Scaffolding sector trends

(last updated July 2019)

What has been happening in the scaffolding industry

Demand for construction services - including scaffolding and access - grew during the late 1990s and the first half of the 2000s as the economy prospered. The middle of the 2000s saw very strong demand for all types of construction services, a trend which benefited the scaffolding and access industries.

Unfortunately, the late 2000s saw a sharp downturn in demand as the economy weakened. Conditions stayed very difficult for many during the early 2010s, causing an inevitable downturn in demand for scaffolding services. There was still demand for good skilled and reputable scaffolders, but the trading climate was tough.

Things began to pick up during 2013, and 2014 was a much better year for the economy and the construction industry. The economic recovery continued during the first half of 2015 but then slowed in the second half of the year and throughout 2016 and 2017. Growth in the construction industry was subdued during 2016 and 2017. Little change is expected for 2018 - the Construction Products Association forecast that the sector would remain flat, at best, during 2018. New private industrial orders have been falling and growth has been dependent on an increase in infrastructure activity and private housebuilding offsetting a sharp fall in the commercial and industrial sectors. This pattern is expected to continue in 2018.

The loss of jobs in the industry following the financial crisis led to a skills shortage. Some 300,000 skilled craftsmen left the industry, many for good. This led to higher potential earnings for construction industry workers. The skills shortage has continued to cause problems and is expected to worsen as a result of Brexit and the reduction of European migrants to make up the shortage. Scaffolders are in great demand, with an inevitable increase in wages that this brings with it.

Even during the recession and the economic uncertainty following the Brexit vote, the construction industry benefited from:

  • many homeowners extending their homes because of the cost of moving up to a larger property, particularly in areas where prices are high, for example in London
  • the increase in buy-to-let landlords creating a spike in demand for renovations - although recent tax changes have made buy-to-let less attractive so there may be a reduction in this work in future

Increased wages, financial constraints and inflation generally mean that margins are under pressure. In such a competitive market it is very important for scaffolding firms to run their businesses professionally and efficiently - and to offer customers excellent service and value for money.

Technology

Scaffolding is far from being a low-tech industry. Alongside the various 'traditional' scaffolding systems available, there is now a range of sophisticated alloy and fibreglass systems designed for certain specialist applications. Complex scaffolds are routinely designed using advanced computer-aided design (CAD) software packages, requiring highly skilled operatives. Meanwhile, safety systems such as SCAFFTAG can be scanned using barcode and radio frequency ID technology to verify that safety procedures have been followed.

Quality standards and safety

For many years, the construction industry as a whole was dogged by stories of 'cowboy' workmen and poor standards. This prompted the government and industry to join together to do something about the problem. As a result, more and more scaffolders are now registered under the Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme (CISRS), which is affiliated to the industry-wide Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) and run by the industry training board CITB. Increasingly, contractors will only engage scaffolders who carry CISRS registration cards. Some contractors will only deal with scaffolders who belong to the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation (NASC), which audits its members for quality and safety standards.

In 2004 a European Standard for scaffolding, BS EN 12811-1, was launched to replace the older British Standard BS 5973 (which has been formally withdrawn). The standard is not a legal requirement for all scaffolds, but more and more clients specify that all scaffolding must meet it. The Health and Safety Executive advises that the standard should be adhered to at all times. Technical guidance on the European Standard is available from NASC.

This growing emphasis on quality means that contracts may not just be won on price alone. In many cases, quality assurance and safety standards will play a large part in securing a contract.

Special health and safety regulations for the construction industry were updated in 2015, with implications for scaffolds - including domestic works - and other temporary structures such as those erected for events.

Keeping up with industry developments

An excellent way to keep up with industry developments as they occur is to join a trade association. NASC is the main organisation representing the industry in the UK and keeps its members informed with regular newsletters and bulletins.

Trade journals and media are also excellent ways of staying up to date. ScaffMag is a web-based magazine for the scaffolding and access industry which includes news, features and articles.

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