With scaffolding one of the most widespread and important elements on all housebuilding sites, it is vital that it contributes fully to key factors – not the least of which is safety. Sean Pike, UK managing director of Layher Ltd., modular scaffolding manufacturer, highlights clear-cut reasons why the system approach can offer so much
The use of scaffolding in housebuilding is, of course, a means to an end. Its primary role is not seen in creating the structure itself but as providing access for the building work to be undertaken. Traditionally, this role has been fulfilled by the use of tube and fit scaffold – steel tubes assembled and connected using a series of purpose-designed clamps. Cross-bracing and, typically timber decking and timber ladders, are also used to create multi-lift access for the range of trades on site.
More recently, however, the question of safe access has been increasingly answered through the use of modular – or system – alternatives and an assessment of the benefits that this approach provides, explains why.
Modular scaffold design invariably involves a built-in means of fixing sections and bays together. Standards are designed with integral connection points which ensure each installation has optimised integrity, with correct assembly automatically following precise patterns. In all cases, this also dramatically reduces the number of components on site which further enhances safety performance as the risk of components accidentally falling from height, or even being left on the ground after the build has been completed, is far less.
It is important, however, that whichever system is chosen, versatility and adaptability should be maximised – standards with eight fittings offering eight connection angles, for example, instantly provide 64 fixing options. This contributes to scaffolds being erected within safe design parameters because the need for ad-hoc ‘on the spot’ adaptation is minimised.
The greater strength of system scaffold can also be an important safety factor. Proven to offer up to four times the load bearing of tube and fittings, there are more opportunities to build or store materials on the structure, above ground level, while loading bays and stairtower systems – themselves clearly preferable to timber ladders – can be readily built into the design. This both inherently strengthens a structure but can minimise, or even eradicate, the need for kentledge or buttressing.
Consideration should also be given to selecting a modular access method that can accommodate both steel decking and toe-boards or, if necessary, timber alternatives – often optimising stock availability. Additionally, the ability to fix specialist components such as hop-up brackets, which can offer ease of handling and thus greater productivity to bricklayers, should be considered. The extra loading capability of modular designs also means a greater number of bricks and blocks can be held on the structure itself, thereby reducing the need for multiple lifting operations, which again contributes to maximising safety.
The same high loading capability also means fewer standards are required for a given scaffold design. This results in not only less material needs and thus a reduction in handling operations, but also widens bay sizes – in excess of 2.5 metres can be specified. In turn, this links with the minimal amount of cross-bracing required with system design to ease access to, and handling on, the structure itself, with safety benefits once more arising. This is particularly relevant where large size components, such as window-frames, are concerned. Moreover, with many house structures effectively square in plan, the fact that modern scaffolds can be up to six metres in height, due to built-in self-reinforcing and tied corners, rigidity automatically follows the house shape.
The advent of ‘Modern Methods of Construction’ has brought these important factors under an even stronger spotlight. Timber or block construction, for example, offers the builder distinct advantages that require the scaffold to keep pace with a faster build programme. The suitability of modular scaffolding compared with tube and fitting has much to offer in this regard as it enables the contractor to mirror the progress of the house structure as it rises. The net result is a more controlled build and again greater safety.
Safety is the prime objective with all building projects and housebuilding is one of the most widespread examples. With few construction projects possible without an access system, it is vital that the chosen method meets this key and most important objective in the most effective way. It is clear that the benefits arising from the use of modular or system scaffolding have much to offer in this regard.