Scaffolders are generally considered to be independent contractors but still have to deal with legal issues. As such, scaffolders are not subject to the same employment laws as employees. For example, they are not entitled to holiday pay or sick pay. In addition, scaffolders are not covered by the Working Time Regulations, which limit the number of hours that employees can work in a week.
However, scaffolders are still subject to health and safety laws and must be properly trained in order to work safely. In addition, scaffolders must have insurance in case they cause damage to property or injure someone while working. As a result, scaffolders need to be aware of the legal issues that affect their work in order to avoid any problems.
It is important for you to be aware of certain legislation – particularly health and safety legislation and regulations covering working at height – if you are engaged in activities that may pose a potential risk to your employees, co-workers, scaffold users, or the public at large.
Listed below are a few areas that may be of interest to you. Please be aware that this is not an exhaustive list.
What licences does a scaffolder need?
Scaffolders do not need any specific licenses. There are, however, some circumstances in which you may need a license for yourself, employees or your scaffolding business.
Local authority scaffolding permits
If you want to erect a scaffold in a public area, you may need a license from your local authorities. Learn more about scaffolding permit requirements in your area by contacting your local planning department or environmental health department.
For each permit application, a small fee is usually charged. You may be able to make permit applications over the telephone or even online by getting your firm’s name on a scaffolding register. A small annual fee is normally charged for registration.
It usually takes 12 weeks for a scaffolding permit to expire from a local authority.
Scaffolds on or over public highways
Obtaining a permit from the local highway authority is required before erecting a scaffold or hoarding on or over a public highway. Certain safety conditions must be met before a permit can be issued (e.g., adequate lighting on scaffolds). You can find out more about the building control or highway authority in your area.
For transporting scaffolding and equipment, a medium-sized van or lorry is likely to be needed – flat-bed lorries are common. A goods vehicle operator licence is required by businesses operating goods vehicles over 3.5 tonnes gross (or 1,525 kg unladen for unplated vehicles) in England, Scotland and Wales. If you have a base in more than one Traffic Area, you must have an operator’s license for every one of them. For businesses that only transport their own equipment and goods, a restricted category license is sufficient.
Traffic Commissioners issue licenses in that area. England, Wales, and Scotland are divided into eight Traffic Areas. Transport Regulation Unit (TRU) of the Department for Infrastructure (DfI) may issue a goods vehicle operators’ license in Northern Ireland.
In Northern Ireland, you can find more information on the DfI website about goods vehicle operator licensing.
Scaffolders Record Scheme
In addition to the CISRS, which is affiliated with the industry-wide Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS), the CITB is the British construction industry’s skills body. Worker competency and qualification are demonstrated through the scheme. More contractors are only hiring scaffolders who hold CISRS cards, even though it’s not a legal requirement. The National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) is considered by some scaffolding contractors to be the only organisation they will work with.
It is a legal requirement that scaffold inspectors be competent to carry out inspections. Competency can be demonstrated through a certificate of training and competence under the CISRS.
For operators of elevating cherry pickers and other construction equipment, there is a similar scheme called the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS). The CITB website provides more information on the CPCS.
In spite of the fact that it’s not a legal requirement, the SCAFFTAG/SAFETRAK system is intended to provide continuous safety control over scaffolds. Keeping a SCAFFTAG up to date on a scaffold is an important step in demonstrating safety compliance.
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) Asbestos Licensing Unit – or HSENI – may need a licence if you plan on undertaking any asbestos-related work (this might include putting up safety enclosures or access scaffolds for licensable asbestos removal work, for instance). Whenever it is likely that scaffolding work will disturb asbestos, a licence will be required. If this license is renewed for another one or three years, there is a renewal fee.
The HSENI and HSE websites have further details.
In Scotland, you must be registered as an upper tier waste carrier in order to transport building waste (which is classified as controlled waste). English environmental protection agencies, Welsh environmental protection agencies, Northern Ireland environmental protection agencies, and Scottish environmental protection agencies (SEPA) issue them. A registration fee of £155 is required at the time of initial registration, and there is a renewal fee of £105 every three years after that. All of your waste transporting vehicles are covered by a single license.
Health & safety, fire
Maintaining up-to-date health and safety regulations is extremely important when scaffolding, as it is potentially a very hazardous activity.
Health and safety at work is covered by the Health and Safety at Work Act and its many regulations. In the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations, health and safety are specifically addressed for construction-based activities. The rules apply to more traditional construction projects as well as temporary structures, such as event stages. Both domestic and commercial construction can be subject to these regulations. Visit the Health and Safety Executive’s website to learn more about CDM regulations.
All work done at height that poses a personal injury risk is covered by the Work at Height Regulations. When people work at or above a certain height, employers and self-employed workers are required to take certain safety precautions. Among the responsibilities are:
- Assessing all risks
- Planning and organising all work at height properly
- Assuring all participants are competent and all equipment is safe and appropriate
Employers have a duty to ensure that all workers involved in putting up, altering and removing scaffolds are properly trained.
In addition, if you employ staff, health and safety regulations impact the following areas:
- Lifting of heavy items
- Adequate provision and use of protective clothing and equipment
- Reporting of any accidents and injuries
- Use of electrical equipment (power tools and so on)
- Access to first aid equipment
In addition to being properly and safely erected, scaffolds should also be safe for others to use.
A high-rise cherry picker platform and construction plant operators must be trained and qualified in accordance with health and safety legislation. Companies can prove the qualifications of their plant operators through schemes like the Construction Plant Competence Scheme (CPCS) run by the CITB, the construction industry’s skills body. Visit the CITB website to learn more about the CPCS.
Employers must follow employment legislation. Here are a few of the most important legislative areas:
- Recruitment and employment contracts
- Pay and pensions
- Working time: hours, leave, flexible working
- Employment policies
- Sickness and sick pay
- Maternity, paternity and adoption
- Managing home workers, remote workers, lone workers
- Discipline and grievance
- Dismissals and redundancies
- Employment tribunals
Scaffolding safety checks
Construction scaffolds must be regularly inspected by someone who is competent to inspect scaffolds of that type to comply with health and safety regulations. When inspecting a scaffold, you should do the following:
- Before it is first used
- Every seven days until it is taken down
- Directly after any substantial alteration – including repairs to any damage – is made to it
- Immediately after any severe weather conditions which could potentially damage it
Scaffolds on or over public highways
Scaffolds and hoardings may not be erected on or over any public highways under the Highways Act. Highway authorities may refuse scaffold permits if scaffolds do not comply with certain criteria.
You are covered by the Control of Asbestos Regulations if you do any work that may expose you to asbestos. An old asbestos roof might need access, for example. When it comes to asbestos work, you may be required to obtain a license.
Sources of further Information
Scaffolding’s governing body, the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), provides regulatory guidance to its members. All statutory health and safety obligations must be met by NASC members.
Government’s website provides guidance and information on all aspects of employment legislation under the section Employing people. On the NI Business Info website, you can find information for businesses in Northern Ireland.
Insurance for a scaffolder
Starting a business requires insurance coverage. Provide an insurer with detailed information about the business’s operations. After that, they will be able to recommend a policy that suits your needs. The following might be included:
- Employer’s liability
- Public liability, including scaffold failure coverage
- Contract and professional indemnity
- Product liability
- Premises, premises contents
- Plant, equipment and assets – including on-site cover and hired-in plant
- Motor insurance (for business vehicles), possibly including cover for equipment carried in your vehicles
- Personal cover, including accident and injury, loss of earnings and so on
- Business interruption
The types of activities you and your staff will engage in should be precisely described when you take out personal and employer’s liability insurance. You may be asked about your health and safety policy, the type of equipment you will use, and the height at which you will be working.
In accordance with NASC’s rules, members are required to carry adequate levels of employer and public liability insurance. We offer insurance advice to our members and have negotiated preferential insurance rates.
Getting quotes early in the planning process is a good idea as business insurance policies for construction firms can be quite expensive. Get the best coverage at the lowest price by shopping around.
Read more: Scaffolding industry sector trends
Scaffolding businesses, contractors and employees need to be aware of a number of legal issues within the industry. As the sector is classed as high risk, due to working at height, the business needs to concentrate on health and safety. Insurance and licenses are key to ensure compliance as well to protect business owners from any future liabilities from employees or members of the public. Businesses need to ensure all scaffolding is checked on a 7 day period to defend against any future legal issues from scaffolders, as well as ensuring employees use and wear their PPE at height.
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