The History Of Scaffolding

The History Of Scaffolding

23rd April 2014

Scaffolding is usually used as a temporary structure that can be used for workers to undertake tasks in the construction and repair of buildings.  It’s strong enough to support several workers and the materials and equipment they need and there are strict guidelines on the installation and use of scaffolding to protect those who work at height from accident and injury whilst they are working.

We usually think of scaffolding as a fairly modern solution – steel poles and thick planks adorning the sides of buildings in towns and cities across the land with men in hard hats clambering around them with their tools and equipment.  However, it might surprise you to learn that the cave paintings in Lascaux, France were probably done with the help of scaffolding.  Sockets in the walls around the art works suggest that a primitive scaffolding system was probably used to reach the higher parts of the cave more than 17,000 years ago.

The Berlin Foundry Cup is a drinking vessel from the early 5th Century BC decorated with depictions of an Athenian bronze foundry, and a statue of a warrior standing within wooden scaffolding. 
 
During Victorian times scaffolding was erected by individual companies and had a wide range of standards and sizes.  Scaffolding was eventually rationalised by the British Patent Rapid company in 1906 – the company eventually evolved into Scaffolding Great Britain (SGB) and is now owned by Harsco, a global industrial player based in the United States.
 
Scaffolding was revolutionised by Daniel Palmer Jones (who founded the British Patent Rapid company with his brother) with the invention of the “Scaffixer”, a coupling device that was much more robust than the rope that had been previously used to fix scaffolding.  The Scaffixer gained some useful popularity when the company was commissioned to carry out construction work on Buckingham Palace in 1913 and was superceded by the “Universal Coupler” in 1919 which remains the industry standard to this day.

In 1922 SGB, as it was now known, introduced tubular steel water pipes to replace the timber poles that had traditionally been used in scaffolding.  This enabled standardised dimensions which allowed industrial changeability of parts and improved the structural stability of scaffold.  The introduction of diagonal bracings brought even more stability, especially on taller buildings.

Today working scaffolding is covered by European Standard BS EN 12811-1 which specifies the performance requirements and the methods of structural and general design.  The main purpose of working scaffold is to provide workers with a safe place to work with safe access that is suitable for the work being undertaken.  The basic components of scaffolding are couplers, tubes and boards.  Tubes are usually made of either aluminium or steel and come in a variety of lengths in a standard diameter of 48.3 mm.  Tubes are usually bought in lengths of 6.3 metres and then cut to the size deemed appropriate by the company using them.
 
In many parts of the world, including Asia, bamboo is still in general use for scaffolding – with few safety restraints and nylon straps are tied into knots to act as couplers.  In India, bamboo or other wooden scaffolding is used and the poles are lashed together using ropes fabricated from coconut fibres.