Keeping the Sky from Falling Sidewalk Sheds, Exterior Scaffolds and Pedestrian Safety

Walk down any street in any of South Florida’s major cities and you may have to step around or go under one of the ubiquitous steel-and-plywood structures that shade urban sidewalks, more often than not festooned with wheat-pasted posters for everything from the hottest nightclub parties to new movies opening this weekend.

They’re called sidewalk sheds and scaffolds, and these blue or green plywood platforms boosted up above street level by crisscrossing metal poles and girders are usually installed on buildings in the midst of an exterior repair program.

What’s That Thing?

“Sheds are regularly used to protect workers (and the public, depending on the circumstances) from falling material, equipment, tools, construction debris etc.,” says Michael D’Aquino, a spokesman for the U.S. Department of Labor’s Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).

By contrast, a scaffold is a temporary work platform, either suspended from the roof or some other part of a building or built up from the ground, typically with a system of pipe sections. Both types of structures are often in place for years at a time, and can become tremendous eyesores, with flapping plastic and cracked, peeling paint that erode even the most luxurious building’s curb appeal.

“Pieces of scaffolding include, but are not limited to, base plates, mudsills, screw jacks, planking, cross-bracing, uprights, guardrails, toe boards, tie backs, outriggers, means of access (ladders), and side frames,” D’Aquino explains.

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