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Sat 5 Sep 2009 04:00 AM

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Ten tips for buying scaffolding

Industry experts give their top tips for buying scaffolding to ensure that you get the right equipment for the job, tick all the safety boxes and don't get any nasty surprises.

Ten tips for buying scaffolding
Combisafe technical director Tony Jenkins.
Ten tips for buying scaffolding
Cape Technical Manager Dennis Braithwaite.
Ten tips for buying scaffolding
Scaffolding should be thoroughly inspected before use experts say.
Ten tips for buying scaffolding
MEVA Solutions marketing manager Jens Lützow-Rodenwoldt.

Industry experts give their top tips for buying scaffolding to ensure that you get the right equipment for the job, tick all the safety boxes and don't get any nasty surprises.

Stick to the standards

Rule number one is to find out what international scaffolding standard is used in your region and stick to it. There are various standards available around the world and they have all been developed with good reason says Dennis Braithwaite technical manager for scaffolding service provider, Cape.

"Many of the standards are similar, but each one sets down the specific requirements for individual components, such as couplers, tube, boards and a specification for system scaffolding" he says.

"We insist that all scaffold material is purchased to the specified standards and supplied with appropriate certification."

While most of the reputable companies will already be adhering to recognised standards, Braithwaite says unspecified materials are still commonly used without consideration of the consequences.

"I've been on a site where the scaffolding tube had a strange standard number on it and we later found out that the specification was for water pipes and didn't have any load bearing capacity at all."

Don't be tempted by the fakes

If you're thinking about ordering some fake copies of a reputable scaffolding brand from a Chinese manufacturer, then prepare to be disappointed according to Combisafe technical director Tony Jenkins.

"There are copies all over the place. A lot of people will buy stuff from you and ship it over to China for copies to be made hoping it turns up correctly, but half the time it doesn't because there is no quality control," he says.

"The brand Coplock has pressed steel ends on the horizontal members and I've seen them replaced by steel castings which are very brittle. So the strength characteristics are nothing like the parent product, even though it looks the same."

Jenkins recommends you buy from a company that can guarantee the safety of its products and then you are more likely to receive additional benefits, such as long term technical support, product warranty insurance and professional indemnity insurance.

Go high tech

It's important for customers to realise that the best scaffolding systems are no longer a simple commodity, but rather a highly developed technical product, according to Meva Solutions scaffolding firm marketing manager Jens Lützow-Rodenwoldt.

The best scaffolding may appear simple, but its integration into the construction system as a whole is not - the advantages are often hidden, but huge, he says.

"Many contractors may spend a fortune on equipment needed to erect the building, but then try and save on the scaffolding, which makes little sense," he adds.

"The money purportedly saved will generally be lost during time-consuming assembly and unnecessary on-site adaptations because the scaffolding doesn't fit. If a scaffold doesn't adapt to the circumstance, worker status, space requirements or stability demands, then it's too expensive to fiddle around with.

"Choose the best and only the best for the job because the site will say thanks and budgeting will hug you for it."

Assess the accessibility

One aspect that is often overlooked when purchasing scaffolding is vertical access requirements, says Jenkins. It's well known that ladders are the most dangerous piece of equipment on any site yet they are still commonly used in scaffolding set-ups.

"When you put ladders up through the scaffolding you're leaving huge holes for people to accidently fall down," explains Jenkins.

"In other cases the scaffolding itself is the only way to climb up. You can eliminate this safety hazard by choosing a scaffold that provides stairway access.

"We do a lightweight aluminium stairway that just drops in external to the scaffold so that the main walk-through of the scaffold is completely clear."

Ensure traceability

In the event of a problem with a scaffolding component, you must have traceability according to Braithwaite. As such, each item needs to have markings that indicate when and where it was manufactured.

"If you have a failure in five years time, you want to know it is from a particular batch that you bought five years ago," he says.

"We once had a problem with couplers and the manufacturer tracked it down to a particular problem with a particular batch.

"We had thousands of these couplers spread to the four corners of the earth, but because we had the traceability it was fairly easy to locate and quarantine them before it became a problem."

Suss out the supplier

There are as many scaffolding suppliers in the world as there are stars in the sky and on the surface it can appear that they're all offering similar services, but Lützow-Rodenwoldt says it pays to do a little research into their knowledge and experience before you commit.

"Many of these guys may never have seen their scaffold in an assembled condition, let alone have any on-site," he says.

"This may seem economical when purchasing or renting, but when the going gets rough and you need some expert advice, a commodity merchant won't have any know-how to offer. He can't afford to.

"So check the references before choosing a supplier; the better his experience, the bigger your advantage - something most purchasers and planners only realise when it's too late.

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MEVA Solutions:

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Ensure there's technical support

In the event of a failure Braithwaite says it's essential that the manufacturer has a strong technical support team that can help you.

"Imagine you buy 100,000 scaffold couplers and one of them fails, do you know whether it is a one off or whether the other 99,999 are going to fail as well?"

"We once had a failure of a single scaffold coupler and the manufacturer's technical expert took it away, analysed the problem and came back with a good reason why it had failed and was able to assure us it was a one off.

"Had we not had that service it would have cost a lot of money to remove all those fittings from the site and replace them with new ones."

Buy local

To ensure you get the support and service that you want, Jenkins says it's a good idea to buy from companies with a local presence and support team.

"If you're based in Bahrain and buy scaffolding from someone overseas and the nearest point of contact is in Germany, France or China, then you're not going to get very good support off them," he says.

"If you have a local support team then it can end up saving you a lot of time, effort and money."

Jenkins cites the unlimited technical support offered by Combisafe to its customers as an example.

"We send guys on site to measure up the project, prepare the drawings, do the calculations, prepare loading lists, method statements, risk assessments etc. To do what we offer they'd need to employ engineers," he says.

"You'd never get that from a fake manufacturer because they don't understand the industry."

Request independent tests

Any good manufacturer should already be supplying independent test certificates with its products. If they are not, then request one or stay away, says Braithwaite. If the manufacturer is not a regular supplier, he says it's also worth requesting an independent test every batch or so, until a level of trust is built.

"We've had certain manufactures send us samples that have been independently tested and complied with specification, but when you start buying the products the standard wasn't maintained," he says.

"They obviously got in a cheaper load of steel at some point or put different rivets in the couplers that were bending and things like that.

"So there needs to be some level of ongoing independent testing, such that the manufacturer can prove that they are maintaining the standard."

Check it yourself

Assuming you've been through all the aforementioned checks and balances, you should be in good stead to have all your bases covered, but a visual inspection of the scaffolding when it arrives in your yard is still a must says Braithwaite.

"You need someone to actually inspect it and make sure that what is delivered is what you have purchased - that it is properly marked, the correct size, it has a good quality finish and so on," he says.

"It's the final failsafe, if you like, before equipment is put to use. We use trained yard staff to inspect the material against visual work instructions which indicate exactly what needs to be checked for each component."

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