Sayfa Systems’ marketing manager, Robert Hall, looks at the evolution in fall arrest systems, particularly within new build, and highlights the equally important role played by productivity and safety in this ever-developing product area.
Productivity has always been the great driver of both technical advances and the evolution of working practices, and ever since the Factory Act of 1802, an ‘Act for the preservation of the
Health and Morals of Apprentices and others employed in Cotton and other Mills’, there has been a legislative focus to give physical and legal protection to workers in industry, and elsewhere, in the face of those changes. The difficulty has always been that legislation has nearly always been retrospective. By introducing what is now the well-known safety hierarchy, the 2005 Work at Height Regulations gave direction to both use and development of products.
Productivity and safety have become equal drivers in the use of existing products and the development of new ones. This is very apparent in the construction industry, notably in house building where the industry is faced with an upsurge in activity at the same time as a shortage in skilled labour and, indeed, an anticipation of an even greater skills shortage as ‘Brexit’ looms large on the horizon.
The typical direction for product development is that, at first, existing products are used, in spite of their limitations, with the problems not being recognised until external factors make them clearly apparent. It is then that the process of ‘designing a better mousetrap’ becomes a necessity. One solution becomes two and then three as the market fragments and products develop to address separate problems or provide additional benefits. Nowhere is this more apparent than the need to provide fall protection during the process of building a house.
Initially, all construction activity was carried out from outside the house from the scaffolding provided, with no protection should the worker fall inwards. As the need for fall protection came into focus, the first and very obvious solution was to install birdcage scaffold within the house to provide a crash deck. This solution is still extensively used as there is a benefit to just dealing with one supplier. But, as skills shortages bite and market pressure drives productivity, this solution is bound to come under scrutiny.
Fall arrest bags, an equally early solution, are quick to install and provide immediate protection. Filled with polystyrene beads, ‘bean bags’ – as they became known – provided a soft landing but had their own limitations, particularly those of transport and storage and ultimately disposal of the content.
A logical development was the air-filled fall arrest bag, which neatly avoided the issues associated with ‘bean-bags’ by inflating on-site. This meant that 50 bags covering 80m2 could be transported to site on just one pallet as opposed to a full lorry load of ‘bean-bags’. Where products such as these will continue to be the ideal solution on the grounds of speed, flexibility and, indeed, cost, alternative solutions have been developed to provide additional benefits.
Following the ‘birdcage-scaffold’ route, lightweight plastic decking was designed to be quicker to install than birdcages and provide access from the inside as well as providing fall protection from the outside. But markets never stand still and all steel decking systems have evolved to be faster to erect without the need for skilled labour, to be self-supporting and, more importantly, to be load bearing to enable increased worker efficiency by being able to load the platform with materials.
As worker safety becomes ‘hard-wired’ into our working practices, coinciding with an increase in housing demand and a scarcity of skilled workers as the workforce ages and ‘Brexit’ bites, the focus is going to be on finding the best tools to enable ever greater productivity.