By David H. Glabe, P.E. / April 30, 1999

If the new currency issued by the US government is any indication, counterfeiting is big business. From a bogus airplane part to a phony Mickey Mouse, substandard fasteners to funny money, counterfeiting can occur anywhere, with all types of products. What about the scaffold industry? Can counterfeit products affect the typical scaffold user? The simple answer is yes. Counterfeiting can occur in several different ways, with a variety of different products.


Steel can be a prime source of counterfeiting. For example, bolts fabricated from inferior steel have been the cause of failures in various structures. Engineers are very concerned with the ramifications of faulty fasteners since failures due to these bogus fasteners are usually life threatening. It is difficult to spot faulty fasteners because the markings are identical to legitimate fasteners. In the scaffold business, these fasteners can wreak havoc on the safety of hoists, masts, machinery and other scaffold components. Consequently, it is imperative that you know your sources and that you are comfortable with your fastener supplier’s quality assurance program.


Steel used in the fabrication of frame and modular scaffold can be another source of counterfeiting. Steel counterfeiting can produce safety hazards in a variety of ways. One typical method is by outright fraudulent representation. The unscrupulous merchant will claim that the counterfeit product is exactly like a product produced by a legitimate manufacturer. In fact, the steel of the inferior product will not have the same strength as the legitimate item. Since the content of the steel cannot be identified by visual inspection, the unsuspecting user, assuming that both products are the same, will use the cheap imitation, only to have a failure that will cause serious injury or death. A twist on this concept is the manufacture of a scaffold frame or other component from steel that is not typical of a competing manufacturer but claiming that it is the identical product, including using the same name for the product. (That’s like building a car in your garage and saying that it’s a Ford!) The resulting confusion will produce potentially dangerous situations because of the strength reduction in the counterfeit product. Please note that this is not the same as producing an identical product and stating that it is comparable to that other product.


Another example of counterfeiting can occur with wood scaffold plank. To the untrained eye, all wood appears equal. Herein lies the trap. The unsuspecting consumer is told that the plank is scaffold grade when in fact it is not. Grade stamps are probably non-existent although the good counterfeiter will produce a bogus stamp so that the planks in question appear genuine. Obviously, once the planks are put into service, the window for disaster is opened and will not be closed until the entire inventory of plank is discarded. By then, injuries and death may have occurred. An easier trick, although not necessarily counterfeiting, is to place scaffold grade planks on the top and bottom of the bundle, filling the center with inferior planks. In either case, disaster lurks for the worker who relies on the inferior planks for support.


What can be done to avoid counterfeiting? With plank, solutions are somewhat easier than with steel products. Learn some fundamentals about the standards for scaffold grade plank such as the slope of grain, size of knots, and number of rings per inch. Purchase only from reputable suppliers, those who will provide references and legitimate documentation concerning their products. For steel, again deal only with reputable manufacturers who can verify the content of the steel and laboratory documentation of steel content. Reputable manufacturers constantly insist on steel content reports from the steel mills and frequently perform independent tests to insure the quality of their products. These steps verify the consistency of their products and provides the confidence that scaffold designers, erectors, and users require to ensure worker safety. Finally, above all else, the price might be the indication that something isn’t right. Purchasing plank at half the price may sound good but just as with other good “deals”, it might just be too good a deal. Be suspicious; you have the right, as buyer, to find out what you’re buying. And if that brand new scaffold frame is half the price of the competition, it just might be half the frame. Is it steel or steal?

Tags: Scaffolding Scaffold Components Hoists Resources steel counterfiting

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