Structurally sound: Scaffolding industry climbs to meet needs

Mall of the Emirates, which opened this week in Dubai, is one of the region’s growing number of mega-projects that has increased demand for scaffolding services. Zoe Naylor reports on an industry working to keep pace with these developments, by adapting traditional scaffolding methods for fast-track construction; and how, despite local codes of safety, developers are using British standards to protect their workers on site.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  October 1, 2005

|~|_C6O0092350.gif|~|Mall of the Emirates: Employing 80 men at one time, it only took a week to dismantle 60% of the scaffolding, and a month to complete the operation.|~|It was one of the biggest scaffolding jobs in town until last week — when most of it was dismantled to unveil Dubai’s much anticipated Mall of the Emirates. The mega-mall may have missed its original 3rd September opening date, but that is perhaps not surprising given its ambitious scale. One part of the job that was assembled and then disassembled with military precision, was the scaffolding. “It took us one month to dismantle all the scaffolding,” says John Lightley, project manager, Westminster Gulf. “We began by taking it down in sections and then had a real blitz on it — we ended up dismantling 60% of it in one week alone. Some of it will have to go up again, but only in a few small areas.” Since work began on site in late 2003, Mall of the Emirates has been one of the most visible projects in Dubai. And, according to Lightley, coordinating the work with all of the other sub-contractors was no simple task. “One of the biggest challenges we faced was the sheer logistics of getting all the kit and the men to the site at the right times. Anything up to 70 to 80 men at a time were doing the scaffolding. “To help boost productivity we hired labourers to do the actual passing of materials rather than having qualified scaffolders doing it. This leaves the scaffolders free to do the actual fixing which makes us a lot more efficient. Most of the scaffolders are Nepalese — they’re good workers and very strong.” Most of the kit used on site by Westminster is the system scaffold called Cuplok, originally designed and manufactured by SGB in the UK. “Most people here use it — it’s quick to erect and safe, providing you use it correctly,” says Lightley. One factor which delayed the project was the daytime working ban in July and August. “It meant our guys were working two shifts, which means they’re not as efficient. Once they’ve gone back to their camp they don’t really want to come back in the afternoon to start work again.” Lightley says that if they hadn’t have been so busy at the time, they would have reverted to working the eight hour day, starting a little earlier in the morning and finishing in time for the break. Logistical challenges and working bans aside, the Mall of the Emirates opened its doors for the first time this week and is likely to be a crowd puller: “The snow dome is down to its sub-zero operating temperature and they’ve started to make the snow — a remarkable achievement in this weather,” says Lightley. Mega projects, such as the Mall of the Emirates, mean business is brisk for the region’s scaffolders. “The market is buoyant at the moment, says Lightley. “We’re busy in Dubai and Bahrain, and Qatar looks like it’s going to start booming soon.” The short lead times present a significant challenge when working in the region. “A project like Mall of the Emirates, for example, takes a lot of planning. The short lead times here make it difficult to forecast anything — one day you can be quiet, and the next day every man is working flat out. “The typical scenario is you’ll get a call one day about a scaffolding job, you’ll price it the next day and the client will be looking to place the order the day after — that’s how quickly it tends to work here,” he says. He adds that the fast track nature of projects means that a lot of redesign work tends to be carried out while the buildings are under construction. “In the UK, for example, you have to submit detailed drawings before you’re allowed you to start. Here, all you need is the outline. “There’s no long planning consent period so they’ll design the footings and the raft and where they’re going to put the piles, and they’ll start that while they’re designing what’s going to sit on top of the piles.” According to Lightley the majority of the contractors in the region do the scaffolding themselves, but it’s not usually of the sort of quality that you would see in Europe. “The safety aspect can be a bit dubious out this way.” The GCC-wide trend for high-rise construction brings with it a raft of safety considerations. “Firstly you’ve got to make sure the scaffolding is tied in properly, and then you need boards and handrails. But if you look at a lot of the building work here they don’t actually bother with boards and handrails. You end up in the situation where the workers here get so used to working in unsafe conditions, that they don’t know any better.” He says that Dubai Municipality does have quite a comprehensive code of construction practice, which is similar to the UK with regards to safety. But the difficulty comes in applying it. “At Westminster Gulf we try to work to the British standards —this makes it safer for us, safer for the client and it improves the client’s productivity if they have safe scaffolding.”||**||

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