Scaffolds and scaffolding work are hazardous. You must have the right skills and capabilities to work with them safely.
Scaffolds: a definition
Scaffold—a temporary structure erected to support access or working platforms. Scaffolds are commonly used in construction work so workers have a safe, stable work platform when work can’t be done at ground level or on a finished floor.
- Under the model WHS Act, the scaffold is classified as a structure. Regulations relating to structures and plant both apply to the scaffold.
Scaffolding—the individual components, for example tubes, couplers or frames and materials that when assembled form a scaffold.
- Under the model WHS Act, these individual components are classified as plant.
Scaffolding work—erecting, altering or dismantling a temporary structure erected to support a platform and from which a person or object could fall more than four metres from the platform or the structure.
- Under the model WHS Regulations, much scaffolding work is classified as high risk and must be carried out by someone who holds the appropriate class of high-risk work licence.
Work health and safety duties
Everyone in the workplace has work health and safety duties. Some have specific responsibilities for scaffolds and scaffolding, including:
- scaffolding contractors and workers who carry out scaffolding work
- principal contractors for construction projects where the cost of construction work is $250,000 or more.
For further information on the duties relating to scaffolds see the General guide for scaffolds and scaffolding work.
You should manage risks by following a systematic process of:
- Identifying hazards—find out what could go wrong and what could cause harm.
- Assessing risks if necessary—understand the nature of the harm each hazard could cause, how serious the harm could be and the likelihood of it happening.
- Controlling risks—implement the most effective control measures that are reasonably practicable in the circumstances.
- Reviewing control measures to ensure they are working as planned.
Further guidance on the risk management process see the model Code of Practice: How to manage work health and safety risks and Identify, assess and control hazards.
Find out what could cause harm
When it comes to scaffolding, the following can help you identify potential hazards:
- Walk around the workplace to identify areas where scaffolds are used or scaffolding work is performed and where there is interaction with vehicles, pedestrians and fixed structures.
- Look at the environment in which the scaffold is to be used including checking ground conditions.
- Identify the major functional requirements of the scaffold like the maximum live and dead loads and access requirements.
- Inspect the scaffolding before and after use.
- Ask your workers about any problems they encounter or anticipate at your workplace when constructing or interacting with scaffolds and scaffolding work—consider operation, inspection, maintenance, repair, transport and storage requirements.
- Inspect the erected scaffold.
- Review your incident and injury records including near misses.
Take action to control the risk
For risks it is not reasonably practicable to completely eliminate, 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, for example 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, for example install concrete barriers to separate pedestrians and powered mobile plant from scaffolds to minimise the risk of collision.
- Use engineering controls, for example provide toe boards, perimeter containment sheeting or overhead protective structures to prevent objects falling and 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, for example storing scaffolding as close as practicable to the work area to minimise the distance over which loads are manually moved.
- Use PPE, for example 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.
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.
Before starting scaffolding work
A primary objective of scaffold planning and design is to prevent scaffold collapse before, during and after placement of the scaffold. The collapse of a scaffold can cause death or significant injury to workers or passers-by and damage structures.
Choosing a scaffold
Managing the risks associated with scaffolds and scaffolding work begins when you first start making decisions about how scaffolds are going to be used at a workplace and what type of scaffold will be best and safest for the job.
For more information on different scaffold types see:
- Guide to scaffolds and scaffolding
- Guide on suspended (swing stage) scaffolds
- Information Sheet: Tower and mobile scaffolds
Designing the scaffold
A designer must prepare a safety report for a specific or unusual scaffold design, but not for common scaffold designs where the risks are already known. In essence, the designer is responsible for selecting the appropriate scaffolding and preparing a scaffold design for the job.
Identified risks can be controlled through good design of:
- scaffolding—the model WHS Act classifies these individual components as plant
- the scaffold—the model WHS Act classifies this as a structure that is covered by both Parts 5 and 6 of the model WHS Regulations
- work systems and processes for the safe erection, alteration and dismantling of the scaffold.
For more information on the safe design of plant and structures see:
Designers of individual scaffold components
Scaffolding designers have a duty to design scaffolding that is safe to manufacture, assemble and use
for the purpose it was designed for. Scaffolding may be bought, hired in or supplied, for example by a scaffolding contractor.
Designers of scaffold structure
The scaffold designer is responsible for selecting the appropriate scaffolding and preparing a scaffold design for the job. They should consider:
- the intended use of the scaffold
- hazards and risks for those who erect, dismantle, use or are near the scaffold
- the foundations including ground conditions
- the load bearing capacity of the surface where the scaffold is to be erected or the suspension systems for hung or suspended scaffolds
- dead loads, for example resulting from the size and weight of the scaffold
- live loads, for example workers, plant and material on the scaffold
- environmental loads, for example wind loads
- bracing, tying and anchors—where anchors will be placed on the supporting structure and types of anchors to be used
- supporting structures
- edge protection
- protection against falls and falling objects
- containment sheeting
- safe entry and exit.
Where necessary, improved scaffold stability may be achieved by:
- tying the scaffold to a supporting structure
- guying to a supporting structure
- increasing the dead load by securely attaching counterweights near the base
- adding bays to increase the base dimension.
Scaffolds should be designed by a competent person, for example someone who holds a relevant scaffolding high-risk work licence.
The system of work
Systems of work should be clear but flexible to meet changing circumstances as the work progresses. These include:
- worker competency and licensing requirements
- consultation and coordination of the work with others
- access and exit
- exclusion zones
- permit-to-work systems
- fall arrest systems
- inspection and maintenance
- emergency arrangements
- changes to the work arrangements.
The types of documentation you may require depend on the scaffolding and scaffold. For example:
- The design of prefabricated scaffolding must be registered in accordance with the model WHS Regulations.
- The construction of a scaffold where someone could fall more than two metres is defined as high risk construction work under the model WHS Regulations and requires a SWMS. A SWMS will set out the work method to safely erect, use and dismantle a scaffold.
For more information on scaffolding documentation and plans see our General Guide for Scaffolds and Scaffolding Work.
Competency and licensing
- If you are carrying out scaffolding work where there is a risk of a person or object falling more than four metres, you must hold a scaffolding high-risk work licence. For example if you erect a small frame to clean the eaves of a house or to paint a ceiling, and the distance you might fall is four metres or less, you don’t need a high-risk work licence.
There are three classes of scaffolding high-risk work licence: basic, intermediate and advanced.
|High-risk work licence||Description of class of high risk work|
|Basic scaffolding||Scaffolding work involving any of the following:
|Intermediate scaffolding||Scaffolding work involving any of the following:
|Advanced scaffolding||Scaffolding work involving any of the following:
For more detailed information on setting up and operating scaffolds see our General guide for scaffolds and scaffolding work.
You should develop procedures to inspect and maintain any scaffolding to make sure it’s safe to use and remains that way.
For suspended, cantilevered, spur and hung scaffolds and any other scaffold from which a person could fall more than four metres:
- The scaffold must not be used unless there is written confirmation from a competent person that they have inspected the scaffold and construction of the scaffold is complete.
- The scaffold and its supporting structure must be inspected by a competent person:
- before the scaffold is used after an incident has occurred that might affect the stability of the scaffold
- before the scaffold is used after repairs
- at least every 30 days.
- If an inspection indicates that a scaffold or its supporting structure creates a risk to health or safety:
- any necessary repairs, alterations and additions must be made
- the scaffold and its supporting structure are inspected by a competent person before the scaffold is used.
- Unauthorised access to the scaffold must be prevented while the scaffold is incomplete or unattended.
Scaffolds with a fall risk of less than four metres should also be inspected before use and after any incident, repair, alteration or addition.
Inspecting scaffolds and scaffolding at a workplace is particularly important when the scaffold is in place for a long time.
For more information on inspecting and maintaining scaffolds see our Guide to scaffold inspection and maintenance.
Types of scaffolds and scaffolding
A birdcage scaffold is an independent scaffold that has more than two rows of standards in both directions that are connected by ledgers and transoms. It is mainly used for work carried out on a single level, for example ceilings. You should refer to its specifications when erecting and dismantling birdcage scaffolds made from modular scaffolding.
Bird cage scaffold
A trestle scaffold is assembled from prefabricated trestles, braces and accessories. Trestle scaffolds, for example A-frame and H-frame trestle scaffolds are commonly used by bricklayers, plasterers and painters and for general fit-out and finishing work. Trestle scaffolds generally do not require a licensed scaffolder to erect or dismantle.
‘A-frame’ trestle scaffold
A hung or hanging scaffold is an independent scaffold that hangs from another structure but can’t be raised or lowered when in use.
Single pole scaffold
A single pole scaffold consists of a single row of standards connected by ledgers. Putlogs are fixed to the ledgers and built into the wall of the building or structure.
A single pole scaffold is dependent on the structure against which it is placed for support. It is important that no components of this type of scaffold are removed until the scaffold is being dismantled.
Single pole scaffold
Suspended (swing stage) scaffold
A suspended scaffold incorporates a suspended platform capable of being raised or lowered when being used. An example of a suspended scaffold is a swing-stage scaffold.
Suspended (swing stage) scaffold
For further information see our Guide to suspended (swing stage) scaffolds.
Tower and mobile scaffolds
A tower scaffold is an independent scaffold that has four vertical standards connected longitudinally and transversely, or two frames in plan connected transversely to create a scaffold of one bay.
A mobile scaffold is a tower scaffold mounted on wheels.
For further information see our Information Sheet: Tower and mobile scaffolds.
Scaffolds for demolition work
At a minimum, heavy or special duty scaffolds should be used during demolition work to contain dislodged materials or to provide a safe working platform and edge protection for workers.
For further information on demolition work see the model Code of Practice: Demolition work.
Special duty scaffolds
Special duty scaffolds have a specified design load for that scaffold only. A special duty scaffold differs from other scaffold working platforms that are generally rated as light, medium or heavy duty, and have a standardised maximum load rating and minimum dimensions.
Examples of common special duty scaffolds include:
- cantilever scaffolds are supported by cantilevered load-bearing members
- hanging bracket scaffolds are systems supported by frames on buildings or other structures
- spur scaffolds are supported by inclined load-bearing members.
Tube and coupler scaffolds
These are built from tubing and joining or fixing components (couplers) fixed together to form the required scaffold design. They are frequently used on structures with unusual designs, shapes or functions. The versatility of tube and coupler scaffolds means they can be assembled in a wide variety of different configurations. This also means erecting tube and coupler scaffolds can be complex when compared to prefabricated scaffolds.
This is defined as ‘an integrated system of prefabricated components manufactured in such a way that the geometry of assembled scaffolds is pre-determined’. It can include modular, tower, cantilever, hung and suspended (swing-stage) scaffolds and must be design registered as required under Part 1 of Schedule 5 to the model WHS Regulations.
SWA is not a regulator and cannot advise you about scaffolds or scaffolding compliance. If you need help, please contact your work health and safety authority.