Scaffolding work is erecting, altering or dismantling of a temporary structure that supports a platform and from which someone or something could fall more than four metres from the platform or structure. Scaffolding work is classified as high risk work and must be performed by a person licensed to perform high risk work.

Safe Work Australia has produced a range of guidance material for scaffolds and scaffolding work for PCBUs on how to manage the risks associated with scaffolds and scaffolding work at a workplace.

The guidance material provides information on:

  • general guidance on managing hazards and risks
  • common types of scaffolds and scaffolding
  • suspended (swing stage) scaffolds
  • tower and mobile scaffolds
  • scaffold inspection and maintenance.

Managing risks

So far as is reasonably practicable, workers and other people must not be exposed to health and safety risks.

Assessing hazards and risks

Identify potential hazards by:

  • observing the workplace
    • identify areas where scaffolds are used or scaffolding work is performed and where there is interaction with vehicles, pedestrians and fixed structures
  • checking the environment in which the scaffold is to be used including ground conditions
  • noting the major functional requirements of the scaffold such as the maximum live and dead loads and access requirements
  • inspecting the scaffolding before, during and after use
  • asking your workers about any problems they encounter or anticipate when constructing or interacting with scaffolds and scaffolding work
    • consider operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, transport and storage requirements
  • reviewing your incident and injury records including near misses.

In many cases the risks and related control measures will be well known. In other cases you may need to carry out a risk assessment to identify the likelihood of somebody being harmed by the hazard and how serious the harm could be.

A risk assessment can help you determine what action you should take to control the risk and how urgently the action needs to be taken.

Controlling the risk

The work health and safety laws require a business or undertaking do all that is reasonably practicable to eliminate or minimise risks.

The ways of controlling risks are ranked from the highest level of protection and reliability to the lowest. This ranking is known as the hierarchy of risk control. You must work through this hierarchy to manage risks.

The first thing to consider is whether hazards can be completely removed from the workplace. For example, risks can be eliminated by carrying out work at ground level or on completed floors of a building.

If it is not reasonably practicable to completely eliminate the risk then consider the following options in the order they appear below to minimise risks, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • substitute the hazard for something safer e.g. using mechanical aids like cranes, hoists, pallet jacks or trolleys to move equipment and materials wherever possible instead of manually lifting scaffolding
  • isolate the hazard from people e.g. install concrete barriers to separate pedestrians and powered mobile plant from scaffolds to minimise the risk of collision, and
  • use engineering controls e.g. provide toeboards, perimeter containment sheeting or overhead protective structures to prevent objects falling hitting workers or other people below the work area.

If after implementing the above control measures a risk still remains, consider the following controls in the order below to minimise the remaining risk, so far as is reasonably practicable:

  • use administrative controls e.g. storing scaffolding as close as practical to the work area to minimise the distance over which loads are manually moved, and
  • use personal protective equipment (PPE) e.g. hard hats, protective hand and footwear and high visibility vests.

A combination of the controls set out above may be used if a single control is not enough to minimise  the risks.

You need to consider all possible control measures and make a decision about which are reasonably practicable for your workplace. Deciding what is reasonably practicable includes the availability and suitability of control measures, with a preference for using substitution, isolation or engineering controls  to minimise risks before using administrative controls or PPE. Cost may also be relevant, but you can only consider this after all other factors have been taken into account.

Review controls

Review your control measures regularly to ensure they are effective and working as planned. When reviewing control measures, take into consideration any changes in processes, procedures, equipment or personnel and the nature and duration of work.

Further information