Do you sheet or do you shrink wrap?

More and more scaffolding structures are being fully enclosed with a wrap of some kind, whether that’s to provide full containment, weather protection or an advertising platform. Jenny Gibson looks into when and why sheeting or shrink wrap come out on top.

“Sheeting dominates the market because it’s generally up to a third of the cost of shrink wrap to install on a supply and fit basis,” said Karl Degroot, managing director at Godiva Access & Scaffolding.

“Wrapping scaffolding on building developments is commonplace on urban projects, especially where sites are overlooked or there is high footfall and they can in some cases also be used as large advertising hoardings.

“But if full containment is very important – say in projects involving asbestos or where the structure needs to be stripped back to the original steel or concrete frame – then shrink wrap may be considered.”

Swift Scaffolding has utilised scaffold sheeting to clad both basic and complex scaffold structures for many years, often at client request or evolving from early engagement in project requirements.

Swift Scaffolding clad the scaffold structure with sheeting at the landmark Berkeley Homes 250 City Road developments in Islington.

Joe Coull, health and safety manager at Swift, said: “Sheeting usually comes on a roll 2m in length (or 2.5m / 3m depending on its application) so that it can easily be carried on the shoulder by one person, whereas shrink wrap is typically 7m in length,” he said.

“It’s straightforward to fix and adjust sheeting using bungee ties and it can go up in most weather conditions. The scaffolder or scaffold labourer doesn’t need any specialist training, although they do need to work to the British Standard.”

Industrial Textiles & Plastics’ technical expert David Gilmore picks up on this point. He said: “It’s an ongoing issue that scaffold sheeting is not always installed to best practice standards, and when the sheeting fails, the product is blamed rather than the installation.

A recent project in Manchester where Industrial Textiles & Plastics supplied Powerclad Standard FR DigiPrint scaffold sheeting.

“Our scaffold sheeting has three reinforcement strips and there should be a sufficient number of ties (minimum one BS 7955-compliant tie per square metre of sheeting) to spread the load adequately across the installation.”

Although sheeting is cheaper, easier to install and can be reused, some would say that it isn’t the most aesthetically pleasing. And there’s the containment issue to consider as well. Overlapping and tying sheeting will stop some dust and debris escaping, but windy conditions can easily cause the bungee ties to be stretched beyond the point of no return, meaning the sheeting can sag, flap and sometimes detach altogether.

Shrink wrap has a 30 to 40cm overlap and is then heat sealed or ‘welded’ between the joints using a hot-air gun to create a bond. With the sheet size up at 7m, sometimes even 12m, shrink wrap means far fewer joints in the first place and a neater, tighter finish achieved by bonding the overlapping layers.

Mr Degroot commented: “Shrink wrap does provide different benefits from sheeting, but in some cases carries greater risk because of hot working on-site. Precautions would need to be taken.

“We tend to use scaffold sheeting on our contracts and bring in a specialist sheeting installation contractor so that we don’t tie up our skilled scaffolders on a non-core activity.”

Developments in traditional sheeting are keeping up with a move towards 3m lifts instead of 2m lifts and an increase in popularity of system scaffold.

“Contractors are asking for more 3m rolls for their 3m lifts,” commented Mr Gilmore. Larger lifts allow for both cost and time saving with regard to installation. And when sheeting is used on a system construction, it’s easier to achieve a smoother and neater finish.”

As with most areas of the construction industry post-Grenfell, sheeting has come under scrutiny. A significant recent development in the market is the relatively new alternative for third-party accreditation for flameretardant products.

Mr Gilmore explained: “In the past, this was almost exclusively offered by the Loss Prevention Certification Board (LPCB), which approves scaffold sheeting to LPS 1215 and LPS 1207 – the recognised gold standard for the industry. End users could confirm certificates via BRE’s RedBookLive.

“Now, Exova Warringtonfire, which tests and certifies scaffold sheeting to TS62 (equivalent to LPS 1215) and TS63 (equivalent to LPS 1207), is also recognised by the Joint Code of Practice on the Protection from Fire of Construction Sites and Buildings Undergoing Renovation (JCC).

“As a leading supplier of scaffold sheeting, we have prepared a number of informative technical briefs to provide information to scaffolders and end users on these new developments,” he added.

Choosing the most suitable and effective solution, whether sheeting or shrink wrap, will always come down to a multitude of factors. But making sure that the chosen product is installed correctly, and by a competent person, remains ever important.

Mr Coull of Swift Scaffolding concluded: “Clad a scaffold with sheeting and you have hoisted a sail – unless you want to set sail and be moved by the wind, you better be anchored!”