When to use scaffolding as a handyman

As a handyman, there may be a time when you need to access higher outside spaces, roofs, windows, walls and gutters for repair, maintenance and painting. Often many of us will reach for a ladder in these situations as it’s quick, easy and cost-effective. 

Ladders offer many benefits, but there are some limitations, and this is when you may want to review other options, like scaffolding.

Limitations with ladders

Working from ladders generally gives you limited space and freedom to move easily. If you’re completing a job that requires the use of tools then a ladder is going to be very limiting. You can hang items from the rungs or the top but you will lack a flat surface to place things on.

Ladders also have limitations with weight. Heavy equipment and materials are going to be difficult to manoeuvre and the ladder itself might not be able to support them. Heavy pressure can bend and in some cases snap a ladder.

Balance is an important factor on a ladder. If you don’t have a steady stance then working at heigh on a ladder will be difficult. Likewise, if you are working at height for an extended period of time then a ladder isn’t ideal. You will put pressure on your feet and need to adjust your stance regularly.

Ladders are more dangerous

In one study conducted by the HSE (Health and Safety Executive) in food and drink industry ladder related injuries far exceeded any other places where workers fell.

Ladders: 40%

Vehicles/FLTs (see below): 17%

Machinery/plant: 10%

Platforms: 10%

Stairs (see below): 8%

Roof/false ceiling: 7%

Scaffold/gantry: 4%

Warehouse racking: 4%

You will note that there were 10x more injuries from ladders compared to scaffolding.

Of course you can mitigate the risks by being sensible, but there are no guarantees.  With smaller handyman jobs there is perhaps less chance of risk. 

  • Less time working at height
  • Only one person working at height
  • Limited materials and equipment
Image source: Blitz Scaffolding Kent

When to use scaffolding?

Health & Safety Executive (HSE) guidelines state that ladders are ideal for:

  • Low-risk situations
  • Tasks that will take no more than 30 minutes
  • Environments where the ladder will be level and stable while in use

It’s important to carry out a risk assessment before you decide to use a ladder. Make sure you’ll be able to secure the ladder, and if you’re likely to be working for more than half an hour, consider using an alternative access method.

If there is any doubt after completing an assessment then you’re safer to use scaffolding. Yes there is a cost difference but your safety is a priority and the customer needs to understand this.

You are unable to secure / stabilise your ladder

Finding a good footing for your ladder is of paramount importance. If possible it should be wedged in to prevent any movement. You can also ask someone to spot your ladder to help hold it in place.

The correct angle for a ladder should be as close to 75 degrees as possible. That is a 1:4 rule. So 4 high and 1 out from the surface face.

You have a bigger job

Scaffolding comes into use when you have bigger jobs, where more working space is advantageous.  The HSE recommends to use scaffolding if you need to work at height for more than 30 minutes.

You want to reduce strain

You may have to strain less when completing some jobs, which can be better for your body long-term and reduce the chance of strain. 

You want to reduce risk

Scaffolding is significantly safer than using ladders.  Some handymen, such as exterior painters will insist on using scaffolding for their work.  And they have good reason to.  When repeatedly working at height, in varying locations and situations, for long periods of time it’s significantly safer.

There is more than one person involved

Ladders are handy for one handyman worker, but if you have more than one, more space is required. It can be safer, quicker and more efficient.

Scaffolding appropriate to your needs

When you think of scaffolding you may have an image in-mind of the whole facade covered in aluminium tubing and boards.  Of course the more scaffolding you have, the greater the cost.  However it’s possible to have smaller scaffolding platforms, such as towers, and some can even be mobile.

scaffolding types

Independent scaffolding can be designed bespoke, as large or as small, short and tall as your project requires, helping to keep costs lower.

Thanks for reading. I hope this article helps you make the right decision for your job. Remember to stay safe whilst at work.

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