International design and engineering firm Arup has developed a green "living wall" scaffolding system — outfitted with grass, flowers and wild strawberries — in an effort to make construction sites healthier and less of an eyesore, the Construction Enquirer reported.
Swedish company Green Fortune manufactured the Living Wall Lite system. Its ability to reduce noise and improve air quality is being tested on a project site in London. Test goals are a 10-decibel reduction in noise and 20% cleaner air, detected through integrated sensor technology.
- Mark Tredwell, development director at Grosvenor, the developer testing the wall, said the green scaffolding system fits in with the firm's goal of a 50% reduction in carbon emissions by 2030 for its London projects.
While Arup's sustainability goals for the wall are innovative and admirable, it remains to be seen how this would fit with current scaffold safety requirements in the U.S.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifies in great detail the erection of and employee movement on a scaffold. Trip hazards would most likely be a concern, as would any extra weight caused by the addition of a plant wall system. However, even if the plant wall and accompanying scaffolding were designed to meet structural requirements, materials are often handed or hoisted up to workers through the scaffold openings, so anything blocking vision or movement could pose a danger to both material handlers and workers. Damage to the plant wall could also create hazardous falling debris.
Arup did not provide cost estimates for a Living Wall Lite system, but it would most likely be more expensive than a standard scaffolding system. Construction workers are notoriously hard on scaffolding, so would contractors and developers be liable for possible destruction of the plant system? Also, OSHA inspectors would likely balk at not being able to assess visually the current state of the scaffold's setup and the fall-protection equipment employees are required to utilize while working at high levels.
A recent Miami scaffold collapse gave local and federal authorities even more reason to increase scaffold oversight. A crane was loading material when, reportedly, the weight caused the scaffold to fall, injuring several workers. A bystander, who ran to avoid falling debris, suffered a "cardiac incident" and died.