If you want to start a lively discussion among new engineers or contractors, ask them about the differences between shoring, reshoring, and backshoring. They all sound similar, but in reality, perform different jobs at different stages of the construction process. More importantly, the number of shores, reshores, and backshores are project-dependent. They also vary wildly according to climate and speed of construction. So, what are each of these things?
Shoring existing structures can be a tricky business and the older the building, the trickier it can become. Many older structures do not have drawings of the existing construction and if they do, they are not always reliable. Many buildings go through generations of remodel with additions, renovations and improvisations that are not always documented properly. Without proper documentation, it is sometimes difficult to determine the load bearing members in an existing building and this makes it difficult to shore. If you can’t figure out where the loads are concentrated, you can’t figure out how to safely and economically support anything.
An argument for re-establishing the Shoring & Forming Council in the Scaffold and Access Industry Association.
I recall my first involvement with the Scaffold Industry Association, SIA, in the early 1980’s. I was impressed by the people who were genuinely involved in making the use of the scaffolding and related products safer. I also recall how I was railroaded into taking the minutes for council meetings! In fact, I was inducted (or abducted) into the role of scribe for the Shoring and Forming Council. You read that correctly. Back then there was a Shoring and Forming Council. There also was no Fall Protection Council, Aerial Lift Council, or Hoist Council. Over the years the focus of the association has changed, evolving into an organization that emphasizes the various forms of access for workers. Concurrently, shoring and forming slowly diminished in scope and involvement to the point that it is no longer represented in the SIA.
This doesn’t mean that there are no members who are involved with shoring and forming. It also doesn’t mean that there are no issues with the use of these products. In fact, there actually is more commonality between scaffolding and shoring than you might think. On the other hand, scaffolding is definitely not shoring and shoring is not scaffolding. For this discussion, we’ll leave wall formwork alone except for the fact that the work platform on a wall form is a scaffold and consequently the scaffold standards in federal OSHA 1926, Subpart L apply.
What are the common elements between shoring and scaffolding you may ask? Well, fall protection is a common element; access is a common element; falling object protection is a common element; and, capacity and strength are common elements. The significant difference between scaffolding and shoring is that a scaffold is a temporary elevated platform and its supporting structure used to support workers or materials or both. Shoring, on the other hand, can be a system of structural elements used to support the formwork for concrete (the Jell-O® mold that holds the liquid concrete). Shoring can also be a system of structural elements used to support existing structures such as buildings while repairs or modifications are being performed. Since shoring and scaffolding are different structures, different OSHA standards typically apply although there is overlap in a number of areas. That is where the similarities come into play and thus it makes sense that the SIA should consider resurrecting the Shoring and Forming council.
For example, fall protection for shoring erectors has the same issues as fall protection for scaffold erectors. For new concrete construction, the shoring equipment is always at the top of building (that is logical) and consequently, there is no convenient anchor above the erectors unless the Goodyear® blimp is in the neighborhood. Supported scaffolding can have the same issue. Interestingly enough, a review of the OSHA standards show that the Construction Industry fall protection standards are applied by OSHA through the use of Letters of Interpretation. Unfortunately, it is a circuitous route that attempts to apply the standards in creative ways so as to justify a desired outcome. The results are confusing requirements for shoring erectors to contend with during their work.
Access for both scaffold erectors and shoring erectors is an intriguing topic for those who attempt to apply inappropriate standards. OSHA considers shoring frames to be working surfaces and therefore fall protection and/or positioning devices are required. If these same frames are used as scaffolding, and they can be, then they can be climbed by the erectors. Confused yet? Wait—there’s more! Access for shoring can really be interesting. While the erector shouldn’t climb the frame because it is not a ladder but rather a working surface, the erector doesn’t need to comply with the ladder standards because his access continues to move while the shoring is constructed and the access requirements of 29 CFR 1926-Subpart X were never intended to apply to this work activity. Are you confused yet?
The final frustration is when the compliance officer or site safety employee can’t figure out whether you are working on scaffolding or shoring. Applying the scaffold standards to the erection of shoring is like trying to apply the fixed ladder standards to a scaffold attachable ladder—it doesn’t work.
The Scaffold Industry Association members have a wealth of experience and expertise that can be used to clarify the intent and application of the standards while making life easier and safer for both the erectors and users of temporary structures. Is it time to resurrect the Shoring and Forming Council? I think it is.