Scaffolding Inspection: 5Ws – WHO?
If you asked me my opinion of the LARGEST GAP in most North American industrial scaffolding programs, my answer would be simple: proper scaffold inspections.
Poor regulations have combined with a fundamental lack of purpose and knowledge of scaffold inspections to create a toxic soup that makes many industrial sites vulnerable to an incident.
Sadly, few sites get it right, many do it poorly – and some others just don’t even bother at all!
My personal favorite was the VERY LARGE cantilevered tower erected on a crusher platform (read: shaking violently) that hadn’t been inspected in 6 months! Some of the nodes and wedges had been turned into metallic powder and worn paper thin by the scaffold’s constant oscillation.
This post is the first of a series of articles that will cover the 5Ws – the Who, What, When, Where and Why of Industrial Scaffold Inspections. Read on – I hope this helps you and your site.
Taking a quick glance at most U.S. and Canadian scaffolding codes – it would be easy to conclude that all you need is a “Competent Person”.
It sounds simple enough – but digging a bit deeper, the answer is A LOT more complicated.
What is the “Competent Person”?
To be a Competent Person for scaffold inspections, one needs to have two skills:
- The ability to recognize all hazards in the scaffold, AND
- The authority to get those hazards fixed.
The important part is the “AND” – that the Competent Person must have BOTH parts of this equation to meet the definition. A supervisor, for example with no scaffolding training, knowledge of experience – CANNOT be the CP. Similarly, a scaffold user or contractor with no direct authority to instruct changes or corrections in a scaffold CAN’T be the CP either!
It Takes a Village….
In fact, there could be a series of people involved in conducting inspections over the lifetime of a scaffold:
Scaffold Erector: Will inspect components and assembly during selection, erection, modification and dismantling. (More about this in the WHEN? article)
Scaffold Inspector: Will provide regular inspections of the scaffold once built – could also be the Scaffold Erector.
Scaffold Engineer: Will/may provide inspection services for any engineered scaffolds or components. This inspection will be based on the requirements of the scaffold engineer’s design. Some designs will permit the inspection of the completed scaffold by a Competent Person or Scaffold Erector in lieu of the engineer, whereas some may still require an engineer’s inspection. Either way, it’s the scaffold design engineer’s decision to make.
Scaffold User: Even the USERS will get involved in the scaffold inspection process as they conduct their own pre-use inspection (i.e. just before they climb the scaffold). This inspection will be neither as detailed or documented as the formal scaffold inspection by the erector, inspector or competent person. However, it is just as important as the user will be doing the “up to the minute” check of the structure, scaffold tags and the work area. Users of suspended scaffolds will also be responsible to conduct the FUNCTION CHECKS of their hoist equipment and safety devices in addition to their pre-use inspection. (More about this in the WHAT? piece.)
More than just a title….
Notwithstanding the above, simply being anointed as a “Competent Person”, “Engineer” or “Inspector” isn’t everything. It is imperative that ALL of these roles be filled by those who are duly TRAINED and EXPERIENCED in the exact scaffold mode, size and complexity for the scaffolds that they are inspecting. By example:
- It would be patently unfair to ask a rookie scaffold erector to inspect a complex hanging scaffold.
- It would be inappropriate to expect an engineer with no scaffolding knowledge or experience to inspect a major enclosed outdoor structure.
- It would be ridiculous to require an untrained operator to conduct a pre-use inspection and function checks on a high rise swingstage.
- It would be senseless to have a supported scaffold inspected by a person who was unable to check a scaffold load calculation.
Safe to say, when it comes to the critical task of scaffold inspections on your site – WHO inspects is MORE THAN JUST THE TITLE – it requires specific scaffold knowledge to back it up.