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Scaffolded sites safer

NOVEMBER 15, 2018









Recent BRANZ-commissioned research shows the use of scaffolding on single-storey builds has made sites safer but highlights the opportunity to review regulations and improve industry guidance.

BUILDERS KNOW falling is a serious danger on site. Accident statistics make grim reading – a fall from height killed nine residential construction workers from 2009–11. In the same period, a further 1,072 were severely injured, and 2,563 received moderate to minor injuries.

Guidelines spark increased scaffolding use

Worksafe New Zealand’s 2012 release of Best Practice Guidelines for Working at Height in New Zealand was an attempt to stem the flow.
The guidelines advise against the use of ladders, trestles and mobile platforms, which were the norm at the time. In their place, it recommends scaffolding for anyone working at height on single-storey residential construction.
Five years on, the Building Research Levy-funded research Falling from heights – Cost benefit analysis of scaffolding for single storey houses investigates how effective the stricter working at height guidelines have been.

Sites safer with fewer injuries

The research analysed the rate of falling injuries before and after the introduction of the guidelines. It considered whether the costs of eliminating risk is proportionate to the health and safety benefits over a 20-year period.
To do this, researchers first reviewed injury rates from 2009–11, a period before the guidelines came into force. They then compared them with injury rates from 2012–14, when the use of scaffolding was in full effect.
After adjusting for unrelated injuries, such as falls through the floor, the figures reveal a decreased rate of injuries due to falling from height across all severities. Researchers estimate the value of these safety benefits to be $234.2 million over the next 20 years, with 13 deaths, 401 severe injuries and 549 non-severe injuries avoided.

Improved productivity offsets cost

Next, researchers investigated the costs associated with using scaffolding. This depends on the size and complexity of the house. On average, they found it costs $6,743 to scaffold a new single-storey build, which equates to a total cost of $757.5 million to scaffold all new single-storey builds over the next 20 years.
However, improved productivity partially offsets the cost of scaffolding – it can improve inspection, enable faster access to heights and improve the handling of materials. Researchers estimate these productivity gains offset approximately 41% of the scaffolding cost, putting the value of productivity benefits at $303.1 million.

Timely to refresh guidelines

While scaffolding offers obvious safety, productivity and inspection benefits when working at height, the cost of scaffolding new single-storey builds is also significant.
BRANZ Chief Executive Chelydra Percy said, ‘Keeping people safe at work is critical in any industry, and the building industry is working hard to make sure workers go home safe from a day’s work. This research shows us how measures around safe working at heights are preventing workers from getting hurt or even killed. It also provides for the first-time evidence around the costs associated with these safety systems.
‘The work suggests that a refresh of the guidelines for working at heights is timely. There is an opportunity to maintain these important safety gains and improve productivity on building sites.’
Indeed, the research suggests a more robust definition and a refresh to the working at height guidelines would provide the industry with much-needed clarity.
MBIE and WorkSafe have confirmed that they intend to do further work with industry following this research, including prioritising a review of the regulations and working with industry to improve the guidance.

Team effort

BRANZ commissioned the New Zealand Institute of Economic Research (NZIER) to conduct the research, with assistance from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment and WorkSafe New Zealand. 
©BRANZ. Reproduced with permission from Build 163, December 2017/January 2018,



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