When Paul Griffin left Ireland for Canada eight years ago he vowed to give up his trade of working with industrial scaffolding and try something new. A week after arriving in the country, he was applying to scaffolding service providers for work. "You go back to what you know," he says. "I also realized I really enjoyed it."
Today Griffin is construction manager with WestCan Scaffolding Inc. a Vancouver company founded about five years ago. It specializes in civil and industrial scaffolding and employs 20 workers.
The company concentrates on design and erection of system scaffolding, which is quickly becoming the world standard.
"The older style tube and clamp scaffold is very bespoke and is good for building scaffolds around irregular shapes, for example the equipment found in oil and gas, or chemical plants," he says. "But modular system scaffolding is more uniform, can be put up quicker and is very user friendly. The best systems are built primarily in Europe and use metric system measurements."
Being competitive in the scaffolding business means having access to a significant number of unusual components that can be used to solve difficult engineering problems. For example, WestCan stocks specialized trusses made in the U.K. that go beyond standard issue components.
More standardized components such as decking can easily be rented as needed, while WestCan's parent company, Matakana Scaffolding & Staging, can also lend out components from its warehouse.
It's a busy summer for WestCan. It's currently working on multiple projects including the Alexandra Bridge across the Fraser River in Hope, supplying a scaffold system suspended on chains. The bridge is currently undergoing general maintenance and steel repairs.
The company is also supplying a suspended scaffold system hanging 60 feet down from the Cleveland Dam in North Vancouver. The drum gate of the dam is being blasted and coated in a contract for Metro Vancouver, with WestCan sub-contracted to the coating contractor. The dam retains the Capilano Reservoir and the suspended scaffolding is shrink wrapped to protect a salmon hatchery below the spillway.
"It's the second year we've worked at the dam," says Griffin. "The project is a combination of multiple types of scaffolding and interesting components. It's got suspended scaffolding, support scaffolding, anchoring elements on top of the dam, and the containment element. It's a lovely job to work on and the type of project that offers us great exposure."
To some extent, WestCan helped to structure the project schedule by recommending discrete phases of scaffolding associated with the work. As each phase is completed, scaffolding is disassembled and reassembled, with engineers responsible for inspecting any deviations from the original design.
The company also takes on a large number of contracts at the Westshore Terminals Ltd. coal export facility in Vancouver. The work often involves assisting maintenance contractors, painters and coating specialists with scaffolding.
WestCan also performs occasional work on film sets, and has set up scaffolding in the green screen rooms for such film projects as World of Warcraft.
Engineers continue to play an increasing role in partnering with scaffolding contractors to approve of scaffold designs for individual projects. Scaffolds suspended from bridges, loading platforms, cantilevered scaffolds and scaffolds covered in shrink wrap, for example, all require an engineer's blessing before they can be erected.
Griffin says the biggest challenge facing the scaffolding trade in Canada is a lack of uniformity in training across the country.
"Scaffolding is recognized as a trade in the union halls, but nowhere else," he says. "In Europe, you need a ticket to show you're qualified to work with scaffolding. I continue to renew my Advanced Scaffolder ticket in Ireland. It's not that the scaffolding workers are any better in Ireland than in Canada, but the recognition of the trade in Europe is a helpful development. Long term in Canada, I would like to see scaffolding recognized as a Red Seal trade."