Rising concern about the use of plastic zip ties to secure scaffolding components has sparked a warning from Workplace Health and Safety Queensland.
It is among a cluster of ‘up-and-coming’ safety issues that will be covered in an updated Scaffolding Code of Practice to be released later this year.
WHSQ principal adviser (construction engineering) Stuart Davis said zip ties could take considerable force when pulled, but were vulnerable to cutting-type force.
“It is a growing problem,” he said.
“Where a scaffolding plank gets latched between two platforms, for example, instead of using the proprietary scaffolding fittings some scaffolders will put a couple of zip ties through the perforations at each end of the plank and say it is secured.
“What happens is somebody comes along and kicks the scaffold plank and it can cut through the zip ties.”
They were also being used on kick-boards secured to the outside of the scaffolding platform to protect against falling objects, he said.
“That is really bad if someone kicks the plank (and the ties cut). It will drop the plank to the ground – and these weigh quite a few kilograms, so if that hits someone in the head the consequences will be dire,” Mr Davis said.
“That is one really strong message Workplace Health and Safety Queensland would like people to take away -you should not be using zip ties anywhere where there may be a cutting force applied to the tie.
“Quite often scaffolders will use them because they are being lazy and instead of using the right component they just say ‘zip ties are light, I can put them on quickly’. That’s a real up-and-coming problem.
“We are seeing this increasingly – not just with scaffolding but personnel and material hoists on construction sites and with formwork screens.”
WHSQ has also drawn attention to problems with the use of aluminium stair modules as an alternative to ladders inside scaffolding bays.
“They sit on scaffolding transoms and we’ve had quite a few instances of the stair modules dropping out of the scaffolding,” Mr Davis said.
“In one case in Central Queensland, a worker stepped on the module and in this case a weld (on the stair) failed and the platform dropped. As he dropped his little finger was caught in part of the scaffolding and ripped off.
“He lost his finger, but it could have been much worse.
“We are especially finding problems where stair modules from one brand are used with another brand of scaffolding and the tolerances don’t match up.”
The other ‘up-and-coming’ safety problem Mr Davis identified as a priority was the use of screw bolts as anchors when scaffolding was tied to structures.
“With these screw bolts it is extremely important that you drill the hole at just the right diameter and the right depth,” he said.
“The problem is that when you drill holes in concrete you often hit reinforcement steel so it’s very hard to meet the tolerances required for those anchors.
“With these screw bolts, I have some concerns that sometimes these anchors are not being installed correctly and we’ve had an incident where a cantilevered scaffolding platform fell off the side of a building. That was a few years ago and that was from the inappropriate use of screw bolts.
“It dropped two workers about 3m on to a rubbish skip, but if it had failed around the corner it would have dropped them 10 floors and killed them.”
Although Mr Davis identified these as emerging issues of concern, he said a key ongoing safety issue when it came to scaffolding was unauthorised people altering scaffolding set-ups.
Tradespeople may need to shift elements of scaffolding or remove ties to access parts of the structure, but any such changes must be carried out by the scaffolding contractor or a person nominated by the principal contractor who has scaffolding qualifications, he said.
“Others on site may have a scaffolding high-risk work licence but they are not authorised to change it,” he said
A well-managed project would help ensure an authorised person was on site to make the adjustments when needed and reduce the temptation for tradespeople to tamper with it, he said.