Scaffold work is interesting, demanding, and highly critical in today's marketplace. In fact, scaffolding is sometimes called the unsung hero of the construction industry. It's indispensable on the job, yet is long gone before the building is finished. It's important for what it does, not how it looks.
The future of good, steady scaffold work across North America has never been better. To take advantage of the possibilities, more than 110,000 United Brotherhood of Carpenters members have a UBC scaffold card stuck in their wallets that indicates their proficiency in doing this type of work.
The Brotherhood used a simple, but powerful, approach to meet the needs of the scaffolding industry. It partnered with OSHA to create demanding training standards. The organization constantly improves that program and makes it available to members in order to develop productive and professional workers for the jobsite.
Scaffold work was governed by a hodge-podge of regulations until the mid-1990s. In November 1996, new federal legislation was enacted requiring scaffold erectors to be properly trained before they could sign off on jobs. Two weeks after the new Federal scaffold training requirements hit the streets, the UBC was turning out people to meet the need.
The new regulations acted as a gate across commercial scaffold work in America, and the UBC was the first organization to develop the training needed to get members through that doorway. Early action was one reason why the UBC dominates the scaffolding scene in many key markets today.
Douglas Holman, a 34-year veteran of the scaffold scene, trains scaffold instructors at the Brotherhood's $25 million International Training Center in Las Vegas. Scaffold trainers across the country come to Vegas and are provided with the know-how to deliver the specifics about the regulations at their local training centers.
Holman is quick to mention one key feature of the UBC scaffold program that no other labor training system can match. “We are the only organization authorized to issue union qualification cards that include the OSHA stamp on them. OSHA followed me around for a year when we first started to deliver scaffold training to meet the new regulations. They would teach one part of the program and I would handle the other.
“When they finally turned the training over entirely to the UBC in 1997, it took an act of Congress to allow the OSHA symbol to appear on our card. No other trade organization packs the punch that we do in the scaffold world.”
Details of the scaffold program vary depending on market needs. Currently there are nine variations on the scaffold training theme, including everything from a 60-hr Beginners Scaffold Erector class to a one-day Scaffold User program. The workhorse course is the 40-hr Standard Scaffold Erector Training, which covers welded frame, mobile tower, tube and coupler, OSHA scaffold regulations, and fall protection.
Before instructors get the go-ahead to teach the scaffold course, they need to learn everything in a 20-lb box of books, videos, and instructional CDs. They also learn by doing. Master classes include a 1/3 scale model of a tube and coupler scaffold installation built on classroom tables. Training then moves on to full-size installations covering a broad range of scaffold types.