Is it an industrial scaffold or a commercial scaffold?  That is the question that I am regularly asked.  And what is the answer?  Simply stated, I doubt there is a difference.  Now, before you industrial erectors get in a tizzy, there is no doubt that there is a difference in the application of the scaffold and the circumstances and environment where an industrial scaffold is used.  However, the physics, engineering, and safety are all the same.

So, is there a difference between industrial scaffolds, commercial scaffolds, and we may as well add maintenance scaffolds to the discussion?  I dare say that there is a difference.  Here is why I think so.  An industrial scaffold is normally used by trades that may never see a commercial project.  And so it is also true for commercial project scaffold users.  For example, I don’t think I have ever seen a stucco contractor working in an oil refinery.  But, on the other hand, I have seen a pipe fitter working in both a power plant and a high rise office building.  What makes the scaffold in each purpose different isn’t in the type of equipment but rather in its application to the specific situation.  Typically, systems scaffolds and tube & coupler scaffolds are a common sight at a refinery because these scaffolds provide the most versatility in reaching the desired location and elevation.  Conversely, frame scaffolds are the most common scaffolds on commercial sites because the congestion is so much less.  This is not to say the systems scaffolds are not seen on commercial sites; typically they are used on commercial sites due to their increased strength over frame scaffolds.  It is also true with tube & coupler scaffolds; you will find this equipment on commercial sites as auxiliary equipment that provides additional bracing for the primary scaffold.

The real difference, in my opinion, is in the procedural controls that have long been established at industrial projects that now are slowly expanding onto commercial projects.  The first example is the use of a tagging system.  As far as I know, this system began in refineries, chemical plants, power plants and other similar facilities.  It is based on a very tight control over the procedures that are in place at the facility.  And the tagging system works because of the tight controls.  Typically, the scaffold erector in an industrial plant also is responsible for the pre-workshift inspection of the scaffold.  Users of the scaffolds, besides having the training to recognize safety hazards on scaffolds, respect the tag and have been trained that if the tag is not current, the scaffold is not to be used.  Furthermore, the users understand that they (the users) shall not modify the scaffold; that task is left to the authorized trained and experienced workers charged with that work. And, obviously, if the tag is red the scaffold should not be used.  These kinds of controls, based on my experience, rarely exist on a commercial scaffold.

Another area where industrial scaffolds differ from commercial scaffolds is the platform.  The tendency at industrial facilities is to cover all openings in platforms with plywood, specifically the gaps that occur at scaffold legs and stairways.  Although the standards allow for these types of openings, industrial scaffold users prefer to have the gaps covered.  Such is not the case on many commercial sites where the gap between the main scaffold platform and say, the cantilever platform on the side brackets, is accepted and typical.  Next, due to the congestion at refineries, it is not uncommon to see multiple small platforms on a given scaffold.  Many of these platforms will be as small as 2 or 3 feet by 4 or 5 feet while on commercial sites the platform can be continuous along the entire face of the structure.

Access is another area where there is a difference, more because of the type of scaffold equipment being used than any other reason.  Since systems scaffolds are so prevalent in industrial environments, an attachable ladder is required (unless stairs are being used).  On commercial sites, where frame scaffolds are used, ladders will be omitted if the frame can be used for access.

Falling object protection is also addressed differently between commercial and industrial applications.  It is common for toeboards to be installed on all industrial scaffold platforms while commercial scaffolds may utilize alternative means of falling object protection including canopies and catch platforms.  Screens and barricades are common to both types of projects.

Finally, fall protection has notable differences between industrial and commercial scaffolds although there seems to be a merging of concepts in this regard.  It has been common in some industrial locations that all scaffold users utilize both guardrails and personal fall arrest equipment.  More importantly, scaffold erectors have been required to utilize personal fall protection, or at least “hook off” 100 per cent of the time.  That policy has now been adopted by general contractors in the commercial construction industry and we will see more companies insisting on 100 per cent tie off whether it is effective or not and despite it may not comply with the applicable standards and regulations.

So, as you can see, the scaffold is the same; it is only the application of the scaffold to meet the requirements of the customer and the restrictions of the site that makes industrial scaffolds different from a commercial scaffold.  Let’s face it—an injury or death is still an injury or death.  It doesn’t matter what type of scaffold it is; the scaffold has to be erected and used correctly no matter where it is.

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