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Why architects need to consider better façade maintenance

Grako managing partner Alain El Tawil is welcoming of complex architectural building designs, but appeals for better building maintenance units

Alain El Tawil, managing partner, Grako.
Alain El Tawil, managing partner, Grako.

High-access cleaning specialist Grako’s managing partner Alain El Tawil says architectural firms are still not factoring cost-effective façade cleaning and maintenance from the design stage. As is the case with internal access in atriums.

“We need to overcome these challenges, but the way we get around this is by doing a thorough technical site survey before responding to any proposal or tender request. On many occasions the job takes much longer than needed just because there is no direct access to the roof top, which in turn results in additional time required to mobilise equipment and manpower from one section of the building to the other. Complex architectural designs result in more time and effort for access planning and mobilisation of teams to achieve a fully cleaned façade,” he says.

El Tawil is welcoming of complex architectural designs but says high-access cleaning needs to be taken into consideration from an early stage and that needs to be way before construction begins.

“We need to ensure the building maintenance unit (BMU) installed in the building is effective, certified and can access all angles of the building safely (i.e. the ability to stop at all levels and sections of a building). When it comes to rope access cleaning, it’s still a common practice for us to physically inspect and confirm if the necessary infrastructure is incorporated in the building,” he says.

High-access cleaning is a critically high-risk proposition, and is one that requires service providers to pre-plan meticulously. Service technicians also need to be of a high cadre to take on the task. El Tawil gives insight into the stringent hiring, training and learning programmes ensuring only the “crème de la crème” continue with the company.

He says: “We have a training centre on premise, but that cannot prepare you for an experience on a high rise tower. When it comes to hiring, we handpick our candidates. They are then tested for a series of medical conditions as per regulation, before they are adjudged emotionally and mentally fit for the job. That is followed by a six month training programme before taking on high-level responsibilities. We graduate them progressively from very low rise to higher towers over a one-year period.”

Grako recently introduced two new items of safety equipment to bolster its rope-access operation at the Dubai Airport. “The first of those is a UV protection eye-shield helmet-mounted visor which protects our cleaners from sunshine and debris while pressure washing. It might seem like a simple solution, but it’s one worth considering given the highly reflective façade used on buildings in the region,” El Tawil says, confirming Grako as one of the first high access cleaning service providers to make use of such kit.

“Similarly, we have also invested in a new safety backup equipment called ASAP LOCK which provides continual safety. The product has been in the market for two years, and we adopted it after it was tried and tested for its efficiency around the world,” he says.

El Tawil adds that the implementation of such a device is only done after intensive training and awareness of its application. “At the end of the day, this piece of equipment is critical; one that you hope never needs to be used, but nonetheless it needs to be of the highest quality.”

Grako’s proactive safety measures prompted Dubai Airports to recognise its efforts as well. “Grako has been nominated for an HSE award at the Dubai Airport Annual HSE event — for being the only supplier with zero downtime due to injury. Similarly, we have received recognition from Burj Khalifa for contributing more than 30% of the 1,000,000 zero man-hour downtime in 2016,” El Tawil adds.

El Tawil concedes that the market has seen economic challenges, as clients have looked at seeking cost efficient solutions in a market that demands nothing but the best.

“We have turned the situation in our favour. Grako has been profitable year-on-year for the last four years. We have done this by empowering our clients. This includes daily reporting with visuals and detailed project planning from the outset. “It’s about what the client wants, and we need to remember that they are often dealing with hundreds of tenants and residents,” El Tawil concludes.

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Construction Week - Issue 734
Mar 21, 2019