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Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters

Safeguard OSH Solutions - Thomson Reuters



Safeguard Magazine

No more bolts from the blue

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM hears how a few well-placed brackets and a strip of plywood won the safety category at this year’s awards, and could be a game-changer for the construction industry.

When you’re 30 storeys up on a swinging stage, fixing a glass facade to a new building that stands above a busy city square, it’s not a good time to drop a bolt.

In this situation it’s long been best practice to tether tools and equipment to the stage so they won’t fall, but small pieces of hardware – too fiddly to be lashed on, but large enough to cause serious injury should they strike someone below – have always been a problem.

In most cases hazard management has been limited to a few signs, reminding workers to take extra care. But when Naylor Love Construction’s Auckland health and safety officer Richard Wilson saw the site where the company’s contractors were about to install 120 panes of glass, he knew that wasn’t going to be good enough.

“It was a combination of things that concerned me,” he says. “It was mainly the location of the building, but also the design.

“There were sheer glass curtain wall facades on all four elevations, and it was a very small site – what we call a post stamp – so anything that fell would potentially have landed on Swanson St, Albert St, or St Patrick’s Square, all of which were live to the public.

“And it was a hundred metres tall. If you drop something from that height it will bounce, doubling the potential to hurt people – and what if a pane of glass was to break?”

The anchor fixings that were to hold the glass – a long screw, topped by a metal plate – had been identified as a significant risk to both workers and the public, should they be dropped, so Wilson – a practical man who began his career as a welder and boilermaker – began looking for ways to modify the swinging stages being used for the job.

SEARCH FOR A FIX

The problem with swinging stages is the buffer wheels, which extend from either end to hold the body of the work platform away from the building and avoid scratching the cladding. This creates a gap of some 270mm – almost the length of a piece of A4 paper – between the stage and the front of the building, and means anything that drops will almost certainly hit the ground.

Scrim wrapping, often used to contain things dropped from scaffolding, isn’t an option for stages because the fabric acts like a sail, amplifying the effect of wind and potentially making the platform sway violently, so Wilson began looking for alternatives.

Closing the gap was the obvious solution, but there were, he found, no easy ways to go about it without the risk of destabilising the stage, or damaging the building facade.

After teasing out the problem over a couple of months, he hit on the idea of fixing angled steel brackets to the stage’s kickboard and using them to hold a narrow strip of ply, its measurements precise to the millimetre, so it would fill the gap without rubbing against the building.

He took his drawings to Shore Engineering, a local company which imports and repairs swing stages, confident they’d have the knowledge to turn his concept into workable reality.

“They had to make several to finalise all the design details and work out the best way to fit them, but they came up with things like having plastic packers on the bolts that hold the brackets so you won’t damage the aluminium frame of the stage, and securing them with a lock nut so they can’t fall off.”

PUTTING TO THE TEST

With the fine details sorted, it was time to test the modifications on site. The brackets were attached, the wooden strip screwed into place, a couple of cylindrical boat buffers hung from the guard rail, to hold the ply off the glass should the stage rock forward, and the glaziers went aloft.

“Richard and his team had been talking to the subcontractors from the start, and they were keen to jump in and do whatever they could to help,” says Naylor Love’s regional health and safety manager Dean Henderson. “What’s interesting, though, is that a lot of those guys had worked on swinging stages across the city, and in some cases all round the world, and they’d never come across anything like this before.”

In practice the modified stages exceeded expectations.

“The guys found it made their job less nerve-racking,” Wilson says. “They had a bit of reassurance that if they did accidentally drop something they weren’t going to kill someone, so they were able to work more freely and just concentrate on getting the job done.”

By the time the cladding on the high rise was complete, the modification had been used successfully on ten swinging stages of different lengths without any drops.

Henderson says it will soon be put into use again on another large Auckland project.

“I’m sure people have looked at swinging stages a million times and wondered how to close the gap, so Richard and his team have done bloody well,” he says. “It would have been very easy for them to just accept the way things have always been done, and not spend all the time and effort on it. But now they have, I think there’ll be a helluva lot of interest from others, and I definitely think it’s something that should be considered by the industry.

“It’s a cost-effective, reasonable, practical and innovative solution to a problem that affects a lot of people.”

JACKIE BROWN-HAYSOM

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