Scaffold Towers: Their History, Components and Use

Many people think that scaffolds and scaffold towers are a relatively modern development. Not so. Scaffolds were used in ancient Greece at least 500 years BC. Records of ancient cultures in Egypt, Nubia and China indicate that these cultures used scaffolds extensively. Many early African cultures made use of scaffolds. To reach the apex of the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo designed his own scaffold, which was unique because instead of being deployed on the floor, he built his scaffold on brackets that were fitted into holes near the top of the chapel’s windows.

To facilitate work at height, a scaffold tower often is used instead of scaffolds. These are free-standing systems that are easy to move and adjust. A typical scaffold tower is fitted with castors that allow it to be moved. The castors lock securely into place when the tower is in use. Work platforms are accessed by an internal ladder system.

Scaffold Towers: Purpose, Structural and Safety Requirements

Scaffold towers are designed for long-duration work-at-height tasks. Their platforms are much more comfortable and safer to stand on than the rungs of a ladder. A major danger associated with standard ladders is overreaching, i.e., leaning too far to the left or right. To avoid overreaching, conventional ladders must be moved constantly, while the secure platform of a scaffold tower allows for greater reach without excessive and dangerous leaning. For information about the British standards for tower scaffolds, it’s wise to refer to the BS EN1004 standard.

Scaffold Towers: An Overview of Their Components

There are three major components of a scaffold tower: bars, frames and platforms. The bars and frames, which are usually made from aluminium or steel, provide the framework for the tower. Aluminium tubing is preferred because it’s light in weight and highly resistant to corrosion The bars are components that join the frame sections together. In many modern tower scaffolds, nuts and bolts are not needed, and a tower can be set up quickly by one or two workers. Once the tower structure is erected, the platforms that provide the tower’s working surface are fitted. These are made from seasoned wood, and come in a variety of thicknesses. Their length can vary, with the maximum being approximately 2.5m.  Other platform materials include steel, aluminium or laminate boards.

Scaffold Towers: Basic Components

A scaffold tower’s base section is one of its most important components. A solid and stable base unit means the tower will be safe for working at height for extended periods. Remember, though, that a scaffold tower’s base is only as stable as the surface on which it’s erected. That surface should be clean, dry and free of impediments. Although tempting, it’s never wise to use the cross braces to access a tower. Always use the tower’s integral ladder. One of the most important components of a scaffold tower is its bracing system. Always connect frames and panels with diagonal and / or crosswise braces. This will ensure that the vertical members are laterally and adequately braced.  Because the sections of the tower are stacked, it’s critical to use cross braces / bars to keep the structure square, level and plumb. Always secure brace connections to prevent them dislodging.

Scaffold Towers: More About Components

Every scaffold tower should be fitted with a guardrail system. In fact, standard rails are required on all towers. Install the rails at both ends of every platform and along all open sides of the structure. Always perform work from a platform, not from its ladder or other parts. Do ensure that the platform’s safe working load will accommodate both the worker and any tools and materials being used. In addition, platforms must be locked / secured to the horizontal bars in the frames to prevent dangerous uplift.

Scaffold Towers: The Importance of Regular Inspections

Before using a tower on a building site / industrial setting a competent, qualified person should perform a safety inspection. This is especially important for newly erected structures.  An inspection is also needed if there have been extensive alterations to the tower or if there has been an event that might compromise its integrity. If a tower is left in place for more than seven days, it’s wise to re-inspect it. If an inspection uncovers any parts or components of the tower that are deemed unsafe, the defect should be clearly marked. The tower should not be used until the condition is resolved by repair or replacement of the defective part. Only the manufacturer or a person designated by the manufacturer should be authorised to perform repair tasks.

Scaffold towers are the preferred access method for working at height for extended periods.

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