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Innovative Suspended Platform for Marine Structures Over Water

Richter, the largest firm of temporary works designers in the UK, and ScaffFloat, a UK-based start-up that has developed a patented plastic float that allows the design and build of pontoons and workboats out of standard scaffold components, have partnered to offer a new and innovative access options for bridges, piers and other marine structures over water where access is needed for inspection, maintenance, build and demolition.

Watch the demonstration video here:

The suspended ScaffFloat platform is built off-site and then lifted in the water. The one shown in the photo is 16m x 6.4m but they can be made to almost any size. Once afloat, the self-propelled system can make passage along the waterway to a pier, jetty or other marine structure, even if this is miles from the launch site. Once in place under a structure, lines or anchors are used to temporarily hold station while a MEWP on deck is used to make the connections to the underside. A hoisting system is then used to lift the platform up together with a payload of equipment, plant, materials, and scaffold.

As soon as the platform has been lifted up, bracing can be applied to stop sway and the scaffold can be quickly and safely punched up from the ScaffFloat beams to give access to the top side of the structure for contractors. If needed, encapsulation or netting can also be added to capture any paint or debris released during the planned works. When works are complete the platform can then be lowered to the water and re-positioned, or if needed multiple platforms can be placed side by side.

There are an estimated 15,000 structures built over the water in the UK alone, from large commercial piers and ferry terminals to thousands of rail, vehicle, and footbridges over rivers, canals, and other waterways.

All these structures need continuous maintenance; the ones made of concrete need regular inspection and repairs to cracks and weathering, and any made of iron or steel need blasting, painting, and often strengthening. All of this work requires an access system, normally a suspended scaffold, to be installed before works take place.

Installing a suspended scaffold is not without its challenges, with scaffolders having to work over water, in tidal waterways or in an intertidal zone with potentially deep or soft mud. Appropriate and adapted safety measures are often required and it can be very tricky to get scaffolding materials to where they are needed, particularly on larger bridge spans, in city centres or in the middle of busy waterways. In addition, it can sometimes take weeks or months to erect a scaffolding structure which can seem disproportionate if there is only a light scope of work and access is needed for a short time.

ScaffFloat has become an expert at working under piers, jetties and other marine structures built on piles over the water. Since starting just two years ago, they have provided over 5,000 hours of safe floating access to contractors, including over 2,000 to work under dockyard, piers and dolphins and working in a wide range of weather and tidal conditions. To give contractors access over the course of a tidal cycle ScaffFloat already offers a range of adjustable work platforms that are tied down into the scaffold structure for stability such as a “Monkey Tower”, or a MEWP and this innovative suspended platform adds another option for marine structures which might require suspended access.

This new ScaffFloat platform will offer several advantages to projects where traditional solutions may struggle to be viable. The first and most significant is cost saving: if a full scaffold is not necessary the ScaffFloat can offer a much lower cost access solution. Second is speed as the ScaffFloat platform can be mobilised by a 4-person team, launched, and lifted in two days. The third benefit of this system is a reduction in disruption to the top side of the structure; this is particularly useful in city centre locations. The ScaffFloat can come 'plug and play’ with full welfare facilities and materials. Fourth is safety as workers are always working within full TG20 compliant edge protection and finally, the ScaffFloat platform has an advantage on navigable waterways where a full scaffolding structure would reduce air draft and impede navigation.

Not only can the ScaffFloat system be designed to always leave sufficient space under the navigable channel for vessels to pass, it increases the safety of the contractors by avoiding any risk linked to passing traffic or strong wash. An auxiliary ScaffFloat can also be provided with the package, as they can be self-propelled and provided with a skipper, effectively working as a workboat. A skippered ScaffFloat can be used for towing the access pontoons into position and they can hold station by pushing on which is much safer than using mooring lines in case there is strong wave action, approaching wash or another vessel drawing near, especially when working underneath a structure or amidst a tight piling pattern.

Toby Budd, MD of ScaffFloat said “ScaffFloat has come a long way since it was launched two years ago. The system has really proved itself now and we have completed over 50 projects and provided 5,000 hours of safe floating access to contractors around the UK and abroad. This suspended offering is another big step forward for the system which we are hoping to use on a variety of marine structures, really exciting.”

Mark Parkin from 48.3 said “We have been working with the ScaffFloat system for over a year now. We can see a real opportunity for this suspended platform and hope this partnership will be a good fit for our clients. We can offer scaffolders and principal contractors a turnkey service on the access design and temporary works, as well as the design for the ScaffFloat and hoist system. We can also carry out the analysis on the bridge structure and certify the connection points needed.”

Globally the scaffold industry is worth over £64 billion and is growing by 5% a year. A recent industry report by KBV said “Over the projection period, lightweight suspended scaffoldings will acquire substantial traction.” which indicates this new offer by ScaffFloat could be popular given time and cost saving and safety.

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