Scaffolding safety after lockdown: guidelines and procedures for construction sites to reopen during the COVID-19 pandemic
Worker health and safety requirements are always fundamental aspects for the good execution of a construction project and should never be underestimated, whatever the circustances, but the latest CoVid-19 pandemic has forced many construction companies, general contractors and the entire building industry workforce to comply with new additional rules and working procedures to minimize the risks of infection.
The entire construction sector is making an unprecedented contribution to worker safety in order to guarantee compliance with anti-contagion guidelines and reopen construction sites as soon as possible and in maximum safety.
The need to reopen as soon as possible is forcing contractors to reorganize project work phases but also to re-arrange scaffolding layouts to safeguard workers by containing and mitigating the risk of transmission too.
At such a crucial time for the industry, scaffolding companies must carefully evaluate all the risks and ensure that adequate safety measures are implemented before returning to work.
How to protect construction site workers
Before moving on to seeing a few examples ensuring worker distancing on scaffolding structures, let’s take a brief look at some of the basic mitigation measures. Needless to say, if the activities on site cannot be carried out safely, then they should not take place at all and where work does continue, employees must be able to operate in total safety and avoid any possibility of exposure to the CoVid-19 virus.
Several guidelines have recently been published to assist the scaffolding industry for a healthy and safe return to work. The National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) has released a series of useful guidelines that scaffolding contractors can adopt to safeguard the health and welfare of their staff.
The main aim of this post is to summarize some of the main aspects contained in the guidelines and also cover some important control measures and risk assessments for AEC professionals that should be applied for a safe return to scaffolding mounting activities.
These measures include:
Social distancing. A series of rules which should be implemented to reduce social interaction between people in order to help reduce the transmission of coronavirus (COVID-19).
Typical contagion mitigation measures
The vast majority of social distancing guidelines require to maintain a distance of at least 1.5m – 2m from other people where possible. This has been adopted as a fundamental protective measure for all levels of interaction in public or work spaces.
The World Health Organization says that a distance of 1m is safe. Some countries have adopted this guidance, while others, including the UK, have gone further:
• 1m (3.2ft) distancing rule – China, Denmark, France, Hong Kong, Lithuania, Singapore
• 1.4m (4.6ft) – South Korea
• 1.5m (4.9ft) – Australia, Belgium, Germany, Greece, Italy, Netherlands, Portugal
• 1.8m (6ft) – US
• 2m (6.5ft) – Canada, Spain, UK
Where social distancing, in relation to a particular activity can’t be followed, it should be considered whether that activity needs to continue and consider all the mitigating actions possible to reduce the risk of transmission.
These may include:
- Minimizing the frequency and time workers are within 2.0m (6.5ft) of each other.
- Minimizing the number of workers involved in certain tasks.
- Re-positioning workers side by side or facing away from each other, rather than face-to-face.
Even when traveling, the social distancing rule should also be maintained to and from the construction site, but car or van sharing will generally not allow compliance with the distancing rule.
If workers have no choice but to share a vehicle, these few simple rules may be of great help:
- Trips should be shared with the same people every day and with the minimum number of people at any time.
- Good ventilation such as keeping windows open
- Work vehicles should be cleaned and sanitized regularly.
- Once workers arrive on-site, occupants must wash their hands with soap and water or use a hand sanitizers and have their temperature checked;
If a worker shows a high temperature or other symptoms, he should maintain the social distancing rule, inform the site manager and return home immediately. They must then follow the national guidelines and indications on self-isolation.
All work areas should be suitably barriered on all sides with high visibility tape or barricades and appropriately signposted to exclude third parties to access the work zone. Should unauthorized persons enter the barriered zone, work should be suspended until they have left the area.
Scaffolding design with a 3D BIM software
All scaffolding work carried out at height should be conducted in strict compliance with Health and Safety rules to prevent falls during scaffolding operations. A scaffolding erection/dismantling schedule should be prepared with the help of specific software tools in order to amend information rapidly to maintain scaffolding safety measures updated continuously.
BIM software for Scaffolding design such as CerTus SCAFFOLDING, allow designers and contractors alike, to prepare a detailed 3D BIM model of the scaffolding structure in a dedicated 3D View. As you can see in the following illustrations, a full range of BIM scaffolding objects can be used to model a realistic scaffolding layout in order to organize the site appropriately and have a valid basis of visual content to use for training workers and raise awareness of any new risks that may need to be addressed.
Operatives should avoid working directly above or below each other as this arrangement does not ensure the same level of protection as when positioned 2.0m apart horizontally.
Materials transferred vertically should be lifted or lowered by the use of gin wheels, hand lines or mechanical means (such as goods hoists, transport platforms, etc).
Materials may be transferred or relocated on the same level, or to the next deck above, by being placed in a convenient position by one operative, who then retreats to maintain at least a 2.0m social distance. A second operative may then approach the materials to pick them up and transfer them elsewhere within the work zone.
For scaffolds with a relatively small plan area (e.g. towers) only one scaffolding worker should access each deck at any one time. (See Figure 3).
On long or wide structures, or when positioned on the ground, operatives may work on the same level provided that they remain a minimum distancing between each other (i.e. a segregation bay) at all times. (See Figure 4). Operatives must have full spatial awareness at all times to ensure that social distancing is maintained.
A safe system of work may then be arranged as follows:
- Scaffolder A positions himself at one end, near to the access ladder.
- Tubes and fittings are then transferred from below and stored on the platform.
- When placing materials, care must be taken not to overload a local area of the scaffold.
- Scaffolder A then commences fixing ledgers, bracings and reinforcements from that end of the scaffold (Figure 5).
- Once Scaffolder A is clear of the access point, Scaffolder B can then gain access to this deck.
- Scaffolder B then receives the remaining materials from the worker positioned below.
- Scaffolder B then follows behind Scaffolder A, fitting cross bracings and toe-boards (Figure 6)
- Work then progresses in this way along with both scaffolders maintaining at least 2.0m between them at all times.
- Guardrails and toe-boards, ladders may be fitted by either or both scaffolders ensuring that at least one segregation bay remains between them at all times.
- Once the entire deck is complete, one scaffolder gains access to upper levels and the process is then repeated to the full extension of the scaffolding structure.
Other safe systems of work may be devised to suit different working situations and different types of scaffolds, but these must always strive to facilitate the strict requirements of maintaining the social distancing at all times.
Before the scaffold is dismantled, the work sequence should be practically inverted in order to ensure that all necessary safety precautions and social distancing rules are followed.
Scaffolding hazard identification and prevention with a BIM software: Prevention through Design (ptD)
In conclusion, considering that in recent years Prevention through Design (PtD) proves to be an extremely effective tool in eliminating risks due to temporary facilities in construction such as Scaffolding structures, to achieve these potential benefits, it is necessary to get through the many difficulties of adopting a BIM software for scaffolding design.
With CerTus SCAFFOLDING, not only can designers improve project communication, allowing stakeholders to collaborate more effectively and more accurately and drastically reduce design errors but they can also address hazardous construction activities on scaffolding communicating information to all project members involved.
In fact, applying BIM design methodologies to deal with the urgent CoVid-19 pandemic Construction Safety requirements on Scaffolding can help all stakeholders to receive timely health and safety updates and changes to interpersonal dynamics and workers behaviour too. For changes to be adopted, managers and leaders must engage through a unitary design process and be able to access a solid visual understanding of a site and the working conditions beforehand.
Therefore, the growing need to implement dedicated BIM software in the AEC industry to address safety hazards related to the subdomain of scaffolding structures is fully covered in CerTus SCAFFOLDING through which potential safety hazards can be automatically identified, and corresponding prevention methods can be applied using a visual method of design and document management.
CerTus SCAFFOLDING video
Watch this short video that shows how you can re-arrange or deal with new scaffolding designs to be compliant with COVID-19 prevention measures, using CerTus SCAFFOLDING, the BIM authoring software for scaffolding design and preparation of scaffolding assembly, use and dismantling plans.
In addition to these great advantages, worker safety training and education also becomes an immediate result of a detailed analysis and design process for scaffolding safety and planning.
Download these customizable anti-contagion safety protocol templates for construction sites
The proposed protocol below contains the main provisions that must be adopted on a construction site to tackle the spread of Coronavirus and a full set of inphographics and safety signage for you to print.