Home Features Health and safety Safety protocols when working on skyscrapers

Working on very tall buildings demands a different mindset for access and scaffolding contractors. While all scaffolding work is carried out at height, working above 18 metres demands stringent work protocols, training and management procedures to maintain safety and efficiency. Karl Degroot from Godiva Environmental Solutions considers the issues for scaffolding contractors working on skyscrapers.

Having been responsible for scaffolding on some of the tallest structures in the Midlands and London, I’m only too aware that contractors need to consider different ways of planning and scheduling how to deploy resources safely and efficiently.

Working safely at height means it’s essential to adopt an approach that combines the highest standards of health and safety performance with management expertise and experience.

In Godiva’s case, our procedures conform to, or exceed, appropriate legislation, including Work at Height Regulations 2005, and our Safety Health Environment and Quality (SHEQ) standards are based on the latest recognised industry best practice guidance notes. We take all measures to prevent falls, such as providing adequate work platforms with suitable guardrails or other collective measures, before resorting to personal fall protection equipment.


Part of the planning stage is to identify ‘key milestones’. These are the stages – or scaffold height points – at which the scaffold inspector and design engineers will inspect the structure before progressing to the next milestone. Inspections should be built into the design and erection programme with your design team, whether it’s tube and fitting or a system project.

Falling objects

One fundamental hazard of working at height, which is pertinent to tall buildings, is falling objects. When assessing the risk, it’s vital to consider the proximity of the structure to the general public, any over-sailing aspects and essential exclusion zones. In addition to eliminating the potential for falling objects, the introduction of catch nets and scaffold fan protection will reduce the distance and impact of the fall and prevent injury.

Safety netting of this type is now standard on tall building projects and an essential safety protocol. This approach was adopted on the 36-storey Milton Court in the City of London where I managed the scaffolding. Fan protection was also installed to enhance the safety on-site. With central London buildings being so close together and the city having such high pedestrian footfall, extra measures of this kind are often essential to protect the general public.

As sites become cleaner to minimise the impact on local neighbourhoods, containing dust and debris has also placed considerable demands on contractors. While working on the two tallest residential tower blocks in Birmingham – the 32-storey high Cleveland and Clydesdale towers – and the Holloway Circus Tower, the tallest hotel in Birmingham, scaffold screening was introduced. Installing screens creates different challenges and operatives received training to make sure tools and equipment were tethered while the screens were being erected. This extra working protocol helped to ensure safety of operatives and better protection for the general public.


Training is a critical component for scaffold erection teams and it’s essential that operatives are kept up to date with access and scaffold industry best practice through regular on-site tool box talks and more detailed training sessions at the yard every two weeks.

Recent training for us has included more complex aspects, such as the erection of loading bays so that all teams can work to consistent protocols that are safe and efficient. We also operate the ‘black hat’ system for our site foreman. This Safety Helmet Colours Standard, introduced to the UK construction industry in 2016 by Build UK, identifies on-site personnel to improve communication and safety across construction projects.


Clients expect all contractors to be fully compliant with the latest health and safety legislation regarding the access and scaffolding sector and our management team is NEBOSH (National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health), IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) and Advanced Scaffolding Inspection certified as a minimum.

Finally, working at height brings many risks. Managing these risks carefully is critical and we are very aware of our duty to promote safe working for our operatives and the safety of those in the vicinity of where we work.

Karl Degroot
Contracts director
Godiva Environmental Solutions Ltd

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