Thursday, 3 September 2015

Job #20 - A Day In The Life Of A Scaffolder

Job number 20 was working as a scaffolder which was a brilliant one to mark me being a fifth of the way through my challenge already (I'm actually pretty sad about that!).

As I have mentioned before I live in a pub, so you will not be surprised to hear that I know a scaffolder or two! After returning from my day of happiness spreading in my crazy outfit, I got talking with one of the regulars and decided I would work with them for the day! I have to say this was the only job that I have been scared about doing and it wasn't because of the heights!

They really kindly had a T-shirt made for me (in apprentice colours of course), and promised to take me to a scaffolders cafe - that the was the bit I was scared about...being the only girl in a cafe full of men! I needn't have worried, breakfast was actually a surprisingly civilised affair! After being picked up at 5.45 - which was a lot later than I had anticipated we grabbed the lorry and headed off to Dover and in search of somewhere for brekkie. It was a really nice way to start the morning and to wake up properly ready for some seriously heavy lifting!
It took quite some time to get to Dover with the lorry being limited to 55 miles an hour, plus the fact that between them Ian the navigator and Ben the driver kept directing us the wrong way! Weirdly they still have a tachometer (which records their days driving) and have to take rest periods like a lorry driver even though that's not actually their job!

We arrived at the job and had the task of erecting 3 scaffold towers. Luckily they didn't need to be as high as originally anticipated - apparently I wouldn't have survived the day if that had been the case! Phew a lucky escape on my part it seems...I was regularly reminded that it was actually an easy day - although I have to say it certainly didn't feel that way! The lifting although easy for them certainly wasn't for me - especially as according to my consultant I shouldn't exert myself...what does he know! It did make me feel rather dizzy and light headed, which isn't ideal but I carried on anyway!

The job!



There were many things about my day working as a scaffolder that I was in awe of, one was how well they could drive the huge lorry! First off had to be manoeuvred into a spot on a road with cars parked down one side! Then later on they parallel parked in a space I wouldn't have got my little hatchback into! (Maybe that's only exciting for me as I'm terrible at parking!)


We were all parked up at the job and ready to go when we spotted something that could have potentially made our day pretty seagulls! I have to say I thought they were winding me up at first (I was also expecting to be sent to the shop to ask for a long wait at some point!), but thinking about it if we had of been going on the roof, I don't think the mother would have taken too kindly to us being there! Thank goodness we weren't going up that high, crisis averted!

I was the labourer for the day which meant that I carried the bits from the lorry and stacked them up for them to then put the scaffolding up...I have to say I did really want a go with their action man drills and tool belts but alas it's a super important job which can't be undertaken by a mere apprentice! As you can imagine the health and safety is extensive! If something goes wrong then they are likely to be held 100% accountable...hence the huge price tag! Their biggest job they have ever done was £49,000 - but it does cost them £15,000 to buy enough poles to fill a lorry so it's certainly not a cheap business to start!

I have to say I was pretty impressed with myself for being able to lift the big poles, although after the first few I was getting laughed at for the ridiculous methods I was using to carry them trying desperately not to use my shoulders! I was told that everyone has a fatty bit on their shoulders...however I think mine are the exception and are all bone! There were points where I was laying my neck to the side and resting them on there but I have to say I don't think that was overly successful either! As I am finding with every job that I go to, there is a technique to it - you have to make sure your standing in the centre when carrying them, as otherwise gravity tries to pull down on one end or the other making it harder! If you get it right you can actually carry it with no hands...I didn't advance to that stage! I really did have to use all my effort to lift the big poles, and even then I was shaking trying to carry them. All of a sudden I picked one up with great ease, I honestly thought it was a eureka moment where I had finally mastered it...only to be asked by Ben why I was cheating carrying the alloy poles! No one told me there were light and heavy ones - I would have cheated the whole time! Unfortunately they are about 3 times the price and not as strong so that was actually the only one that I found!

I took great delight in watching people's faces when they notice my Fawkham Valley Scaffolding T-shirt and see little old me carrying these big long poles! Each length pole, bracket, piece of wood etc had it's own weird name and place on the lorry. I was actually pretty impressed with myself that by the end, even with my terrible memory they were asking me to go and get things and I knew not only what it was but where it was! When we finished Ben (one of the owners) took some photos of me at the top of the scaffolding. I don't know if you have read my blog about working as a theatre technician but when I climbed the ladder there it took me ages and I had to hold on even when I got to the top as it made my head really bad - yet I whizzed up the ladder here and felt fine. It highlighted to me just how much the environment around me affects my condition, I am definitely better at working outdoors than indoors now.

After we finished in Dover we made a pit stop at the newsagents for a drink. I couldn't believe how thirsty it makes I understand why scaffolders are renowned for having a beer after work - see this challenge is helping me understand all sorts of things about people!

Next up was Chislehurst. This was a bit different as we were just putting another lift on an existing scaffold (see I know all the lingo!), another level to you and me! We had a bit of story time on the way there, which I found highly amusing! I asked the obvious question which was - do you ever see things that you shouldn't do...with the answer being of course! They told me a story of a job they did in London where there was a lady who had a shower at the same time every morning, apparently when they arrived on site they would be offered a cup of tea which they would politely refuse as they wanted to get straight to work...I wonder why! I couldn't help but think that it can't always be women that they catch in the shower!

There was another story where one of them had been very polite and asked to use the bathroom facilities - nothing wrong with that...except he didn't specify that he would be doing a number two so the lady phoned and complained to his boss  as it made the house smell - when you've gotta go, you've gotta go! Weirdly I was actually thinking that the fact you don't always have access to a toilet could make it tricky for a lady scaffolder...they have never seen a female scaffolder before apparently - maybe that's why, along with the fact it's never men in the shower!
Shameless selfie!

 The funniest story for me however was actually the next door neighbour of the house we were on our way to. Apparently on their first visit she had been shouting at them saying that they are ruining her life because she didn't want the extension, they explained that they were only doing their job but apparently when they left she was laying face down on the front lawn kicking and screaming like a small child #awkward. I never knew scaffolding could ruin your life, but there you go - you learn something new every day!

There were builders at the second job who actually offered me the chance to do one of my jobs with them which is pretty cool! I think they found it pretty hilarious watching me pass the massive poles to the guys on the roof. The biggest one that I carried was 21ft, which I was told when I got back weighs 5 wonder I struggled to carry it, it's not that much lighter than me! (I must confess that I only held the biggest one long enough for a photo to be taken, even then it had to be put on my shoulders for me and removed pretty rapidly!!). I also have it on good authority that one of the guys at the firm can carry 5 of those in one go! I can't confirm this as I didn't see it, but that is pretty impressive stuff! I spoke earlier about being in awe of them and had I seen that, it would have made it onto the list! but when I was passing the bits up to them it absolutely amazed me that they could grab it with one hand whilst up so high and lift it with such ease...amazing!

Pretending to lift the 21ft pole!
Trying to play it cool holding a 21ft 5 stone pole!

Once we were all finished we headed back to the yard to load up for the next day. I was shown the painting room which is where they paint all the equipment so that people don't take it. some people eh! Although I'm not sure just painting it green will deter them too much! There were also some trainers and other items in their that had also been painted but I don't think that was for identification purposes!

The green room!

A few other phrases that I learnt on my day out was instead of saying the number of people you need at a job Ben would say handed so 3 people would be 3 handed - which I'm not sure if everyone is only allowed to use one of their hands but there you go! Then there is striking which means to take it down! A day taking down scaffolding is a good one as it frees up equipment and means they don't have to fill the lorry but it does mean that they have to do more jobs as they always have to do enough work to cover the costs for that day (pretty sensible actually!) and the taking down only accounts for 20% of the cost.

I was surprised to learn that when I asked if they were afraid of heights they said most days their fine, but they do have days where they look down and get the shivers!...they seemed pretty fearless to me!

Post scaffolding shoulder...ouch!
Post scaffolding muscles!

Overall I had a brilliant but very difficult day! My poor little shoulders even had marks on them by the end of it and over a week later still hurt! It's funny, it makes you realise how much you use your shoulders when it hurts every time you move them! Obviously I had to make the day authentic by going to the pub with them afterwards!
The pub!

Stitch having a shandy!

 I spoke with Ben to find out about the ups and downs of scaffolding...

1. How long have you worked in your job and how did you get into it?

'23 years because I worked for my friends dad to start with, then decided I wanted to start my own business'

2. What's the best thing about your job?

'Definitely has to be the money, we are able to charge a lot - but it does cost a lot to run a scaffolding firm, plus the fact that it can be dangerous at times.'

3. What's the worst thing about your job?

'The weather - coming home when it's dark is horrible, scraping ice off the window at 5 in the morning isn't nice either. We even work when it's snowing! The only time we don't work due to weather is when it's thunder & lighting because that would be just silly!'

4. If money, time, education etc were no object what would your dream job be?

'I would have loved to be a formula one driver.'

5. Why didn't you do that instead of scaffolding?

'Erm because it costs about 40 million pounds to do!'

6. What stress rating would you give your job (where one is super relaxed and 5 is super stressful)

 If you have read this blog and realised that you are in desperate need of some scaffolding, then these are the guys for you! Visit their website on They were kind enough to donate £50 to that challenge - thanks so much for that! If you would like to donate too please visit!donate/c1n0m.

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