Friday, September 9, 2011


Whoa! Now that looks scary!

A couple days ago I made a quip on my Facebook page about how it seems my work follows me around. I never really paid much attention to scaffolding though I recall walking under many a scaffolding structure as a kid on a busy street and gazing upward in curiosity. Now that I'm in the industry I tend to notice a lot more, which I suppose is quite understandable -- there's scaffolding EVERYWHERE out at site, as well as in town here. I saw it last time I was in the local mall (which was having the top floor renovated) and the book I'm reading at the moment makes references to it. (The book centres around the construction of a 12th century English cathedral...yes I KNOW that might sound like a mundane read but it actually is quite a good story.) Even during my regular reading of favorite blogs on my sidebar, I came across references to scaffolding in Kara's most recent post.

So I notice scaffolding alot. Which is why I find it odd that there are people that have no inkling about what scaffolding is. Like a lady I spoke to on the phone a couple months ago regarding my credit card. ("Scaf.....fold? Scaf....fold?? I don't even know what that is.") Can you believe it? I know, I was shocked too. So there you have the genesis of this post.

So what is scaffolding?

Scaffolding is a temporary structure used to access unsafe work areas, such as the construction/repair of buildings and other large structures. Construction workers, electricians, pipe fitters, welders, painters, insulators, siding installers....all these trade people make use of scaffolding to perform their jobs. Michelangelo made use of scaffolding while he worked on the Sistine Chapel. While there are many types of systems out there, scaffolding consists of the same basic parts - standards (the uprights that hold the structure up), ledgers (which attach to standards and run parallel to the ground, providing a stable base to attach your planks to) and braces of various size to provide lateral support. There are also many different lengths of tube, several smaller parts (which in a nut shell help hold all the larger components together and tie the structure into the building) and a few specialty pieces (which I won't pretend to know all of).

What is scaffolding made out of?

Much of what I see on a daily basis and am familiar with is made of either aluminum or some sort of composite material. Apparently in some parts of Asia, they use scaffolding made out of bamboo, as in the picture below.

Where is scaffolding most commonly used?

That depends. In major cities such as Vancouver or Toronto....housing construction. In a place like Sarnia, Ontario or here in Fort McMurray, its apt to be used for more industrial-related purposes.

How long does it take to become a journeyman?

I can only speak for Alberta but here you apprentice for 4 years before becoming a journeyman (upon successful completion of your final tests of course.) I can also add here that it can be difficult to go between provinces and have your qualifications recognized. I don't know all the ins-and-outs but I know our trade isn't the only one affected by petty inter-provincial bureaucracy and politics.

Does scaffolding pay well?

Well, it helps pay my bills and without going into too much detail I find it comparable to some of the salaries I used to earn in my past career in education. A 1st year apprentice starts out at around $23/hour. A journeyman rate I believe is in the neighborhood of $40/hr and the general foreman rate through the company I work for is in the $50/hour range. It will never make me a millionaire but like any other trade, if you're determined and hard-working you can do well for yourself. Due to all the oil sands activity, Fort McMurray is most certainly the best place in Canada to be involved in the scaffolding trade.

And a question I seem to be getting a lot lately..Are you planning to go out into the field?

That I haven't decided yet, although eventually probably yes. My decision will be based on how I can best provide for my family. I started out last fall working in the main scaffolding yard at Suncor. Recently I was promoted to part-time foreman and next month my basic yard worker rate will see a rather nice raise. Going out into the field will mean giving up my foreman position and drawing a smaller salary although in the long run, going out into the field will pay off if I were to become a journeyman. (Plus, because I have some familiarity with all the different materials, I would be able to go out into the field as a second-year apprentice rather than starting out at the bottom.) I can also add here (and this will come across as strange I know) that I am a little afraid of heights. Yes, I know. Perhaps I didn't completely think things through here. Although I should say that it has gotten better in recent years. (And this won't be a factor in any final decision I make.) Last week I was down in one of the plants helping with a massive tear down and spent part of the morning a good 40-50 feet off the ground without any great trouble.

So anyhow, there you have it. I won't pretend to know more than I know. I do know that I approached the trade with some apprehension a year ago as it lay well outside the line of work I was used to. With familiarity things become a lot less scary. I certainly don't mind the physical aspects of it. As it says on my hard hat, "Labor Vincit Omnia" -- Hard Work Conquers All.


Meandering Michael said...

Ha ha, your hardhat WOULD have a sticker with a Latin motto!

Morena said...

Are you reading Pillars of the Earth??

Way Way Up said...

Michael....a good little reminder for all us working bees. My Latin is a little rusty but I'm pretty sure that's how it translates.

Morena....good call on the book. I've seen some mixed reviews but I'm finding it's a hard one to put down.

Morena said...

I felt the same way. I've recommended it over and over again to people. Glad you're enjoying it.

Bonnie said...

Love the photos esp. the first one and enjoy your thoughtful blogs.

Way Way Up said...

Thanks Bonnie.