*NEW* System Access Fundamentals (SAFE) Erector

The System Access Fundamentals (SAFE) Erector course is a 5 day training program designed for non-scaffolders who require the ADDED SKILL to erect, inspect, modify and dismantle basic industrial “system” scaffolds for their own access and maintenance operations. This course is designed to comply with local provincial/territorial regulations and the national CSA Z797 and S269 Scaffolding Standards.

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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.

The WHO?

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:

  1. The ability to recognize all hazards in the scaffold, AND
  2. 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.

NEXT IN THIS SERIES: “WHAT” is being inspected on the scaffolds?

Are you interested in scaffold training for your personnel and/or supervisors at your site? Or would you like an objective audit of your site’s scaffolding operations? Please contact me today Stephen@scaffoldacademy.com






Scaffolding’s “Dirty Little Secret” – Part 1

We have a HEAVY DUTY problem in the North American scaffolding industry. The issue is: scaffold load calculations and duty ratings.

Required by law, all scaffolds in the United States and Canada MUST be built with safety factors. Based on the loads likely to be imposed on them, these ratings must be calculated by a competent person and clearly communicated to the scaffold users.

It sounds simple enough. Surely, no one would ever build or use a scaffold without knowing what it’s rated for – right?

Wrong! Sadly, it happens every day.

Every day, scaffolds are being erected by personnel who do not, (or cannot) accurately rate the load capacity of the scaffold system. Every day, scaffolds are being used by workers who have NO CLUE what they can safely load on the system.

Last month in Toronto, a supervisor was sent to jail for this very issue. Four workers were killed and another seriously injured because they repeatedly overloaded a poorly rated scaffold in 2009.

So, what are the scaffolds on YOUR site rated for? And how well do you believe you can trust those ratings?

Here are some tips that you can use to dig a little deeper into the scaffold load ratings at your site:

  1. Are your scaffolds tagged? If not, how is the scaffold erector communicating the vital scaffold information to the user? Tagging systems are not specifically required by all regulations – however in practice, they are vital communication devices that should be used on all industrial, construction and maintenance scaffolds.
  2. Is there a rated load? Supported scaffolds are usually tagged with a duty rating: Light, Medium or Heavy. Suspended scaffolds are typically tagged with a net platform load (i.e. 750 lbs, 1,000 lbs, 1,250 lbs, etc). If there is no rated load, how do you prevent the users from overloading and possibly failing the scaffold?
  3. Are all the supported scaffolds on your site tagged with the SAME duty rating? Many scaffold erectors, when they don’t (or can’t) do their load calculations – typically tag everything as “Light Duty” and hope for the best. This could be the sign of a much bigger problem.
  4. Do your scaffold erectors have access to the manufacturer’s technical manual(s) for the scaffold system(s) you have on site? If not, what are they doing their load calculations from?
  5. When asked, are your scaffold erectors able to clearly and calmly discuss the topic of load calculations with you? Or, are they evasive and/or defensive about the subject? Are they “covering up” for their inability to rate their scaffolds? This could indicate a serious knowledge gap.
  6. If you gave one of your scaffold erectors a blank sheet if paper and a pencil – would they be able to produce for you a calculated rated load on any simple scaffold? If not, you know you have a problem.

If these questions reveal any gaps in your site’s scaffolding program – these problems can be corrected with some remedial training and procedures. But don’t delay, scaffold load ratings are critical to your site’s safe scaffold operations.

In Part 2 of this series I will get into the topic of the types of load calculations that need to be performed and the circumstances when additional verification, such as scaffold engineering may be necessary.

If you have any questions on this topic, or would like to discuss this further – please contact me at Stephen@scaffoldacademy.com. If you have any comments or feedback please post them below!

Scaffolding’s “Dirty Little Secret” – Part 2

In Part 1 of this series, I suggested that we have a “Heavy Duty” problem with the lack of proper Load Calculations on North American scaffolds. It appears that I was not alone in this observation, and thanks to everyone for your overwhelming encouragement and feedback!

As the saying goes, we can be either “part of the problem or part of the solution”. And the time has come to shine a light on scaffold load calculations and what to do about them!

If you are wondering about your own site’s scaffolds and whether they are competently rated and tagged – the following definitions will help you dig deeper into your scaffold situation and find some solutions:

What is a Scaffold Load Rating?

A scaffold load rating is a simple weight rating that gets communicated to the Scaffold USER. Typically expressed on the scaffold tag, it can be given as a duty rating such as “Medium Duty” or 50 PSF or as a simple number such as 1,000 lbs. It is a number that the scaffold users must be trained to evaluate, interpret and, most importantly, to understand that it cannot be exceeded. This rating is almost always given as a “Uniformly Distributed Load” – meaning that the weight must be distributed throughout the platform area and not a “Point Load” – where the weight is focused on only one location on the platform.

What is a Scaffold Load Calculation?

The scaffold load calculation is a multi stage process of evaluating the ENTIRE SCAFFOLD STRUCTURE to determine the scaffold load rating based on factors of safety. Our teaching method is to address the scaffold as a “chain” of components – and as the cliché goes…“a chain is only as strong as it’s weakest link”. Therefore, the weakest scaffold component will determine the ultimate scaffold load rating.

What are the “links of the chain” for Scaffold Load Calculations?

For the purposes of a SUPPORTED scaffold load calculation, the main component groups are: Foundation, Standards (Posts), Ledgers (Bearers), and Platforms. The foundation, for example, could be the weakest link if the scaffold was erected on an engineered surface such as a rooftop. The ledgers, on the other hand, could be the weakest link if they are in long spans or they are bearing multiple platform loads.

For a SUSPENDED scaffold load calculation, the primary component groups are: the Suspension System, the Cables, the Hoisting Equipment and the Platform. In this case, the suspension system could be the weakest link based on counterweight calculations or rooftop strength or conversely, the platform could be the weakest link based on its size or construction.

In both cases, a trained and competent person must be able to perform separate calculations on each component group to determine the “weakest link” and therefore the scaffold load rating.

By far, the majority of most “everyday” scaffold load calculations can be performed by a properly trained scaffold erector and/or competent person. (Be careful, however, you’ll be surprised to find out that not many scaffold training programs cover scaffold load calculations!)

However, there are a large number of conditions in which additional investigation and verification may be required – typically by a professional engineer. In Part 3 of this series we will detail some of the conditions in which scaffold engineering may be required and what “scaffold engineering” should look like.

If you have any questions on this topic, or would like to discuss this further – please contact me at Stephen@scaffoldacademy.com. If you have any comments or feedback please post them below!






These conditions include the following (check your local regulations and standards):


Scaffolds requiring anchorage (hanging, complex ties, etc) may require structural verification.

Scaffolds that are very tall. (requirements vary by jurisdiction)

Scaffolds that will have multiple loaded platforms in the same bay.

Scaffolds that will face severe wind conditions and/or are enclosed.

Scaffolds with large cantilevers or other large eccentric loading.

Scaffolds that are to be rated for more than Heavy Duty ratings.

Scaffolds built on engineered surfaces such as rooftops or floors.

Scaffolds built on trusses or cantilevers.

Scaffolds that may face abnormal “bending” forces particularly on the standards or posts.


In any of these cases, additional verification will be required. Engineered scaffolds must be designed by engineers who UNDERSTAND scaffolds. Stamped drawings mist be issued for the structure, erecting and inspecting procedures and, of course, scaffold load ratings.










Scaffold Tagging: Failure To Communicate

If I have a few “soapbox” moments in my scaffold erector and inspector training classes (and I do) – this is one of them. Used properly, scaffold tags can protect workers, prevent failures, and save lives. However, these important safety devices have become the most twisted, convoluted, and misunderstood tools on your site, – and their misuse is endangering your workers. Here’s why….


What Scaffold Tags ARE:

In their most basic form, scaffold tags are COMMUNICATIONS devices. They are a color coded means of your scaffold ERECTORS to communicate vital information to your scaffold USERS. All scaffold tags should contain at least 4 pieces of basic scaffold information:

  1. Identification: A scaffold name, number or code.
  2. Date: The most recent date of completion, modification or inspection.
  3. Contact: The name of the Erector, Inspector or Competent Person.
  4. Load Rating*: The basic load or duty rating of the scaffold.


  • Scaffold Load Rating is entirely another important discussion unto itself. In “Scaffolding’s Dirty Little Secret” – we identified some of the industry’s challenges in determining proper load ratings for scaffolds.


What Scaffold Tags ARE NOT:

Scaffold tags are NOT “ass covering” devices. They are NOT a way of the erector to disclaim their scaffolds to users. They are NOT fine print – rather, they are BOLDLY and CLEARLY worded instructions about the safe use of the scaffold.

One of the causes of this confusion is a misinterpretation of the scaffold tag color coding system (i.e. Green, Yellow, Red). Here’s what the tag colors SHOULD mean:

GREEN TAGS mean that it’s a REGULAR scaffold. “Regular” in this case means that the scaffold has no special operating instructions or hazards that the user must be aware of. Green tagged scaffolds would have the normal, typical risks associated with any scaffold – such as work at height, climbing, egress, etc. Green tags should contain the 4 pieces of information identified above, and depending on your industry, green tagged scaffolds should represent some 75% – 90% of the supported scaffolds on your site.

It has been an unfortunate trend on many industrial sites that they now have NO GREEN TAGGED SCAFFOLDS! All of their scaffolds are tagged yellow – thereby defeating the effectiveness of the communications system.

YELLOW TAGS, logically, will therefore mean that it’s an IRREGULAR scaffold. “Irregular” means that there is something special about the scaffold that the user must be made aware of, more specifically – a precaution or action that the user must take when using the scaffold. Yellow tags should contain all 4 pieces of information identified above – PLUS a specific instruction to the user on what makes the scaffold irregular.

As noted above, many sites have chosen to exclusively (and improperly) use yellow tags on their scaffolds. In addition, these tags are incompletely filled out – often omitting the scaffold load rating and the critical instructions to the users. Another dangerous tactic is tagging all scaffolds at “Light Duty” – this may also mean a lack if proper scaffold rating.

RED TAGS, fortunately, are often the least confused scaffold tags. Red tags simply mean “DO NOT USE” and are typically installed OVER the green or yellow tag when a defect or concern is identified. The only worker who is permitted to be on a red tagged scaffold is the erector – whose sole purpose is to be correcting or dismantling the scaffold.


  • Grab a clipboard and take a walk around your site. If you find that your scaffolds are predominantly untagged or tagged yellow, with no load rating, with incomplete or vague instructions – then you have a major potential liability on your hands.
  • Talk to your scaffold users and erectors. Ask them about the scaffold tagging system, what it means and how they use it. The responses you receive will speak VOLUMES as to the effectiveness of your tagging system.
  • Challenge the validity and veracity of your site’s tags. If your erectors are tagging all your scaffolds as “Light Duty” – ask for their load calculations. If all of your site’s scaffolds are yellow tagged – then investigate as to why. If you have no tags on your scaffolds, or no load ratings – then you have a major issue!

If you need any more info on this or any other scaffolding issue please feel free to contact me through message, inMail or by email at Stephen@scaffoldacademy.com