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New markets will create a complex picture for scaffolding suppliers

Higher safety standards in the oil and gas industry give opportunity to suppliers with top accreditation.
Higher safety standards in the oil and gas industry give opportunity to suppliers with top accreditation.

Scaffolding suppliers in the Gulf have had to quickly adapt to both new demands from contractors and new markets to improve their bottom line.

As with many sub-contractors, areas such as Saudi Arabia and Abu Dhabi that are seeing an increase in building through government funding have emerged as particularly attractive markets with new orders arriving.

“We basically have two to three countries that we sell into, including Oman, Qatar, and some in Saudi Arabia,” says Everest Fernandez, logistics manager at the Dubai-based Scaffolding & Formwork Division of Al Futtaim Engineering.

“We have had a branch in Qatar for about four years, and we are trying to boost our exports to those countries, and orders are coming up.”

Fernandez says the market was stable in 2010 due to several new contracts in Dubai, though he adds the company has been getting more business from resales overseas.

Digy Ommen, division manager of Dutco Construction’s scaffolding department, also attests to the drive away from the second-biggest emirate in the last year. “Ninety-nine per cent of our work is in Dubai,” he says.
“We do not have offices outside the UAE, but management is looking at
Qatar, Kuwait and Oman.”

The last few years have also seen a number of new market entrants, often from start-up companies in the Gulf. Riyadh Scaffolding, a full service provider of scaffolding in the Kingdom, is one such example.

The company has only been running for two-and-a-half years, with a manufacturing space of 1,300 m2 in the Saudi capital, though its good reputation has allowed it to win contracts on major projects.

“We undertake projects such as hospitals, for example, where the scaffolding is designed and built according to specifications,” says Nader Ahmad, general manager. “This has happened just over the last year; before we were just selling to the resale market. Already we have been working on King Saud University in Riyadh, and also installing the full scaffolding structure for the monorail for the Princess Noura University.”

He adds that the company now sees 70% of its revenue from working directly on a project rather than through traders that resell the equipment.

Rebranding has also been apparent, most notably at Harsco, the industrial giant that last year brought two scaffolding subsidiaries, namely Quebeisi SGB and Hünnebec (along with Patent), under the one company name: Harsco Infrastructure.

Bringing the two companies under one banner allows it to offer a wider range of products and services, says Barry Furlong, director and general manager UAE at Harsco Infrastructure.

Despite the intensity of the competition, the demands of different construction sectors are allowing some suppliers to separate themselves from the pack. This differentiation is occasionally based on the scale and specialism of the project.

Neil Taylor, contracts manager at Al Futtaim Engineering’s Scaffolding & Formwork Division, says the company secured initial work on the Burj Khalifa in Dubai due to its ability to meet the size of the task at hand, with fully-trained scaffolders working on erection of the necessary structures. “We do a lot of top-out work,” explains Taylor.

He explains that a good level of safety accreditation can be a key differentiator. He points out that, although there are regulations regarding scaffolding in Dubai, there is rarely any enforcement. “There is no government authority regulating this,” he says.

“Abu Dhabi is pushing ahead with training up inspectors who will go on-site and fine contractors. The regulations are there, but they are not enforced on the street.”

This compares, he says, to companies and contractors in the oil and gas industries that work to British and European safety standards, and take the initiative to fully train all staff.

“Companies that work offshore, the contractors, do training because when you are offshore, everyone needs to be trained, and these companies have schools.”

He adds that he has floated the idea of Al Futtaim Engineering providing a top-quality training programme of its own in the company . “It is a sellable service – if regulation does comes in, then companies will have to train their scaffolders better. But it is not just the will of the companies to do this; some companies do not even budget for scaffolding access.”

Taylor sees the oil and gas industries , with less competition due to the enhanced safety standards required, longer contract periods and typically more regular payment, as providing great growth potential for the firm in the next few years.

Facts

  • 5% Rise in the price of high-tensile steel per ton from the UAE between August and November 2010(Source: SCAD)
  • 74 Deaths from falling off scaffolding in Brazil, the highest in the world, in 2004(Source: Nationmaster.com)

 

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