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VR is raising access equipment safety standards in the UAE

The access equipment market is incorporating technological concepts such as VR to help drive safety standards in the Middle East into fifth gear, Oscar Rousseau reports


Globally, working at heights is a dangerous and risky practice that can be a cause of injuries and fatalities on construction sites if heavy machinery operators do not have the appropriate training.

However, despite this awareness – and government mandates to ensure that only the most proficient people are put behind the wheel – the nature of working in hard-to-reach areas means heavy machinery accidents, rarely but surely, occurring in the construction industry around the world.

For instance, in the Middle East, a mobile winch collapsed at the Grand Mosque in Makkah, Saudi Arabia this May. No major fatalities were reported when the crane slipped up after overloading, but the operator sustained minor injuries, Saudi’s press agency, SPA, reported.

The limited damage caused by the incident displayed a marked improvement in equipment safety standards within the kingdom, where in 2015, a crane collapse in Makkah resulted in the deaths of more than 100 people and injured approximately 400. However, both cases serve as reminders of the compelling need for continuous health and safety improvements to help mitigate the inherent risks of using heavy machinery. The rules are no different for access equipment – be it mobile elevating work platforms (MEWPs) or scaffolding.

In a world gripped by a tech-led paradigm shift, UAE-based powered access equipment rental company Rapid Access is using virtual reality (VR) to teach operators how to use heavy equipment, such as cranes and aerial boom lifts. The company has partnered with Serious Labs to design an immersive, virtual reality-based (VR) simulation of mini-games that operators can play to practice operating scissor and boom lifts in realistic construction environments.

These simulations become progressively harder as the user goes through the game, with each module taking a beginner approximately 90 minutes to complete. At the end of each mini-game, the user is given data on how well or poorly they performed to help them address areas for improvement. One of the popular simulation modes is the scissor life module, which was developed by Scissor Labs in collaboration with Nationwide Platform.

The scissor lift modules “enable operators to become fully emerged in the virtual world of a jobsite, mimicking everything they’d expect to see and feel in a real world construction environment”, Nigel Taylor, director of Serious Labs’ Europe operation, says.

“With technology advances, we see these machines evolve into networked systems with multiple scenarios, which have interaction between machines and avatars of people.”

Taylor says the company expects “huge demand” from access equipment rental companies and construction contractors for VR training programmes in the Middle East in the future. And with non-stop digitisation snapping at the heels of the regional construction market, it’s no wonder that Taylor believes VR has the power to make a difference.

 VR can be put to good effect in the workplace by helping to improve site standards, but the alternative safety improvements that have been introduced for the access equipment market of late are equally promising – even if they lack the shine and relatability of VR.

US-based Genie has recently fitted a contact alarm system prototype for its range of GS scissor lifts, as well as its GR, GRC and QS vertical masts. The alarm system is designed to enhance the user’s situational awareness by providing a secondary layer of safety and protection when working at heights. If the machine is triggered, an electronic alarm will sound, beacons will flash, and the vehicle will stop. Genie says its lift guard system will go into production later this year and retrofit kits for 2011-2018 models of its smart link system-enabled scissor lifts. The vertical mast will go on sale too, allowing rental companies and contractors to retrofit MEWPs and other machinery.

Meanwhile, Abu Dhabi has taken strides forward to improve access equipment safety standards by rolling out a testing proficiency programme for MEWP inspectors.

Abu Dhabi Quality and Conformity Council (QCC) has set up a testing programme to support safety standards for lifting equipment being used in the emirate. Developed in collaboration with the International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), this initiative includes 32 programmes covering 187 medical, environmental, construction, soil, and inspection tests to raise testing and inspection standards in the emirate.

As all heavy building and construction-related machinery, MEWPs require regular service checks to screen out safety or reliability issues. QCC’s partnership with PAF on this testing proficiency exercise ensures that the competency of access equipment testing in Abu Dhabi is on par with international standards.

The QCC programme may indeed help to elevate machine inspection standards in the Middle East, which, in turn, could lead to fewer accidents and injuries on building sites in the emirate and beyond. Moreover, VR is racing to become part of the wider mix of tools, technologies, and testing standards that help to address safety concerns in the regional construction market.

Given recent developments, it is no surprise that manufactures, buyers, renters, operators, and other equipment-industry stakeholders feel satisfied and secure on their sites, as the functionality of access equipment machinery goes up a gear.

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Construction Week Middle East 11th Jan 2020
Jan 16, 2020