Scaffolding and construction access is a high-risk area of the construction industry. While falls and collapses are well-recognized dangers, some other scaffolding risks are less well known.

At RPS Signature Programs, we regularly review and analyze the risks, claims and losses in our industry-leading Scaffolding & Access program. Always looking to provide impactful insight to the industries we serve, we took a deep dive into our numbers to see if specific scaffold claims or losses need more attention.

After a thorough analysis, we found that one of the most frequent claims drivers was scaffold planking and wind risks, otherwise known as wind uplift. Our analysis of five years of data revealed that nearly 13% of our Scaffolding & Access program claims were directly related to wind-caused scaffold planking uplift. These claims accounted for nearly 10% of all incurred losses within this program and averaged about $17,000 per claim.

With such an impact on frequency and severity, we knew we had to educate customers on wind uplift and how to address it.

"During a recent claims review, we identified that a significant number of claims have been caused by wind dislodging scaffold planking and causing it to strike a third- party's property or person," explained Tres Whitlock, area president, Scaffold & Crane. "We are now working with our Risk Engineering team to help increase awareness of this claims driver and develop mitigating strategies for our clients."

At an average of $17,000 per claim, these incidents can seriously hinder a scaffold and access organization by making it difficult to afford future coverage, secure future jobs or incur additional costs through lawsuits.

"In a world where nuclear verdicts on claims have become less of a surprise and more of an expectation, planking that causes damage to someone else's property is ammunition to be used against your company," warns Cameron Boots, director of Risk Engineering, Scaffold & Crane practice.

An Insured's Perspective: Wood vs. Metal

Wood planking has been a tried-and-true scaffold board option for decades. However, in today's innovative and technology-driven world, aluminum decking has found its way into the industry and proven to be reliable and increasingly popular. So, what's the best option, especially when it comes to wind risks and reducing instances of flying or falling scaffold planks?

We asked James McNamara, third-generation owner of Safety Scaffolds based in New Jersey and co-chair of the Scaffold and Access Industry Association's (SAIA's) Supported Scaffold Council, about his experience with wind risks and how he secures his scaffold planking.

"The decision to utilize wood plank vs. metal decking in terms of preventing uplift almost invariably comes down to the specific needs of the project." McNamara explained. "As wood planking has historically been used when providing access solutions, the industry has developed a myriad of ways to install and secure such a platform. One could wire a plank running perpendicular across the top of the deck or use wire alone. You could also cleat them or secure the deck with plywood nailed fast to the face."

He continued, "Metal decking, on the other hand, is newer to the industry and can be less forgiving. While the engineering behind such products gives the erector and the end-user peace of mind when it comes to both structural integrity and uplift prevention, there are often fewer options in terms of design and layout. That said, the benefits of metal decking — such as strength, rigidity, wind latches, lifespan and the fact that the access industry revolves around our ability to create solutions — make it a very worthwhile addition to any inventory."

According to McNamara, both scaffold-planking options have their benefits and place within the industry. However, there is no clear-cut better option; it all depends on the specific project and its variables.

But whether you're using metal or wood scaffold planking, one thing's for certain: the structure and its components must be able to withstand certain wind conditions no matter what, especially if you're located in an area where extreme weather can appear from seemingly out of nowhere.

According to Rick Haynes, president of Haynes Scaffolding & Supply Inc. in West Palm Beach, Florida, "Tropical storms or a quick microburst will pop up at the drop of a hat, so we are constantly addressing wind risks and how to be proactive in assuring everything stays in place when we leave a jobsite and weather happens. You can't just go to all your jobs and take [the scaffold] down until the weather is better. That's an impossibility. We learned a long time ago to make it stay put."

Haynes added, "It may be beautiful out when you erect it now, but it can get bad at night, or a hurricane can develop the next week. So, you must prepare it for the worst conditions. The last thing we want is for any property — or especially any people — to get hit with anything."

A Culture of Scaffolding Safety

Haynes Scaffolding & Supply reaches this level of risk management and safety before anyone even steps foot on the jobsite by conducting regular safety meetings about such topics as what risks to look for, how to address them, proper scaffold securement methods and many other safety habits designed to keep the structure up in adverse wind conditions, including hurricanes.

"The structure and its parts just have to stay, especially on sites like high rises," Haynes said.

To keep planking in place, Haynes Scaffolding & Supply uses practices like cleating the edges of wood planking and stringing it down, using extra counterweights, adding anchors on the ground and into the side of the building and using metal wire to help secure every deck to the scaffold structure. They also designed their own steel plate assembly that uses special clamps and latches to ensure a secure hold even in a Category 2 hurricane.

Florida isn't the only area where wind challenges exist. Every part of the country presents its own set of challenges, many of which include wind risks from hurricanes, tornadoes, microbursts, high winds, tropical storms and the like. How you manage those risks comes down to your experience, knowledge, and requirements of the construction project to help determine the best scaffolding approach — wood vs. metal decking? Extra counterweights and/or anchors?

Then, your emphasis on employee training, adherence to procedures and dedication to safety dictate the success of your approach (excluding any material defaults and/or failures, of course).

Tips for Mitigating Scaffolding Risk

An insured's risk management and safety culture play a big role in keeping their organization from becoming another statistic within the scaffold program's claim numbers. Ask your insureds: What measures are you taking before, during and after the structure is erected to ensure everything is properly in place, secured, checked and then double-checked? Having training tools and programs in place educates their employees on correct procedure and sets standards of what is expected of them before they leave a project site.

According to Risk Engineering Director Cameron Boots, rigorous employee training is critical to creating a culture of safety. "Training and safety culture are key. They're the foundation of any risk management program. Having capable employees who are diligent about safety and know what a truly safe worksite and structure look like could determine the success and security of jobs before they even come across your desk."

Bill Hiller, a claims consultant with over thirty years of experience, advises, "Confirm and document when finished, with photographs if possible, that the scaffolding and/or planking is in place and properly secured. Don't hesitate to trouble the general contractor or your sub-contractor to document and agree in writing that the scaffolding and planking is to contract and/or code."

Other basic risk management measures and planking guidelines include:

  • Inspect and test all scaffold planks before use.
  • Cover the area between front and rear vertical supports or the rear guardrail with the scaffold planks should.
  • Secured scaffold planks against movement in any direction, including uplift.
  • Institute an employee-safety training program that routinely documents and certifies employee training and safety knowledge.

Your Trusted Insurance Adviser

There are many ways to mitigate risk within the insurance coverage using various risk transfer options. Ensuring the general liability policy has no wind exclusions or using the often-overlooked contractor's equipment policy to cover your scaffolding are two insurance strategies. An additional risk transfer option could be for the scaffold contractor to transfer responsibility for monitoring wind and weather conditions to the site-controlling entity, such as the general contractor or project owner.

Gone are the days of speaking with your insurance broker only around renewal time or when an incident occurs. The industry has evolved over the past 20 years, especially around the role that brokers are expected to play. Brokers should be a trusted adviser and familiar voice educating customers about pertinent risk management strategies, safety training, industry news and insurance coverages that affect business.

Contact us for questions about scaffold risk management or safety training, or for additional resources for your insured's business.

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