Raising the Bar
For most mason contractors, the only time they'll use a scaffold erection service is for a difficult job, when they don't have the appropriate scaffolding, or when the general contractor has hired the service to create scaffolding for all of the trades to use.
While many mason contractors keep scaffolding erection in-house for most jobs, there is a growing trend to employ scaffolding services for typical day-to-day projects in an effort to save time and money, to maintain a high safety standard, and to avoid the potential for OSHA citations.
In this article, we will discuss how scaffolding services can provide a safe, fast and efficient option for mason contractors, as well as provide tips on how to hire and integrate the service so you get the most for your money.
"Scaffolding is all we do; we don't do anything else. We can come build a scaffold for you, but don't ask me to lay a brick wall. I wouldn't know where to start," said Charles Dewey, vice president of scaffolding for Waco Scaffolding & Equipment in Akron, Ohio.
"For the mason contractors that build their own scaffolding, the guys that are typically building the scaffolding are the rookies on the crew," Dewey added. "They are the guys who have been on the crew the least amount of time, they probably have the least amount of training, the least amount of know how, and they get to do it because nobody else wants to do it. For us, that's all we do. We can come in and do it pretty quick, and do it properly."
Another advantage is that the mason contractor can rely on the service's expertise to provide a safe system that meets OSHA standards.
"In getting a reputable scaffold company, such as ourselves, the customer really limits the liability, citations and other safety issues because it's done right," said Ben Cantu, corporate marketing manager for Betco Scaffolds in Houston. "When we leave the job, we do a thorough walk-through with the customer, we inspect the scaffolding, and we address any issues that might not meet the customer's expectations. Once all of that is completed, the customer signs off on the scaffolding and we 'green tag' the scaffolding and its ready to be used."
"A lot of times, when the mason contractors use their own crews, they know what their labor costs them, but they don't job cost it well enough to know what cost to allocate to scaffolding, job clean-up, mixing mortar or any of those things. They know the guy costs them money, but they don't know really how much they're spending on scaffold work," Dewey explained. "Or the mason contractor thinks 'Hey, I'm paying this guy anyway. It doesn't matter what he's doing.' But, at the end of the day, I think it does save the mason contractor money; it's a better built scaffold, done faster — and there's no OSHA worries."
Also, by outsourcing the scaffolding needs, mason contractors can limit their labor worries as well.
"Manpower and personnel are pretty limited these days," Cantu said. "Instead of having the mason contractor using his or her resources for erecting the scaffolding, they'll contract that service out so that they can use their resources for the actual masonry work."
"Whether it's a scaffold builder or anyone else, you need to take a look at the company, make sure it's a reputable company, they have insurance, bonding capabilities, and they pay into worker's compensation," Dewey said. "There are some smaller companies out there that run out of somebody's garage, and if you ever had an issue on the job site, you're never going to find these guys again. All the big, credible companies are on the 'up and up'; they've got proper insurance, they've got proper liability, take care of the workers' compensation, and all of these things.
"The second thing is just to get a feel for the company's record in the industry," Dewey continued. "Has the company built scaffolding for very long? Is the company's foreman familiar with the special needs that a mason contractor might have? Because to build a scaffold for a mason contractor would be very, very different than building one for a guy who wants to paint or caulk. You need to make sure that you can accommodate the loads and things of that nature.
"Finally, you need to find out what the company can do and do for you. What sort of equipment do they have and usually have available? Where does the equipment come from, and is it in good shape?"
"Also, you need to find out if they self-perform, or if they hire out," Cantu added. "Betco Scaffold self-performs and we have a department that actually trains all of our erectors and gives them a competent training course."
"Get the scaffold company involved and really get a good plan together as far as how you're going to attack this job from a scaffold point of view," Dewey said. "In other words, 'We're going to start on this corner, we're going to move around the building counter-clockwise, we want this much scaffold to work off of, we'll build ahead another 50 feet so we don't shut the masons down making the transition from one area to another, and we leapfrog around.' Or maybe it makes sense to use a mast climbing scaffold in a certain area. If they include us at the front side, we can make it go a lot better and easier."
Dewey also explained that having this plan ahead of time will assist mason contractors in not only job management and staging, but making sure that they're allocating enough resources to the cost and implementation of the scaffolding.
"Unfortunately, a lot of times they don't think about the scaffolding; it's a tool to them, just like a trowel," Dewey added. "We at least bring their awareness up to where they think about it."
It's not only important to have the scaffolding company participate in the front end, but it's also important to have a representative from your company be present for the installation on the job site.
"The biggest issue that we find is that when we start the set-up, the contractor is not there. So we would like, for instance, for the customer to be there the same day that we mobilize to make sure that we address any issues that maybe were not addressed during the design phase," Cantu said. "Job sites are changing everyday and the goal is to put up the scaffold so that they can use it to their advantage. If they can have a representative there to meet with us at the start-up, they can address any problems at that time."
About the Author
Jennie Farnsworth is an Atlanta-based freelance writer and editor. She is a former editor of Masonry magazine.