Scaffold planking and wind uplift

14 January 2022

Providing scaffolding and 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 risks that may not be addressed as often as they should.

Ascinsure Specialty Risk and Allied Insurance Brokers (Gallagher’s wholesale underwriting managers and retail brokers, respectively) regularly review and analyze the risks, claims, and losses that occur within its Scaffold & Construction Access practice. After a thorough analysis, one of the most frequent claims drivers found was scaffold planking and wind risks, otherwise known as wind uplift.

Photo credit: Adobe Stock

Over the past five years, nearly 13 percent of the Scaffold & Construction Access practice claims were directly related to scaffold planking uplift caused by the wind. These claims account for nearly 10 percent of all incurred losses within this practice and average about $17,000 per claim. With such an impact on frequency and severity, customer education on wind uplift was necessary.

“During a recent claims review, we identified that over the past five years a significant number of claims have been caused by wind dislodging planking and causing it to strike a third party’s property or person,” explained Tres Whitlock, Gallagher’s national director, crane and 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 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,” said Cameron Boots, Gallagher’s director of risk engineering, scaffold and 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 is the best option, especially when it comes to wind risks and reducing any instances of flying or falling planks?

James McNamara, third-generation owner of Safety Scaffolds based in New Jersey and co-chair of the SAIA-Supported Scaffold Council, talked about his experience with wind risks and how he secures his scaffold planking.

“The decision to utilize wood plank versus metal decking in terms of preventing uplift almost invariably comes down to the specific needs of the project. 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,” McNamara said. “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.

“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.”

Whether utilizing metal or wood planking, one thing’s for certain: The structure and its components must be able to withstand certain wind conditions no matter what, especially in an area where extreme weather can appear from seemingly out of nowhere.

Rick Haynes, president of Haynes Scaffolding & Supply Inc., located in West Palm Beach, FL, said, “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 job-site 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. You must prepare it for the worst conditions.”

A Culture of Safety

Haynes Scaffolding reaches this level of risk management and safety before any-one 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 securement methods and many other safety habits designed to keep the structure up in adverse wind conditions, including hurricanes.

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

They accomplish this 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. Managing those risks comes down to experience, knowledge, and the requirements of the project to help deter-mine the best approach.

Risk Mitigation Takeaways

Risk management and safety culture play a big role in keeping an organization from becoming just another statistic within the 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 employees on correct procedure and sets standards of what is expected of them before they leave a project site.

According to Boots, “Training and safety culture are key. They are 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 30 years of experience, said, “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-con-tractor to document and agree in writing that the scaffolding and planking is to contract and/or code.”

There are also many ways to 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, project owner, etc.

Finally, the days of speaking with an insurance broker only around renewal time or when an incident occurs are gone. The industry has evolved over the past 20 years, especially around the role that brokers are expected to play. Brokers should be trusted advisors and familiar voices educating customers about pertinent risk management strategies, safety training, industry news, and insurance coverages that impact business. So, here’s the 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.

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