Risk Spotlight: Scaffold Planking & Wind Uplift

Article by Ascinsure Specialty Risk/Allied Insurance Brokers Risk Engineering (A Gallagher Company)

Scaffolding & Construction Access is easily one of the more high-risk areas of the construction industry. Risks such as falls and collapses are some of the most common and talked about dangers to those working within this trade, but there are other common scaffolding risks that may not be addressed as often as they should. 

At Ascinsure and Allied (Gallagher’s wholesale underwriting managers and retail brokers, respectively), we regularly review and analyze the risks, claims, and losses that occur within our industry-leading Scaffold & Construction Access practice based out of Pittsburgh, PA. Always looking to provide impactful insight to the industries we serve, we took a deep dive into our numbers to see if there were specific scaffold claims or losses that weren’t getting enough attention. After a thorough analysis, one of the most frequent claims drivers we found was scaffold planking and wind risks, otherwise known as wind uplift.

Over the past five years, nearly 13% of our Scaffold & Construction Access practice claims were directly related to scaffold planking uplift caused by the wind. These claims account for nearly 10% of all incurred losses within this practice and average 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 over the past five years a significant number of claims have been caused by wind dislodging scaffold planking and causing it to strike a 3rd party’s property or person,” explained Tres Whitlock, Gallagher’s National Director, Crane & Scaffold Practice. “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 are something that 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, Gallagher’s 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 technological-driven world, aluminum decking has found its way into the industry and proven to be very reliable and increasingly popular. So, what’s the best option, especially when it comes to wind risks and reducing any 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 SAIA-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.”

McNamara followed up his analysis of wood planking with an overview of aluminum decking and its place in the industry.

“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, makes them 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 utilizing 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.

As Rick Haynes, President of Haynes Scaffolding & Supply Inc., located in West Palm Beach, FL, explains,

“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. 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 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. Haynes explains,

“The structure and its parts just have to stay, especially on sites like high rises.”

How they accomplish this is through practices like cleating the edges of wood planking and stringing it down, utilizing 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.

But 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, etc. 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). 

Scaffolding Risk Mitigation Tips

Your risk management and safety culture play a big role in keeping your organization from becoming just another statistic within the scaffold program’s claim numbers. Ask yourself: 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 your employees on correct procedure and sets standards of what is expected of them before they leave a project site.

According to 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 looks 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.”

There are also many ways you can mitigate this risk within your insurance coverage via various risk transfer options. Things such as ensuring there are no wind exclusions on your general liability policy or utilizing the often-overlooked contractor’s equipment policy to cover your scaffolding are two insurance strategies that should be addressed with your broker. An additional risk transfer option could be for the scaffold contractor to transfer responsibility of monitoring wind and weather conditions to the site-controlling entity, such as the general contractor (GC), project owner, etc. 

Other basic risk management measures and planking guidelines include:

  • Make sure all scaffold planks are inspected and tested before use.
  • Scaffold planks should cover the area between front and rear vertical supports or the rear guardrail.
  • Scaffold planks should be secured against movement in any direction (including uplift).
  • Institute an employee safety training program that routinely documents and certifies their training and safety knowledge.

Your Trusted Insurance Adviser

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 twenty 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 impact business. So, if you’re not working with a broker who specializes in the scaffold industry and your specific risks, here’s your last, and arguably most important, tip: make a change. Choose a broker who will educate you on how to best protect your business, not the other way around.

For any questions regarding scaffold risk management, safety training, or additional resources for your business, please reach out to Allied’s Risk Engineering department at[DB1] .