The site of scaffolding is a familiar one if you live in a busy city; with projects ranging from small house renovations to erecting tall skyscrapers or a new block of flats. Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to support construction workers and their materials while they work at height; mostly repairing or building structures including flats, offices, bridges and statues.
While most of us will be familiar with scaffolding structures, you may not have given much thought to the workers behind them. Scaffolders are essential to the construction industry, and a typical days work can involve many different tasks. If you want to know more about scaffolders and their work, read on to find out about a typical day in the life of a scaffolder.
What is a scaffolder?
Scaffolders are a branch of construction worker who erect and dismantle temporary structures (most commonly around buildings), to allow other building workers to work safely at height. You don’t need any formal qualifications to become a scaffolder, but it helps to have GCSEs in maths and English at grades A*-C, or their equivalent. It’s also important to have a good sense of balance and be comfortable with heights, strong hand-to-eye coordination, and a reasonable level of physical fitness. Scaffolders also need to be able to follow instructions and work as part of a team, and have a strong knowledge of health and safety practices.
Most trainee scaffolders learn on the job, starting as a scaffolding labourer and then being taught the skills required to become a fully qualified scaffolder. There are also several construction apprenticeships that can teach you the skills necessary to become a scaffolder. Most apprenticeships take around 18 months to complete, and involve on-site work alongside training at a college. All scaffolders will need to register and obtain a Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme (CISRS) safety card, or the equivalent, in order to train and work on site.
Typical daily tasks
The day to day tasks of a scaffolder can vary, of course depending on the job they are working on and the environment of the site. The majority of scaffolding work takes place outdoors on a building or construction site, but scaffolders can also be used to erect smaller structures indoors, for example for painting or maintenance work. See a list below for some of the most common tasks performed by a scaffolder.
Naturally, before the work can begin the right equipment must be unloaded first, which involves scaffolders unloading the correct type of scaffolding and number of poles required from their vehicle. The most common type of metal scaffolding is composed of three basic elements; standards, ledgers and transforms.
A standard refers to the vertical pole that runs the length of the entire structure and keeps it upright; they also spread the weight of the structure onto the ground using base plates. Ledgers are horizontal poles which connect the standards and ensure the scaffolding is stable and stays in place. Finally, the transforms are another type of horizontal pole which run across and perpendicular to the ledgers – this strengthens the scaffolding structure and provides a place for the wooden platforms to sit on each level of the scaffold.
Setting up the scaffolding poles
Once the correct equipment has been unloaded, the structure can begin to be built. Base plates are set on the ground at regular intervals to help spread the weight of the scaffolding evenly and stop the vertical standard poles from slipping. The standards can then be connected to the ledgers and transforms using a connecting device known as a coupler; these come in three different varieties, a right-angle coupler, putlog or swivel coupler. Joint pins can also be used to join the poles together if necessary.
Fixing the scaffolding to the structure
It’s vital to ensure that scaffolding is securely fixed to the building or structure before work can start, and to add an extra level of security and stability to the scaffolding. Scaffolding is fixed to the building using short tie tubes which keeps the vertical poles upright and ensures the scaffolding can take the weight of workers and equipment without buckling.
Some types of scaffolding use castors to make them easily mobile around the site; in this case they are kept secure with strong brakes which can be easily released and employed as necessary.
Adding safety measures
Safety is paramount on any construction site, but it can be even more important for scaffolders working at great height. Scaffolders need to attach guard rails and safety netting when erecting a scaffolding structure to ensure it’s safe for all workers. All open sides and ends of a scaffold require workers to add a guard rail, and scaffolding must be inspected before use and then a minimum of once every seven days while it’s up.
All scaffolding workers are required to adhere to other general safety measures every time they work, including wearing a hard hat, wearing sturdy, non-slip shoes, and avoiding working on scaffolding outdoors if the weather is very wet or windy.
Laying down planks
Once the pole frame of the scaffolding has been securely fixed in place, workers can lay down the planks (usually wooden) which form the base for construction workers to stand and walk on. Scaffolding boards come in three different thicknesses, and most are protected at either end with a metal plate known as a hoop iron or nail plate. Wooden planks can be slippery due to rain or frost, so it’s essential for workers to assess the condition each day and make sure they’re wearing regulation, non-slip shoes.
Advising on the most suitable type of scaffolding
As well as physically building the structure, often scaffolders will work with businesses or building companies to advise which type of scaffolding is the most suitable for their particular project. Scaffolding firms will be able to offer inside knowledge about the pros and cons of each type of scaffolding, including traditional, mobile, indoor and lightweight scaffolding. They’ll also be able to judge whether fixed or mobile scaffolding is more suitable, as well as supervising how the scaffolding should be built; from a simple platform scaffold to a more complex structure involving suspended scaffolding or a temporary roof.
Scaffolders may also work with builders or design teams to come up with the most suitable scaffolding design for their project. This ensures everything is laid out clearly and all parties are on the same page before the scaffolding is erected.
What is the environment like on site?
Sites can vary greatly, from a dusty construction site to sleek office or a residential house. Of course, the job at hand will influence what the working environment is like, but many scaffolding companies develop a strong sense of camaraderie and team spirit while on the job. This is partly due to the dangerous nature of the work; all scaffolders need to look out for each other’s safety and ensure they are working in accordance with the safety guidelines.
The work can be very physically demanding and a lot of clear communication is required, which can help team members bond quickly. Many scaffolders praise their team’s strong work ethic and the skills that each person can contribute and learn from each other.
If you’re looking for professional scaffolding services for projects across the UK, get in touch with D H Scaffold Services Limited. We offer superior scaffold designs alongside scaffold inspection surveys, design packages and as-built scaffolds. Whether you’re after scaffold tower hire or a bespoke scaffold design for your next project, give our friendly team a call to discuss your requirements. As you can see from the above, scaffolders cover a range of different tasks day to day, so get in touch and let us help you with your building requirements, or visit our website to see the full range of services.