What’s New in the Scaffold Industry

By David H. Glabe, P.E. / January 31, 2002

If a new product is to be successful, it must comply with applicable standards.  More importantly, a new product must improve productivity, efficiency, or decrease costs if it is to be successful.  Therein lies the challenge:  provide a product that is innovative, cost effective, in demand, andstill be compliant with industry standards.  While this may seem easy to accomplish, the fact is that it becomes very difficult, particularly if the product is so innovative it far exceeds the expectations of the applicable standards, or if the product is so unusual it doesn’t “fit” within existing standards.


The Federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration, OSHA, scaffold standards anticipate new developments in the industry by being performance standards, as opposed to being specification standards.    Performance standards anticipate new developments by setting minimum expectations of performance.  For example, OSHA standards do not specify how strong a scaffold must be, only that it must be four times stronger than the load it is expected to support.  This means that you can design a scaffold whatever way you would like, using any material you would like, as long as it can hold four times more than the load you put on it.  Make it out of Styrofoam if you think it’s a good idea, just make sure it can hold four times the load.


What does this mean for new products?  Innovation is enhanced, imaginations are stimulated, and the scaffold industry is constantly exposed to improvements.  New designs can be evolutionary or better yet, revolutionary.  In either case, the developer of a new product is hopefully rewarded with recognition and sales.  Additionally, in a perfect world, people will beat a path to your door, wanting more of a good idea.  In the real world, the results are not so clear or evident.  Besides misapplication of the standards, the promoter of the new product may be less than honest in the attributes and advantages of the product.  For example, a developer of a new scaffold frame may claim the capacity is equivalent to a well established brand but costs only half as much.  Why is this?  Has a new fabrication process been developed that dramatically cuts the labor costs of manufacture?  Is the material acquired from a low cost producer?  Or, are the claims unfounded and false.


In the scaffold industry, the concept of “buyer beware” seems to be rather prevalent.  Performance based standards, while allowing for great flexibility, unfortunately can also result in abuse.  Claiming that a Brand X scaffold frame is just like Brand Y’s scaffold frame should mean that both perform equally, can be assembled equally, and can hold loads equally.  If the price isn’t equal, find out why.  Brand X may truly be a great product.  On the other hand, the truth may be stretched.  Ask for documentation, ask for proof.  Compare material by asking for written confirmation of the content.  The analysis of material content must be done by an independent laboratory and their report should tell you if the material being offered is inferior, equal, or better than the material it is being compared to.  If you don’t understand the report, hire an expert who can help you.


Have tests been done on the equipment?  If so, do they conply with standardized testing procedures, such as those established by the Scaffold, Shoring, And Forming Institute, (SSFI), an organization of reputable industry manufacturers who are concerned about the quality of products in the market.  Has the testing been witnessed by an independent agency that can objectively confirm the accuracy of the results.  What about performance and maintenance claims?  What quality are other components of the product, such as paint, welds, and galvanizing?  Is it the quality that is claimed?  Ask for proof.


If you are purchasing products that are typically reviewed by an independent agency, verify that the agency is recognized by industry or government.  For example, the American Lumber Standards Committee recognizes independent grading agencies that set grading requirements for scaffold plank.  Is your plank graded by one of these agencies?  Underwriters Laboratories and the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) are other examples of agencies that have set minimum requirements for products.  In some cases the requirements are very specific and other times the requirements are performance oriented.  It is your obligation to determine if the product meets the standards, either by requiring the seller to prove it to you, or you proving it to yourself.


Progress stands still for no one.  But progress is only progress when it is legitimate.

Tags: Scaffolding forming new products OSHA OSHA standards OSHA Standards & Regulations Resources

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David H. Glabe, P.E.

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