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Building a safe

The scaffolding sector is at the forefront of safety innovation, reports Christopher Sell.

By the very nature of the scaffolding industry, safety is an inherent concern for suppliers and contractors. (Valeriano Handumon/ITP Images)
By the very nature of the scaffolding industry, safety is an inherent concern for suppliers and contractors. (Valeriano Handumon/ITP Images)

"Due to rising labour costs and more stringent safety supervisory authorities, there will be more emphasis on the safety performance and structure of the scaffold companies, and the industry will bear witness to more labour- saving systems," says Bruce Shahabi, director of operations - Gulf, Combisafe.

As a result of this, Shahabi believes modular scaffold systems, which incorporate quick assembly and lightweight capability, will become more popular. "We can already see evidence of this trend in the access tower scaffolds around sites and the same will also apply for edge protection systems," he adds.The company currently operates in numerous sites within Dubai, including Jumeirah Lake Towers, Dubai Marina, Sharjah as well as Business Bay, Dubai Sports City and Dubai International Financial Centre.

Not every company, however, is showing the same concern, according to Frank Lee, scaffold division manager, Dutco Balfour Beatty, who believes that some companies state their safety ambitions without following through with their aims.

"I would say it depends on the company and the way it is run. Everyone will project that they are all about 'safety'. We at Dutco are quite fortunate in that we get directives from the UK and draw on experienced people globally. So we put those points together and then draw up our own safety plan. Other companies will profess to that, but won't have the procedures in place."

This approach sees Ducto ensure that all the local government regulations are covered and also complemented by a broader safety view. "The guidelines are set by the municipality and we adhere to them strictly," says Lee. "But we take it a stage further and adopt worldwide health and safety policies as it always helps, strengthens and tightens things."

This change is not just being driven by heightening demands for speed and labour, however; contractors are becoming increasingly aware of the financial implications of using inadequate or unsafe scaffolding systems or practices - which can bring about site closures, compensation and litigation, for example - as a result of an accident. This in turn, Shahabi says, will mean a greater visible presence on sites throughout Dubai.

As well as broadening its safety net fan range, which offers added protection, in particular on busy roads and residential areas, as well as offering the same compliance to the European standard, Combisafe has also started a major roof safety netting project in Labour City, where it supplied 12,000m2 of safety netting complete with on-site training.

"There have been a number of fatalities due to roof falls on high-profile projects, where no particularly adequate safety equipment is given to the worker. Roof safety netting is a widespread safety provision in the UK, and other parts of Europe but is yet unheard of in Dubai."

Both the safety net fan (SNF) and roof safety netting are designed and tested to EN1263-1 to arrest falls of both people and objects from height but also protect the workforce, cladding operation and the public below.

Shahabi adds, in contrast to traditional scaffolding fans, the SNF is designed to cushion the impact of a fall, partly by the elasticity of the net and partly by the frame itself. It can also be pre-assembled on the ground and lifted into position by crane or a hoist, minimising the need to work at height.

It does not stop there, however. Shahabi believes there are numerous operations from or on the edge of high-rise towers that go unnoticed from the safety aspect. "For instance, there is block work operation on the majority of towers where the edge protection has to be removed or the worker has to work beyond the edge protection to carry out the work." This therefore exposes the worker to risk as well as endangering the public below from falling objects.

Perversely, Shahabi feels that the rapid pace of construction in Dubai, which drives companies to innovate techniques to stay ahead of the game and meet deadlines, can impact on safety techniques, as firms cannot keep up.

"The only negative aspect that I witness is that some of those systems are incomplete. For example, there are a number of new formwork systems on the market that have the edge protection element missing or inadequately provided, leaving the worker exposed to unnecessary risks. This may be a price-driven policy by the suppliers, but it comes at a price for the end user."

At the same time, genuine concerns arise over the disparity in safety regulations depending on which authority the work is being carried out under. To carry out construction in one area of the city means it is likely that contractors are operating under a different set of rules to another. "There seems to be a sizeable difference in safety standards on sites within Dubai depending on the responsible safety regulatory authority. I would like to see the various safety authorities work closer together within Dubai and also form a joint UAE or Gulf-wide forum."

Possibly a less noted aspect of scaffolding, but equally important, says Lee, is the logistics of dealing with materials on a daily basis. Ensuring the steel received is a suitable grade, length and width is an ongoing challenge. "You have to keep on top of everything. We have a technical department which does that. Every load we get, regardless of whether it is from a new or old supplier, we get it tested." Good quality wood is another area of difficulty, he adds.

Dutco is currently involved in a number of key projects in Dubai such as the Sheikh Hamdan Awards Building and the Dubai Mall located in Downtown Burj Dubai.

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