How to Choose the Right Scaffold for the Job

When scaffolding is set up correctly, it provides workers with safe access to both single-story and multilevel building exteriors and interiors.

Whether it’s the responsibility of the subcontractor or general contractor to set up a scaffold, one of the first things to consider is the building's design and the kind of work that will be performed. Some of the following scaffold types can be used for the same type of work, so the choice often comes down to budget, the available space around the building and how long the work will take.

Supported scaffolding

Supported scaffolding — a network of poles or other members supporting horizontal platforms — is the most commonly used type. The supports usually can be beefed up to accommodate the added weight of additional equipment and workers if necessary. Some standard supported scaffolding types are:

Frame - This scaffolding is stationary and built from the ground up. It's a popular and relatively inexpensive option for a long-term project. It's used for a variety of trades like painting and stucco. It can support multiple workers and equipment. It also requires a considerable amount of space around the building, so it's not always an option for limited-access spots.

Ladder jack - A ladder jack scaffold is constructed using two metal devices that when attached to ladders create a stable base for a platform. This is a quick and easy solution, but it’s suitable only for light jobs like maintenance or touch-up at no more than ladder height. It is not designed to support the load of multiple crew members or heavy equipment.

Pump jack - This scaffold is supported by moveable brackets on vertical poles. It’s easily adjusted, like a car jack, and would work well for small siding and painting jobs or any other task that requires work at variable heights.

Mobile or rolling - This scaffolding is set on castors, so it can be moved easily to another section of work, assuming you have an even surface to be roll it on. It’s ideal for exterior and interior finishes where contractors need extended horizontal access along the surface.

Suspended scaffolding

A suspended scaffold consists of a platform with a guardrail system that can be raised up and down by ropes connected to an electric motor positioned on the roof.  This scaffolding is a good choice when work is located at the exterior upper floors of a building or when the building is so tall that erecting frame scaffolding is not practical. Window washing, repair and other maintenance contractors would use this type of scaffolding.  

No matter the type of scaffolding, contractors should follow all the safety rules and Occupational Safety and Health Administration guidelines for assembly, use and tear-down. OSHA provides a guide for the proper use of scaffolding in the construction industry.


Kim Slowey is a writer who has been active in the construction industry for 25 years and is licensed as a certified general contractor in Florida. She received her BA in Mass Communications/Journalism from the University of South Florida and has experience in both commercial and residential construction.


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