Solving birdcage problems with metal decking

Oxfordshire-based Ducker & Young Scaffolding has introduced a new approach to birdcage scaffolding that has seen its productivity improve and helped it meet its client’s challenging cost-saving targets. Adrian JG Marsh reports.

“A decking system that improves safety and boosts productivity is helping us to not only tackle the skills shortage but also raise standards,” said Jonathan Greer, contracts director at Ducker & Young.

“Demand for qualified scaffolders is high and access to skilled resources is perhaps the main brake on growth. So when Cala Homes came to us looking to reduce scaffolding costs, we saw it as an opportunity rather than just another cost-cutting exercise.”

Housebuilders are reliant on the right access solutions from the outset of any new development to ensure that the scaffold allows a safe and efficient working environment for trade contractors. Traditionally, tube and fitting birdcage structures are designed and erected inside a new house to allow bricklayers, carpenters and roofers access.

Mr Greer continued: “Birdcage work is very labour intensive and requires a scaffolding gang to erect it. We’d also found that during hot weather some boards would warp and require changing. We’d been considering a number of decking systems that are available on the market.”

Ducker & Young researched a range of systems and, along with Cala, selected Sayfa Systems’ RhinoDeck to undergo a six-month trial on a housing scheme in south Oxfordshire.

“We liked it because its load capacity was 6kN, three times the load capacity of other systems,” explained Mr Greer.

“It could also be erected with a semi-skilled gang with a FASET qualification. This was attractive because it freed up skilled scaffolders to work on more complex scaffold contracts. “It’s also available in heights building up to four metres and can easily be installed at a rate of 350m2 per day per two-man gang. Around four times faster than tube and fitting.”

RhinoDeck is freestanding and doesn’t rely on bracing to the walls for stability – walls that might be recently built and not yet secure in themselves. The design includes leg braces which ensure that the system is secure.

Lee Muggleton, the product manager for RhinoDeck, said: “It was conceived and designed to respond specifically to the needs of housebuilders to improve access for their trade contractors. We knew at the time that it needed to be both freestanding and loadbearing and to carry both men and materials on the working deck.

“The system is also light, no piece is heavier than 11kg, and to accommodate access underneath, the decking modules are all 1.28m long with two width options, 640mm and 400mm.”

Mr Muggleton explained the reasoning behind the 1.28m length. “This was wide enough to allow contractors to move pallets of materials underneath the working deck and, at the same time, to provide good access and a good exit route in the event of an emergency.

“We’re constantly looking to improve the system and we regularly work with scaffolders and housebuilders to monitor how trade contractors work from it. Recent refinements include the introduction of a slide-in handrail to allow safe ladder access through the deck.”

Ducker & Young’s trial for Cala with RhinoDeck included configurations for general bricklaying and also for the installation of floors and roof trusses.

The stability and loadbearing capabilities of the decking enhanced the speed and simplicity of the process while increasing the work efficiency of trade contractors in the process.

Following the trial, Ducker & Young has set up a specialist gang whose sole purpose has been to provide a dedicated decking service for housebuilders. In addition to contracts for Cala Homes, this new decking team is working for other housebuilders and a new care home in Witney.

Aubrey Townsend, Ducker & Young’s decking manager, said: “To take advantage of some of the time and cost benefits, we’ve had to persuade housebuilders to change the sequence of works.

“As a modular system, RhinoDeck lends itself to a system approach. This benefits from volume, and so that sequencing takes place. Currently, we’re only using it in a residential environment. However, as we use it more, other uses will be identified.

“What our teams like about it is it’s simple to use. We’re also able to operate a decking service on price work which provides the guys the opportunity to earn a wage while undertaking further training to progress in the industry.”

Cala Homes at Wolvercote Mill

Wolvercote Mill in Wolvercote, Oxfordshire, is an excellent example of Cala Homes’ forward-thinking approach and keenness to introduce innovative solutions where they are building 95 houses within a development that dovetails into the existing village structure.

The current pressures faced by all housebuilders today are inevitably those of time and cost but always against a background of more stringent health and safety requirements and demand from the customer for increasing quality and design innovation.

After discussion with Ducker & Young, Cala Homes settled on the use of RhinoDeck to provide a stable and safe freestanding work platform for use during the construction of the houses. Loadable to 600kg/m2 , using RhinoDeck meant not only that the build could proceed without delay at any time but also that materials were always on hand where needed. This combination of benefits brought flexibility to a building project where delays cost money.

The particular benefit for Ducker & Young was that decking teams could be trained quickly to complement their existing workforce leaving their skilled scaffolding teams free to install scaffolding.