Scaffold Evolution Through The Years
In the months leading up to August 2021 when North Shore Scaffolding turns 40 years old, we are taking a look at some of our company's history. We have dug through the archives and in this article series, we take a closer look at the development of the scaffolding and how it's been used over the years, the use of trucks and how Health & Safety has evolved.
This is the third article in that series, and we encourage you to read the other articles in the series here, here and here.
The Evolution of Scaffolding
When Tony Webb started North Shore Scaffolding in 1981, the industry used what is commonly known as 'Tube & Clip'. Heavy import tariffs on foreign goods meant that only the fittings, which were made by company Burtons, were imported from England, while the tubes were made in New Zealand.
The tubing was 5-6 mm thick, so they were really heavy (as compared with the modern galvanised tubes which are 3.2mm thick). Not only heavy, the tubes were made of black steel, which isn’t galvanised, and so it would rust, leaving a brownish black residue all over the scaffolding. Needless to say, at the end of a work day, the guys clothing and hands, along everything they touched, was stained.
And it wasn't easy to get off either!
On left: black steel tube and clip.
On right: an example of how the tube and clip was used in the 80s.
In the late 1980s, import tariffs were abolished, which made it more economical to import items into New Zealand, and so more products of all kinds became available in the New Zealand market. Scaffolding was one of them.
In 1998 the French built their America's Cup team base (the sailing connection shows once again) out of shipping containers and scaffolding. They used a German scaffolding system called Layher that they had brought to New Zealand, but the team needed a company to erect it for them. Tony Webb saw the system, thought it interesting, and bid for the job. It ended up going to another company, but within a few years North Shore Scaffolding started its investment in Layher Scaffolding.
In the early 2000, North Shore Scaffolding started using scaffolding from Layher. The benefits of this 'system scaffolding' is that it is easier to teach people how to use it. It also looks tidier as fittings are spread out over the type at 500mm intervals, making it faster to install and dismantle. It's engineer specifications allow it to be used for a multitude of different scenarios. It requires the scaffolder leading hands or supervisors to be more organised and know exactly how much scaffolding that needs to be used according to plan, but the need for being organised we see as a positive!
Layher is the world’s leading designer, manufacturer and distributor of scaffolding and temporary access solutions. The company was started in Germany in 1945 when the company’s founder, Wilhelm Layher set up a company making agricultural implements and ladders out of wood – at that time the number one raw material. During the post-war economic upsurge, the timber merchant soon identified the need for construction scaffolding, and in 1948 specialised in the production of ladder scaffolding. From humble beginnings, Layher now operates with 1,900+ employees in over 140 locations in 80 countries. Made only in Germany, Layher scaffolding systems are precision manufactured to the most exacting standards in the industry. Layher products and services in scaffolding technology have come to set the standard for performance and reliability in modern scaffolding, with SpeedyScaf already introduced in 1965 and Allround Scaffolding in 1974. The company is still 100% family-owned, and in New Zealand, Layher has branches in Auckland and Wellington. Read more about the history of Layher here.
Changing the way we do things around here...
In the 1980's, it was common practice for scaffolding companies in New Zealand to only supply the tubular skeleton of the scaffolding. Planks and kickboards, usually made out of wood, were generally supplied by the construction company in charge. At a job on the Smith & Caughey building in central Auckland in 1983, the client had asked Tony Webb if his company could also supply the planks and kickboards, which he agreed to. During a visit by the OSH (Occupational Safety and Health, the precursor to Worksafe), the representative was really impressed by the 3-plank wide walkways and kickboards that North Shore Scaffolding had supplied. In fact he was so impressed, that OSH made it compulsory that planks and kickboards be supplied by the scaffolding companies themselves going forward.
Early on, these planks were made of NZ spruce, and they were big, solid (and heavy) planks. But in New Zealand, spruce trees grow too fast, resulting in many knots in the timber, which in turn resulted in that the planks broke very easy. In the 1980's there was a switch to laminated boards, as they were more durable and didn't break as easily.
When NSS changed scaffolding to the Layher system in early 2000, we also changed to metal planks. Wooden kickboards are still being used today, but they are the last bits of timber left on our scaffolds.
Left: Scaffold supplied to construction companies with out planks was common until the mid 1980's
The use of Trucks
Back in the day when North Shore Scaffolding started out, scaffolders used to work in teams of two, sharing one truck. Every morning the team would load up their truck and drive to site with whatever gear they deemed needed for that particular day. Sometimes there were miscalculations and a scaffolder had to take the truck and drive back to the yard for more, losing valuable time. Not very efficient at all. Back then, we had 8 trucks spread out between 16-17 scaffolders, so there is no wonder that NSS needed to contract in a mechanic to service all the trucks! Image below shows trucks in the old days compared to now.
Nowadays, with a larger workforce and more and different types of jobs, North Shore Scaffolding uses smaller light trucks and UTEs, with teams of 3 people. Scaffolding is no longer transported by the teams themselves; instead all teams are serviced by our two large HIABs with drivers that deliver scaffolding when and where needed all around the Auckland region. We also employ several people working in the yard, making sure scaffolding is loaded and going to the right site, as well as being in charge of stock count and general maintenance.
This all makes for more efficient handling, and leaving people to focus their time on what they do best. As a company, it means that when our guys are on site, they are there to work for you without distractions, calling upon their team mates in the yard when and if needed.
Scaffolders and their Tools - Improvements in Health & Safety
When Tony Webb started scaffolding, all they used was a 7/8th swing-over spanner and a yard stick.
Now scaffolders use a whole range of tools including:
- Tape Measure
- Crescent Wrench
- Ratchet spanner
Scaffolder work attire has also changed a lot over the years. From short shorts, singlets and with shoe type optional, to today's Health & Safety conscious environment, where scaffolder safety is first and foremost.
Today North Shore Scaffolding scaffolders will have shirts made of high vis material, they will wear steel cap boots, and hats with chin strap. The Hard-Hats the crews wear are actually more than just Hard-Hats; they are mountain climber hats that not only protect the scaffolders from debris falling from above, but also impact from the side (in case of a fall). All demonstrated by Mikey on the left.
One of the most important safety tools for our scaffolders are their harness and lanyards. Back in the days, these would often be shared between scaffolders, and be left in the truck 'if needed' (i.e. if an inspector came to site). These days it is a standard item and all our scaffolders wear their harness and lanyard at all times. It will be common for scaffolders to have twin retractable lanyards that provide fall restraint. Other safety tools used for safety at height are type 2 lanyards as well as type 3 rescue lanyards. Static lines are used when working on a live edge.
One of the biggest safety innovations recently is the step away from harness and lanyards as 'hooking on' is not the only option in the tool box these days. The Advanced Guardrail made by Layher allows a scaffolder to build to any height while at all times working behind a safety rail, which dramatically improves the safety on site. The live edge is effectively eliminated as a hazard. Scaffolders will still wear harness and lanyard when using the Advanced Guardrail for the occasions when it can not be used.
Image right: type 3 lanyard in use.
Over 40 years the scaffolding industry has evolved a lot. The use of technology has allowed for larger and more complex scaffolds to be installed to help our cities grow. Technology in particular has allowed scaffolders to perform their job in a considerably safer environment. North Shore Scaffolding continues to drive excellence in Health & Safety forward.