Innovations Take Pressure Off Tight-Squeeze Jobs
By Jim Cook
It used to be an article of faith in the masonry industry that tight, cut-up jobs would slow production to a crawl and slice into profits. New innovations in scaffolding are turning that rule on its head, enabling masons to fit scaffolds into narrow alleys and elevator shafts and work more efficiently. It’s all a matter of choosing the right scaffolding product for the job and using it correctly.
“Using the right equipment can mean the difference between profits and loss,” says Clint Bridges, VP of EZ Scaffolding. “A scaffold that puts the worker at a safe and productive level is what you strive to accomplish. Going cheap and rigging something up can actually cost you much more in loss of production, not to mention injuries, etc. than using the right equipment.”
A growing number of projects require masons to work in areas where there is little room between structures to set up scaffolds. Elevator shafts, stairwells, balconies and alcoves are familiar tight-squeeze tasks for masons, but more and more jobs are requiring masons to work in narrow alleys or breezeways between buildings or in confined courtyards.
“Elevator shafts and staircases seem to be at the top,” says Mike Solomon, CEO of Premier Scaffold Solutions. “It’s also common in downtown areas across the USA and working in alleyways or off different floor elevations is becoming more frequent.”
Elevated scaffolding and new mast climbers designed to work in tight spaces reduce the amount of time masons must spend setting up scaffolding and make feeding materials up to the platform easier, as well.
Innovations in elevated scaffolding, mast climbersJustin Breithaupt, owner of Non-Stop Scaffolding, says that elevated scaffolding products are proving to be very successful for tight jobs. In the past, elevated scaffolding has been considered only helpful for tall and straight walls. This is changing as masons are finding success in using elevated scaffolding for tight fit and cut-up jobs.
“Surprise, surprise, it turns out that elevated scaffolding happens to be the best solution for cut-up, sawtooth and tight spots,” he says.
Briethaupt said the key to successfully using elevated scaffolding for these jobs is to set up each tower as an independent tower. Boards can be run along any side of the tower, allowing elevated scaffolding to follow the contour of a building. Traditional scaffolds must be set up on level surfaces because either side of the scaffold must be level. Independent towers can be set up on ground of differing heights, so long as the platform is level.
Breithaupt says forklifts can easily move Non-Stop Scaffolding products into place by picking them up from the side and placing them on the outside of narrow alleys or spaces where they need to go, making it easy for contractors to set up towers. Reducing set up time for scaffolding can greatly improve productivity on masonry job sites.
Bridges said EZ Scaffolding now has a compact mast climber that can roll through a three-foot door and be set up by hand. Bridges said this smaller mast climber is allowing masons to use mast climbers for tight squeeze jobs. Because mast climbers can easily adjust to the height needed during a masonry job, they can greatly increase worker productivity and reduce injuries related to back and neck strain, so the ability to use them on tight jobs provides a real benefit to masonry contractors.
Safety concernsTight jobs carry their own specific safety issues that masons need to pay close attention to so they can avoid injuries.
The scarcity of space makes getting scaffolding components in and out of the work area difficult, as fork lifts have little room to maneuver. Even when scaffolds or mast climbers are set up, the limited area available makes providing bricks and other supplies to workers on the scaffold difficult and sometimes dangerous. In some indoor areas, tight confines can put workers in danger of inhaling hazardous fumes if proper ventilation is not provided.
“Due to a tighter area, people and material always are on top of each other and the trip hazards seem to be much higher,” says Solomon, Premier Scaffold. “What needs to be done in all situations is to be aware of your surroundings at all times and follow all OSHA and manufacturing regulations.”
Breithaupt says that one way his NonStop elevated scaffolds help prevent injuries is by providing a safe way to bring supplies up to the platform. Breithaupt said his scaffolds are equipped with a trap door and a winch that can be used to hoist needed materials up to the scaffold platform. Breithaupt said this innovation allows masons to safely continue work without having to go back down for materials.
Call a professionalEven with new innovations in scaffolding and mast climbing, some tight squeeze jobs will require custom made scaffolding solutions.
“We did a job in Athens, Ga. that had many tight alcoves,” Bridges says. “We have recently designed a compact mast climber that can fit into tight spaces while still having a capacity for masonry – 10,000 pounds. We originally designed some custom steel decks to fit the alcoves. However, when we arrived on the job to install the scaffold, the wood frame contractor’s work was not the dimension it was supposed to be. It was a lot tighter! As usual, they expect the mason to make it look good. We were able to retrofit the scaffold with adjustable arms to fit the wall. It provided the contractor with a productive and safe platform. The retrofit has since become a standard feature.”
Although masons are known for innovating to solve problems, when it comes to modifying scaffolding systems for tight jobs, creative problem solving should be left to scaffold manufacturing professionals.
Solomon said the absolute worst thing masons can do regarding scaffolding in a tight squeeze situation is to use a system that is not designed for the job at hand. Solomon said masons in need of a job-specific fix should contact the manufacturer of their scaffolding for assistance. Money and time invested in bringing the manufacturer onboard will be recouped in reduced exposure to potential injuries, work slowdowns and government fines and penalties.
“Resist the temptation to design or rig it yourself,” Bridges says. “Make sure you have the manufacturer or at least a professional engineer look at it.”
About the Author
Jim Cook is a freelance writer based in Dothan, Ala. A veteran of daily newspapers and trade publications, he has deep experience writing on a variety of topics.