How to Choose the Right Type of Scaffolding 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.

Scaffolding used in construction gives crews access to an elevated work area, often the exterior of a building. There are several types of these temporary structures to choose from. One of the first things a contractor should consider when setting up a scaffold is the building's design and the kind of work that will be performed.

Scaffolding types

Different types of scaffolding 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. The most frequently used types are supported scaffolding and suspended scaffolding.

Supported scaffolding: The most common type of scaffolding

Supported scaffolding is a network of poles or other members supporting horizontal platforms. 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 scaffold: 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 in a variety of trades, including painting and stucco. It can support multiple workers and equipment. Frame scaffolds require a considerable amount of space around the building, so they are not always an option for limited-access spots.

Ladder jack scaffold: A ladder jack scaffold is constructed using two metal devices that attach to two ladders in order to 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 multiple crew members or heavy equipment.

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

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

Suspended scaffolding: Good for upper floors and tall buildings

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. Suspended 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 use suspended scaffolding.

No matter the type of scaffolding, contractors should follow all the safety rules and Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) 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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