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NASC raises the quality bar

12 Jun 12 The National Access & Scaffolding Confederation's tough line on auditing members is winning the organisation friends in high places. By Will Mann.

Earlier this spring, the National Access & Scaffolding Confederation (NASC) pulled off a real coup when its Guide for Appointing and Managing Scaffolding Contractors was officially endorsed by the UK Contractors Group (UKCG).

It means the UKCG, which represents the country's biggest contractors, will co-brand the document with the NASC.

This is recognition, according to NASC president Rob Lynch, of how much work the trade body does to keep its house – and the wider scaffolding industry – in order.

“The UKCG were surprised how stringently we assess our members, and that we kick people for not complying with the rules,” he says. “We've had to kick a few members out recently.

“For example, we insist that 75% of a member's workforce are direct employees, and also that 90% are fully trained.”

Lynch, who is also managing director of Lyndon Scaffolding, acknowledges that the recession has put a lot of companies under pressure. In recent years, a clear divide has emerged between those who follow best practice guidance and “those who stick two fingers up”, he says.

“You can walk past any site in London and see scaffolders in trainers and t-shirts, but every NASC member will now insist on uniform PPE, harnesses, and working behind guardrails.

“Scaffolding isn't always taken seriously, because it doesn't stay on the building. But the job can't be done safely without it, so it surely makes sense that any client should want best practice from any scaffolding firm it employs.”

The arrangement with the UKCG should help ensure the NASC's standards – and members – are used more widely on the nation's biggest construction jobs.

UKCG endorsement

UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe says: “UKCG’s aim is to aspire to world class standards of best practice for UK construction. We recognise that NASC sets the standards for scaffolding in the UK and this guidance makes sound logical sense for all construction contractors to adhere to.”

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The NASC has now set its sights even higher. It is trying to persuade the government that more tighter regulation of the scaffolding sector is needed; it wants the Work At Height Regulations, which are likely to be reviewed next year, to be changed so that scaffolders would have to be not just ‘competent’, as at present, but ‘qualified’.

The NASC says that the use of the word ‘competent’ at the heart of the Work at Height Regulations has resulted in different interpretations and hence different standards of safety protocol.

“Competency is a 'weasly' word,” says Lynch. “Historically a scaffolder was viewed as competent merely if they'd been doing it a long time. Now, we're probably the most regulated construction trade after gas fitters. There are 13,000 fully qualified scaffolders employed by NASC members, and they have been through a huge amount of training.

“So we argue – why not make it law that you have to use someone fully qualified?”

The NASC, which sees the Gas Safe register as a model for its own sector, has submitted its recommendation in response to the recent government report by Professor Löfstedt reviewing workplace health and safety legislation. Löfstedt’s report recommended that the Work at Height Regulations be reviewed by 2013 – although the report was commissioned with a view to relaxing laws.

Revamp of EN 12811

Meanwhile, the NASC is busy trying to improve the safety – and general efficiency – of the whole scaffolding sector with a rewrite of the European design standard for scaffold erection, EN 12811. Introduced in 2010, and replacing the tube-and-fittings oriented British standard BS 5973, EN 12811 has caused a few headaches, says Lynch.

“It's full of Greek symbols and has no diagrams,” he explains. “ So the NASC is funding a 'reinterpretation' of the document, which will put things into layman terms.

“It is costing us literally hundreds of thousands of pounds to do this, but it will help UK scaffolders and the construction industry generally.”

It's further evidence of the important but largely unsung role of the NASC in UK construction.

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