Building Transformation:Abseiling verses scaffolding

When transforming the appearance of a building, there is considerable debate as to whether abseiling or scaffold methods are best.

There is no answer as to what is best, sometimes a combination of both is required. This article aims to present the major advantages and disadvantages for each access methodology and provides sound advice for building owners currently seeking maintenance quotes.

The last 15 years have seen considerable changes to workplace health and safety legislation that has resulted in penalties to contractors and building owners when regulations are breached. Along with the substantial increase in high rise developments over the last ten years, organising quotes for building maintenance has gone from something that might have once been simple, to sometimes a very complex and detailed process.amg43-refub-tired-building-4

A common question building owners are currently facing is whether it is better to access the high areas of the building by rope (abseil) or scaffold. Scaffold has long been considered the safest form of accessing high areas. There are numerous types of scaffolding, ranging from trestles (A frames), aluminium mobile scaffolds, fixed scaffold, swing stage scaffolding and vertical mast climbers. This article is mostly concerned with high level access, so we will review the advantages and disadvantages of scaffolding, swing stage scaffold and mast climbers.

Fixed (static) scaffolding – Static scaffolding can be expensive and invasive, however it is usually a very safe form of access. There are two types of static scaffolding, aluminium and steel scaffolding. Steel scaffolding is generally used for building projects that are over 10m in height and where the scaffold needs to encapsulate the building and is required for a long period of time. The cost of hire for fixed steel scaffold is lower than aluminium, however the costs for installation and dismantle are far more expensive.

Aluminium scaffold is designed for building repaints and maintenance up to a height of 9m where small sections of the building are scaffolded and the scaffold is dismantled and moved around the building. It is a very stable and accessible form of accessing low to medium height areas that allows building owners or representatives the opportunity to inspect the work to ensure it meets the required quality.

Swing stage scaffolding – Swing stage scaffolding is a suspended working platform swung from roof areas that is operated by two workers in the platform using motorised cables to gain a safe working adjacent to the work area. The benefits from using swing stage scaffolding includes:

• Time saving and cost effective alternative to a fixed scaffolding system

• Quick and easy to transport, install, relocate and dismantle

• Unlimited working height

It is statistically very safe, however the risk is much higher than all other forms of scaffolding. As such the legislation surrounding the use of swing stage scaffolding is heavily regulated and can be invasive to building owners. Swing stage scaffold has limits on weight and how many people can work from the stage platform and what training and experience they have.

Working from swing stages can be slower than static scaffold due to the down time associated with moving the stage into position each time to work. While technically a building owner or representative can inspect work from a swing stage, this isn’t always achievable as specific licenses are required and most people aren’t comfortable being in a swing stage 20m off the ground.

Mast climber scaffold – Mast climbers are a relatively new form of accessing high areas. They are best used on very high, broad wall areas, when swing stages aren’t acceptable (due to weight requirements, multiple trades, etc). They can range from 5m to 30m in width and can span up to 100m high when tied into the building. Mast climbers are very safe form of access and are becoming increasingly popular on projects where they provide an advantage. The set up and dismantle costs are very expensive when compared with swing stage scaffolding, meaning they are sometimes significantly more expensive. Building owners and representatives can safely and easily inspect work from a mast climber.

Abseiling – Accessing high areas from ropes sometimes has a distinct advantage by being cheaper and less invasive, there are certain disadvantages that building owners should be made aware of:

• Usually anchor points need to be installed, which can create additional costs and can sometimes cause damage to roof membranes and create areas for water penetration

• Sometimes access by ropes is not achievable, due to large overhangs or unsuitable roof types to install anchor points

• Production rates when abseiling are half or less in some cases than what they would be working out of an elevated work platform, swing stage or fixed scaffold, so what you might save in access costs can be eroded by higher
labour costs

• Where possible tradesmen such as painters that are trained as abseilers are the best option when quality is concerned, however the catch will be that they will be slower (impact on labour costs) in abseiling unless they have been doing it for many years. In brief the majority of experienced abseilers are not trade qualified and quality can be an issue, on the other hand trades people trained in abseiling are slower

• The perception is that abseiling saves costs and for a small job and that may well be the case, however when you consider higher labour costs, completion timelines, quality, inspection and warranty compliance on larger projects standard access methods are sometimes a better alternative and in some cases cost neutral

• Some major repairs to buildings (such as remedial concrete repairs and the removal of drummy or loose render, gutter replacement etc) are very hard to complete from ropes

• Building owners and representatives have no chance to inspect the work being completed, so are 100% reliant on the word of the contractor that the job has been completed correctly.

When considering major building maintenance, building owners should consider seeking the opinion of companies that have experience and detailed knowledge in the use all forms of scaffolding and rope access, as they will recommend the best form of access for your building.

There is no hard and fast rule over what methodology is better than the other, however each method needs to be considered in regards to safety, project timeframe and cost effectiveness.

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