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Boosting access equipment safety in the Gulf

As GCC developers continue to reach for the sky, MEWP and scaffolding experts explain how they are enabling regional construction professionals to operate safely at height

SPECIAL REPORTS, Sectors, Access equipment, Construction, Gcc, Gcc developers, Gulf, MEWP

When it comes to scope and vision, developers in the Middle East have never allowed themselves to be bound by practical considerations. By the same token, regional contractors have had to become adept at identifying novel ways to surmount increasingly complex construction-related obstacles.

Securing safe passage to hard-to-reach areas represents one of the most common, but significant, challenges that Gulf contractors have to overcome. Doing so would be all but impossible without the assistance of access equipment experts.

The variants of access equipment employed by construction professionals are numerous, but broadly speaking, the products used can be divided into two categories: mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) and scaffolding systems. Regardless of the product in question, safety is paramount.

The technology employed by scaffolding producers may be simpler than that used by MEWP suppliers, but there’s no dearth of innovation within the field. Shadab Ahsan, managing director of Ascend Access System Scaffolding, tells Construction Week that GCC contractors are looking for fresh takes on tried-and-tested platforms.

“Demand for aluminium scaffolding is increasing rapidly in the Gulf, as construction workers look to source lightweight, moveable systems that are easy to store, load, offload, and assemble,” he explains. “Aluminium is corrosion resistant and much lighter than steel, which has traditionally been used in the manufacture of scaffolding systems.

“For this reason, Ascend Access System Scaffolding caters to a diverse range of customers, including contractors, sub-contractors, fit-out specialists, firefighting experts, and insulation outfits.”

Demand for safe and reliable equipment is equally high when it comes to powered access, a field in which safety-related innovations continue to minimise the risks associated with working at height.

According to data released by the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), the fatal injury rate of MEWPs remained stable in 2015, despite year-on-year increases in the global fleet size and number of rental days.

The number of days a rented machine was operated during the course of last year was 192.2 million, and the number of reported MEWP fatalities was 68, resulting in a fatal injury rate of just 0.035. In comparison, the number of days a rented machine was operated in 2014 was 182.4 million, and the number of reported MEWP fatalities was 64, resulting in the same fatal injury rate.

Speaking after the release of the data in Q2 2016, Chris Wraith, technical and safety executive at IPAF, said: “MEWPs are part of the solution in preventing falls from height, but we should recognise that [these units] introduce hazards that need managing.

“Engineering control is one option, and the industry is starting to work together on a global scale to ensure continual improvement.”

As Middle East and international sales and marketing director at MEWP rental outfit, Rapid Access, Alexis Potter is an active participant in this drive for improvement. He explains: “We have a specialist department within our parent company, Lavendon Group, called BlueSky Systems. Its remit is to develop new accessories that can be used in conjunction with MEWPs to further improve their safe operation and efficiency.

“We are continuing to see increased demand for systems such as the BlueSky MHAs, which assist with the safe handling of materials at height; and SkySiren, which is an award-winning secondary guarding device that increases operator safety in the event of entrapment.”

In addition to the safety-related innovation taking place among access equipment manufacturers and suppliers, specialist outfits are working to develop additional systems that protect individuals operating at ground level.

Romain Crouzit, Middle East sales manager at Capital Safety, a 3M company, elaborates: “Hand-in-hand with the need to work at height comes the requirement to use various tools and work equipment which, if dropped, can have serious consequences. In fact, there is a hidden multiplier that most do not consider: namely, that each person working at height typically carries multiple tools with them – often six or more.

“For workers on the ground, where overhead work is taking place, personal protective equipment (PPE), such as hard hats, provides a final means to reduce the impact of a dropped object. These are not, however, fail-safe, and their effectiveness is limited if the worker is exposed to heavy or sharp items. What’s more, a hard hat can only protect the top of the head.

“For anybody working at height, there is a range of PPE designed to prevent falls. This equipment can be divided into two categories: fall protection for people, and fall protection for tools. Products [intended] to prevent tools from falling include specially designed attachment/connection points such as D-rings, quick-wrap tape, quick spins and quick rings, tethers or lanyards, tool holsters, pouches, and safety buckets,” Crouzit adds.

Safety becomes all the more pertinent when considered within the context of growing demand, and Ascend Access System Scaffolding’s Ahsan says there is a constant requirement for access equipment in the Gulf.

“Our main markets are the UAE, Qatar, and Oman,” he notes. “We have also been supplying to Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Iran, Jordan, and other markets in Africa.

“Demand for aluminium formwork is increasing day by day in the GCC. Our product range includes mobile access towers, stair access scaffolds, foldable scaffolds, podium steps, A-shaped ladders, single-pole ladders, multipurpose ladders, warehouse ladders, aluminium beams, lattice beams, aluminium single- and double-edge couplers, and aluminium tubes.”

Ahsan says that the use of aluminium scaffolding is also growing across segments other than construction. He elaborates: “Our new product, Ascend One, is very useful for exhibition stand builders and facilities management (FM) companies. This new movable scaffold, also known as a one-man tower, takes up less space because of its compact dimensions, and can be easily erected by just one operator.”

Rapid Access’s Potter agrees with this summation, adding: “The construction industry remains the largest sector in which we operate by a considerable margin. This is the trend across the GCC, and it also represents the largest sector within our European business.

“As the use of MEWPs becomes more popular across the Gulf, we are seeing increased adoption in other industries, particularly the FM sector. To support this, we employ sector-focused business development managers and invest in equipment more suitable to the segments in question.”

Potter is confident that this upward trend will persist in the Gulf. He concludes: “Demand for MEWPs is increasing across the GCC. Changes within local economies will affect the rates of industry growth, but as more and more people realise that these units represent the safest and most effective way of working at height, the industry will continue to grow.

“When you compare the penetration of MEWPs in the GCC to markets like the UK and the US, you can see that the industry still has a lot of room for growth.”

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