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Is it Safe to snub the NASC old guard?


System scaffolding's big boys have started an association of their own.

Can the relationship between them and traditional scaffolders remain friendly or has the 'ght suddenly got dirty? Phil Bishop investigates

THE SCAFFOLDING sector is not exactly under-endowed with trade bodies, so is there need for a new one?

Last month a group of system scaffolders set up camp to deal with their own specif ic needs.

Since the UK market is still dominated by tube and fitting scaffolders, it could be argued that they are forming an elite breakaway group, in direct rivalry with organisations such as the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation. But Gary Gallagher of founding member Turner Access demurs. 'I hope we can work together, ' he says.

The new group, System Association-Fall Elimination, currently comprises manufacturers and safety consultants, and hopes to involve further market players. It was started in response to two coinciding regulatory issues.

Last year saw the introduction of a new European Standard for scaffolding, replacing the old British Standard 5973. The most controversial of the new requirements it imposes is the provision of unhindered access along a platform, which includes ledger bracing traditionally used in tube and fitting scaffold.

While the NASC is fighting to provide guidance for tube and fitting scaffolders to allow them to conform to the new standard, system scaffolders are already ahead of the game. System scaffold, which is used almost exclusively across mainland Europe, does not require ledger bracing to make its structure secure.

The second event to prompt the launch of Safe was the long-expected Work at Height Regulations 2005. These introduce a preferred hierarchy in the methods used when working at height. The Health and Safety Executive consistently favours preventing a fall from occurring rather than fall arrest.

Once scaffold is erected it is seen as fall prevent ion, but scaffolders who are putting up tube and fitting are at particular risk, traditionally wearing harnesses to keep them safe. But system scaffolding companies argue that their products can eliminate the risk of falling during erection by using advanced guardrails.

While advanced guardrails can be used while erecting tube and fitting, the process is not so smooth.

Tim Pope, chief engineer at manufacturer Peri, says: 'Systems are more modern. Some of them have been designed with the Work at Height Regulations in mind. System scaffold is the norm on the Continent. The new regulations push the door open for system applications here.' The German manufacturer is best known in the UK for its system falsework and formwork.

The dominance of traditional scaffold in the UK has until now persuaded Peri not to market its system scaffold in this country.

But Safe is keen to promote itself as more than just an elaborate sales pitch (an accusation that has been muttered among the tube and fitting community).

It's not just Safe's acronym that highlights what it claims as its principal agenda. The founder chairman is Clive Johnson, an independent safety expert and managing director of consultancy Fieldside Health & Safety Management.

For the past year he has been working as a consultant on the Heathrow Terminal 5 project.

Pre-empting the Work at Height Regulations, Mr Johnson specified the use of advance guardrails on the project for all aluminium towers over 2m high.

Mr Johnson says of Safe: 'One of the main reasons behind the association is to provide the industry with safer work systems and to set up our own training scheme. My aim is to stop people falling.' The training scheme is Safe's number one priority.

According to the NASC, anyone erecting, dismantling or altering any type of scaffold ? traditional or system ? should be trained through the Construction Industry Scaffolders' Record Scheme and hold a CISRS card.

Until now there has been no recognised training for system scaffold, but the NASC has developed a system-specific cou rse that will launch in September.

It seems that for the system companies this is a case of too little, too late.

'Six years ago the system manufacturers were invited by the NASC to produce a training course.

We did that, but it never got off the ground, ' says Mr Gallagher. 'It has taken them six years to produce guidance on wearing harnesses. It moves too slowly.' This is the argument for making Safe a separate entity from the NASC, rather than a subcommittee. Its members felt they could move more quickly alone, outside of an organisation dominated by tube and fitting firms.

Safe believes non-scaffolders should, with training, be allowed to put up system scaffolding. The model here is the PASMA training scheme for aluminium towers.

'We are hoping that by the end of the year there will be an NVQ, ' says Mr Johnson. To help develop and supervise the training programme, Construction Industry Training Board national training manager Chris Barratt is on Safe's council and a seat has also been allocated for the HSE. The ultimate goal is to become part of the Construction Skills Certification Scheme.

Safe also wants to educate the market about the dangers of mixing and matching components from proprietary systems with parts from other sources. These can be imported through unapproved distribution channels, and although they may look similar do not share the same design codes and standards.

This principle is already championed by the Original Scaffolding Equipment Manufacturers, a body whose members include Safe founding companies Turner Access/Plus Eight and Layher.

'We have yet to decide if there will be full affiliation between the groups, ' says Mr Gallagher. 'There's a good chance, as we fully agree with their 'don't mix it' message. But if a copy product can come up to standard why shouldn't it be accepted? Members need to be consulted before we join with them.' Safe and the NASC say they want to work together, and claim there is no conf lict of interest. At the time of writing a meeting between the two was being scheduled ? perhaps after this it will be easier to determine if the old favourite and the new pretender will be standing at loggerheads or side by side.

Safe founding members Turner Access, Ischerbek-Titan, Peri, Layher, Fieldside Health and Safety, Access Management and Safety, Construction Industry Training Board and Inscaff n The HSE, though not a member, will be present at all meetings.

At the group's next meeting the committee will hear applications for membership from a further eight companies.