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Management of Scaffolds During Christmas Closure

19th December 2022

We asked Jamie Lyons, our Dorset-based scaffolding Health and Safety Advisor, what advice he would give to those managing construction sites, in relation to scaffolding inspection requirements over the Christmas break. Here’s what he said:

With Christmas only a couple of weeks away, it’s time for putting up the lights, decorating the tree and, for those who are lucky enough, some serious shopping! But if you manage a construction site, it’s also time to start planning how you close your site over the festive break.

The Christmas break tends to be the time when construction sites around the UK close down for the longest period. The festive break is always welcomed and well deserved for anyone who has worked outside during the recent colder, wetter months. However, failure to plan how to secure the site and your Christmas festivities could be rudely interrupted.

Consequently, there are likely to be scaffolds standing over the Christmas period so it is crucial to consider the following;

  1. How scaffolds can be protected and secured from unauthorised access;
  2. Inspection regimes for scaffolds that are not in use over the Christmas break.

To ensure scaffolds do not deteriorate in the time between the last inspection and the first inspection after the Christmas break it is important that they are left in good condition.  It may be necessary to secure all decking boards or temporarily remove materials that have been stored on loading bays or working platforms that could become detached by poor weather condition, for example, high winds.

It is the responsibility of the principal contractor / main contractor / client to ensure that any unauthorised access onto the scaffold is prevented. A risk assessment of the particular site should be undertaken to identify the practical methods of preventing access. However, the Work at Height Regulations 2005 (WAHR) state;

“While a scaffold is not available for use, including during its assembly, dismantling or alteration, it shall be marked with general warning signs in accordance with the Health and Safety (Safety Signs and Signals) Regulations 1996 and be suitably delineated by physical means preventing access to the danger zone.”

This should be achieved be physical means  such as removal of ladders or locking of stair towers etc and warning signs should be posted, advising that the scaffold is unsafe for use.

Where ladders at ground level need to remain in place, these should be made un-useable by for instance installing locked ladder guards. Where these are used, ensure that they fit the full width of the ladder and cover at least six rungs. Remember that trespassers are frequently young children looking for fun, and they may have small feet, so a minimal rung width should be exposed when the locked guard is pushed hard to one side.

As for the inspection requirements for scaffolds that are not in use over the Christmas period:

The requirement of WAHR  to inspect scaffolds that are in use is well known.  However, scaffolds that are not being accessed during the closure period do not need to be inspected every seven days. That said, the requirements of Regulation 19 of The Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 are not so well known  in a scaffolding context, and this states;

“All practicable steps must be taken, where necessary to prevent danger to any person, to ensure that any new or existing structure does not collapse if, due to the carrying out of construction work, it –

(a)          may become unstable; or

(b)          is in a temporary state of weakness or instability.”

This is interpreted to mean that steps must be taken to ensure that structures (which includes scaffolding) remain stable.

It is worth remembering that if any event occurs which could cause deterioration of the scaffold (Stormy weather or high winds, for example), then an inspection of the scaffold may well be required, and it may be necessary to re-open a closed site to check the integrity of the scaffold.

Have a great Christmas!