Outlook or Look Out

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / January 1, 2005

What does the year 2005 hold for the scaffold industry?  Typically, at the beginning of the year all sorts of “experts” predict the future for those of us who don’t possess the requisite expertise to ascertain future events.  Having thought about it for a while, I decided that I could do as well as anybody else in predicting the future of the scaffold industry.  Besides, by this time next year, you will have forgotten what I said in January, 2005, unless, of course, I luck out and my predictions are true; then I’ll remind you of my incredible new found ability to predict the future.

First, here’s the bad news.  By the time you ring out 2005, one hundred or so unlucky construction workers will not be here to see the end of 2005 because they either did something unsafe on a scaffold or the scaffold was unsafe to them.  This prediction is based on the theory that history repeats itself.  In this case, 2005 won’t be any different than 2004, or 2003, or 2002, or—well, you get the idea.  Adding to that bad news is that many more won’t be in a decent physical condition to enjoy 2006 because of scaffold injuries.  I hope you aren’t in either of those two categories since I have not yet developed the ability to determine exactly who it is that will get injured and killed.  Wouldn’t it be great if I could do that?  I could call Joe the erector and tell him to take the day off so he doesn’t get killed!

I predict that training will continue to not live up to its expectations.  This isn’t because we aren’t trying.  Quite the contrary; we just aren’t listening.  Practical usage of scaffolding in 2004 has not mirrored the idealistic concepts presented in training.  If you disagree with that, you haven’t been to a commercial construction site in 2004.  Finally, in the bad news column, workers, managers, and others, will continue to refuse to accept responsibility for their actions.  The “shift the blame” game will continue in 2005.

Fortunately, there’s good news for the industry.  The construction forecast developed by others, with far more insight than I could ever hope to achieve, indicates that life will be good.  In turn, this will be good for the scaffold folks, unless all the commercial work is one story high!  Scaffold manufacturing will continue since we have an incredible appetite for scaffold components.  (Where do all those scaffold frames go, anyway?)  Traditional scaffold construction will continue in spite of what some prophets have to say.  The use of mast climbers and other mechanized access platforms will continue to increase while traditional scaffold products will maintain their presence.  (How can I go wrong with a statement like that.)

I predict that we will continue to train workers in the safe use of scaffolds with the hope that they will contradict conventional wisdom.  OSHA will continue its’ attempts to positively influence the death and injury rate although there appears to be little incentive from the federal government to change the status quo.  Large general contractors will continue to encourage and threaten sub-contractors to increase safety awareness and practices, even making up their own interpretation of OSHA regulations to fit the circumstance.  Industrial contractors will continue to lead the industry in safety because they’re better at it than the commercial construction contractors.

I predict that some scaffold suppliers will continue to use workers that are not fully trained due to the pressures of the marketplace and the necessary requirement to achieve continued profitability.

So what is the outlook?  I hope some of my predictions do not come true.  I hope some do.  You know which are which.  Can you help to change the negative to positive and improve on the positive?  Prove me wrong in the deaths and injuries.  Some things we can change, some we have to accept.  We may have to accept the state of the economy; we may have to accept conditions beyond our control.  However, you and I have an obligation to correct what we see as wrong.  This is why we train people.  This is why we have qualified people design and build scaffolds.  This is why we have safety standards.  Is your outlook good or should I look out?

Tags: Scaffolding Mast Climber OSHA predictions Resources scaffold predictions

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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