Standing Tall

June 1, 2002
The drive to improve productivity and safety in construction and building maintenance applications has had a dramatic impact on the design of scaffolding

The drive to improve productivity and safety in construction and building maintenance applications has had a dramatic impact on the design of scaffolding and access systems in the past 10 years. Modular and frame scaffold systems are increasingly replacing traditional scaffolding products, and the use of powered access equipment is transforming conventional methods of working on site. Many United States-based rental companies have responded by investing aggressively in new systems.

These trends are paralleled in the major European construction and maintenance markets but with one major difference. In those European markets where rental is as highly developed as it is in the U.S., lightweight aluminum access systems are extremely popular. These systems, originally developed in the U.S., are an essential product on the menu of many major European rental companies.

According to Simon Knights, Leatherhead, Surrey, U.K.-based SGB's general manager for international sales responsible for light access sales, European contractors favor aluminum scaffolds against traditional and powered access systems in specific situations for a variety of reasons.

Speed and weight

Aluminum scaffolds are fast to erect based on components that are typically 60 percent lighter than steel equivalents. A 6-foot, 6-inch frame can weigh as little as 17 pounds. A 20-foot high tower can be built in around 20 minutes by two competent operatives without the need for any tools or loose fittings. They are also fully mobile and easy to maneuver.


Aluminum scaffold systems are versatile and adaptable. Structures are built in the form of spans between towers using decking systems. Proprietary beams can be added to the systems to create large decked areas for suspended ceilings, air conditioning or electrical work, in typical sizes of 8 by 26 feet.

Cantilever frames can also be added to get over awkward ground-based obstructions, but these need to be carefully handled because they need counterweights. Elevator shafts and stairwells have especially narrow components to get into tight spaces.

More importantly, aluminum rolling folding scaffolds are much lighter and easier to move around through doors and lifts. They can also be more effective than steps and fixed low-level platforms, offering a 6-foot long platform, starting as low as 12 inches off the ground. These versions use many of the standard tower components.

Loading capacity

Aluminum scaffolds are intrinsically strong with payloads typically in excess of 600 pounds per platform. This is more than most powered access machines.


Another advantage from the user's point-of-view is that a scaffold tower requires no special transport to reach its place of work — which cannot be said for a powered access platform. Users do not have to worry about charging batteries, refueling or maximum running hours.


Site safety is a major concern for clients and contractors alike. Lightweight scaffolds are renowned for their safety and are more stable than comparable steel towers. Make sure the towers in your fleet comply with the requirements of ANSI and OSHA, and also that they are UL-approved.

A number of rental companies in the U.S. are now beginning to exploit the benefits of aluminum scaffolds. In addition to the fast payback that can be achieved, another major benefit is that they can be used across a wide range of sectors. Their use is not confined solely to the construction sector. They can be used widely in building maintenance applications throughout industry as well as the media and events industries.

Next generation materials

Glass-reinforced plastic, or GRP, products, such as aluminum were developed initially in the U.S. market but have failed to capture the imagination of U.S. rental companies. At least one European manufacturer is pioneering the use of these products and has already made substantial inroads with them in the rental sector for use in high-risk environments.

GRP scaffolds are designed specifically for use in environments that require specialist access solutions and where the use of traditional systems such as steel and aluminum are either unsafe or unsuitable.

GRP has four main benefits:

  • Non-conductive. GRP is safe to use around electrical installation, particularly in electrical engineering applications and in the rail industry.

  • Non-sparking. Static electricity represents a hazard in many industrial applications. GRP will not spark and is therefore safe to use in areas where dust, vapor or other combustible materials are present.

  • Non-corrosive. GRP is a tough, non-corrosive material that is resistant to electrolytic corrosion caused by salt water, deterioration caused by caustic chemicals and damage from contact with gasoline, oils, lacquers and most solvents commonly found in industrial sites.

  • Non-oxidizing: GRP does not oxidize, keeping work surfaces clean and residue free. This is essential in food manufacture, food preparation areas and in applications that are ‘clean’ or hygiene sensitive.

These benefits give added value to the products and attract a wider audience for potential rental opportunities. The GRP tower can be used safely in environments such as oil refineries, offshore platforms, power stations and chemical plants and garage forecourts. It is also beneficial to industries such as aviation, pharmaceuticals, military, dockyards and ports.

European rental experience demonstrates that these products can provide flexible, safe, low cost solutions to access problems in a variety of applications.

Emma Blackburn is account director at RED Communications, St. Ives, Cambs, U.K.


The Tele-Tower adjustable work platform provides an adjustable platform height ranging from 2 feet to 11 feet in 6-inch increments. The unit is designed to set up with one person, without tools in five minutes. Integral outriggers give a base width, adjustable from 31 1/2 inches to 6 feet. The Tele-Tower is made from all steel construction and heavy-duty casters.
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Power Climber

Power Climber, a division of SafeWorks, LLC, offers its Pocket Climber, PC-1 hoists with the low voltage indicator light. The PC-1 lifts powered suspended platforms for construction and maintenance work. The light tells the hoist operator when voltage drops below optimal operating levels. The PC-1 can be used in primary construction and for overall maintenance in commercial and industrial applications.
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Granite Industries

The Snappy All Trade Scaffolds feature 29-inch frames with 2-inch platform adjustment and 1,000-pound capacity. Retaining clips and alignment pins keep the walkboard level and secure. The unit can be stacked for higher applications.
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The new ProJax model multi-purpose utility scaffold offers ease of use, knurled rungs for safer climbing and a redesigned platform support that provides easy one-person assembly. For additional safety, the new, patented Saf-T-Lok provides a platform latching mechanism with a secure secondary locking feature.
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Waco Scaffolding & Equipment

A new line of galvanized post shores are now available from Waco. They offer the added benefit of galvanized steel to minimize jobsite wear and corrosion. They are available in standard staff heights ranging from 6 feet 2 inches to 15 feet 7 inches. Each galvanized post shore also includes Waco's Speedset adjusting system that provides faster post shore erection and dismantling. The new galvanized line also supports working loads ranging from 1,000 to 9,000 pounds per post shore.
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The new HEK MS ProMax mastclimbing work platform was developed specifically in response to customer demands for higher payload, faster travel speed and a longer platform. The ProMax is ideal for medium to high-rise applications such as glass, stone and metal façade cladding, insulation, masonry and renovation projects. It can work to heights of 200 m (anchored) or free stand to heights of 20 m.
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The Snapout range of instant towers come in 6.56-foot sections. An entire level folds down into a bundle that will pass through a 1.18-foot aperture. Once situated, the quick-erect alloy Snapout towers are linked together with Spandeck aluminum bridges to provide a continuous access structure. The system's modularity permits complex networks of walkways and work platforms to be quickly constructed without the use of tools.
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Safway Steel Products introduced the SafMax Frame System, which allows open access to a building's exterior and interior walls. The product is easy to set up, use and take down. SafMax planks are three planks wide increasing work area and worker efficiencies. The frame system is made from all steel construction and components are hot-dipped galvanized to provide extended service.
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Boss Towers

The Boss Zone 1 Tower is available in 4-foot, 9-inch and 2-foot, 9-inch ladder spans and is made from glass-reinforced plastic. GRP won't spark, oxidize, conduct electricity or corrode and combines strength, durability and ease of use. It also features impact resistant fittings for reduced damage and down time, and color-coded components for easy identification and inventory control.
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Universal Manufacturing

Scaffold frames with ladder access, side brackets with built-in guard adapters and safety swing gates are just a few of the products that help to ensure a safe scaffold. Double-hole cross braces, adjustable side bracket guardrail and many dual-purpose parts improve the efficiency of Universal products.
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