Am I responsible for scaffolding design and can I be held liable?

In this article, Benn Houghton, from Direct Insurance Group, who are members and partners of the Scaffolding Association, discusses the ramifications of making on-site scaffolding design alterations, and the steps companies can take to protect themselves.

The Work at Height Regulations 2005 contain explicit requirements relating to scaffolding design, and state that;

“Strength and stability calculations must be carried out unless a note of the calculations, covering the structural arrangements contemplated is available, or it is assembled in conformity with a generally recognised standard”.

For scaffolding contractors this allows two options, either have the scaffold designed by calculation, or construct the scaffold in a known configuration to a recognised standard (such as TG20).

With the introduction of TG20:13 the requirement for design input is greatly minimised, but there are still many non-standard builds which require additional consideration.

The vast majority of scaffolding contractors undertake non-standard erection based from the design of specialist consultants including structural engineers, but does this completely alleviate the contractor from any risk associated with the design?

Whilst in principle, designs are typically managed at the Main Contractor level and then passed to the scaffolding contractor, there are a number of situations which can arise where the design liability risk can become more complex;

  • The scaffolding contractor works alongside the designer to have an input into the drawings
  • The scaffolding contractor appoints their own internal design team
  • The scaffolding contractor appoints their own external design team
  • Modifications and deviations from the drawings are made at site due to unforeseeable events or unseen conditions which could not be known

It should be no surprise that for 1, 2 or 3, the scaffolding contractor should have their own professional indemnity insurance in place (the insurance in place should not contain an absolute injury exclusion, and should extend to include collateral warranty cover where needed), but what about point 4?

It is commonplace for designs to be modified on site, changes in conditions, or unseen complications can arise quickly. However, for scaffolding contractors, simply amending the design to fit the site requirements can be where risks arise.

Tweaking a design on site is the equivalent of re-designing the temporary structure itself, and the scaffolding contractor can now potentially be found liable for the design risk.

To mitigate this exposure, any and all modifications should always be re-submitted and signed off by the design team prior to the modifications being made.

Whilst this does mitigate your exposure, there can still be comeback if there is an error in what you sent back to the designer, or, if due to time or operational pressure the change had to be made without referral.

In cases of higher severity losses, such as loss of life or serious injury, it very much is a case of throwing mud to see where it sticks, and this will include the scaffolding contractor, regardless of design input levels.

It is therefore imperative to have in place insurance which can “fight your corner” and cover the costs of defending the claim, and to prove you are not negligent.

This insurance can come in the form of a professional indemnity policy, or in the form of a professional liability extension to your public liability policy – to see which method is most suitable for your business, don’t hesitate to contact us and we will be happy to explain how best to protect your business.

Call 01277 844 396, email [email protected] or visit www.dicr.co.uk/scaffinsure

IMAGE CREDITS: Shanweb

This article was originally featured in the 15th printed edition of AccessPoint, you can read the full magazine online by clicking below;

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