will dig deep to go back to the root cause of the accident. This is much more likely to be poor management, planning and supervision rather than the fault of the individual involved directly in the accident.
This is not saying that a manager needs to be able to assemble a scaffold tower themselves (although they certainly can) but it does mean they need to know what safe scaffolding looks like, spot any problems and understand the broader safety management issues. PASMA offer a dedicated training course tailored specifically for managers covering areas such as type of tower, safety standards, training, hazards, risk assessments and rescue plans.
Inspections and tagging were also discussed in the Q&A session. Scaffolding doesn’t require a Thorough Examination certificate but the advice is to visually check the scaffolding before assembling for missing components and any storage damage since last used. Post assembly the Work at Height Regulations require scaffolding to be inspected:
After installation /prior to being used for the first time
At least every seven days thereafter
Following any circumstances which could jeopardise the safety of the installation such as adverse weather conditions. So even if a scaffolding structure was inspected just the day before it should be inspected again if for example there were high winds overnight or reports of event such as an earthquake in the region
The point was also made that a tagging system to indicate the safety status of the structure must be proactively monitored and, if necessary, enforced as part of a safe working culture.