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Peri points the way forward for system scaffolding

ACCESS

As one of the UK's foremost falsework and formwork suppliers, Peri has helped change the face of the business.

Now it hopes to do the same with the scaffolding sector.

Paul Thompson reports

SYSTEM scaffold producers have been talking about the downfall of traditional tube and fitting systems for years. Too expensive, too difficult to use, too inefficient - these are all labels slapped on the ubiquitous tube method.

But in recent years the call for the UK to follow the example set by our continental neighbours and use more system scaffolding in construction, has become louder and louder.

The launch of new European legislation on scaffolding has strengthened the case for system designed methods, so much so that formwork and falsework supplier Peri has decided that the time is right for it to jump in at the deep end of a market that it believes is about to turn on its head.

'We think the timing is definitely right for system scaffolding methods, ' says Carl Heathcote, managing director at Peri, 'I am not saying the European standards prohibit the use of traditional methods but they do make it easier to meet their requirements by using system scaffolding methods.

'In the past the UK market has not been prepared to look beyond the financial model of initial material cost. That attitude is changing now and I believe the whole market is on the cusp of a step change towards system scaffolding, ' he says.

The logic behind Mr Heathcote's claim is the onus that the new codes EN 12810 and 12811 put on the demand for scaffolding on all projects to be specif ically designed. Previously, the main contractor had relied on the expertise of the scaffolding contractor to erect the scaffolding correctly rather than having a certifiable design that could be quantified.

As a result design calculations will have to be supplied with each system to prove its capability, a change that is bound to promote the use of system scaffolding, says Peri product manager Howard Ball.

'The changes will bring a whole raft of new work for tube and fitting scaffolders but system scaffolds have already had most of the design work carried out on them, ' he says.

Another key area that Mr Heathcote believes will help the successful int roduct ion of Per i's new access system, Peri Up, is the requirement in the European standard for clear walkways. Bracing struts across the scaffolding frame are outlawed and this could lead to significant cost increases, according to Mr Ball.

'Ledger bracing is not being outlawed as such but the introduction of the new standards is affecting it.

Basically, they need to be taken out and that can lead to a weaker structure, ' says Mr Ball, adding: 'This weakness then has to be designed out by putting in extra ties or by creating a new external beam. In essence you will need more materials and labour for tube and fittings.'

There are other advantages for systems, the two claim. Clamping down on working at height is another boost to the sector.

'Scaffolding by its very natu re involves work ing at height but the beauty of system scaffold is that it can be erected behind advanced guardrails and this helps avoid the need for fall arrest systems, ' says Mr Heathcote. But he dismisses the suggestion that the widespread use of system scaffolding in Scotland is to blame for higher death rates north of the border.

Earlier this year researchers at a Glasgow university concluded that: 'System scaffold, because of its ease of modification, may be more prone to being altered, potentially leading to more falls.'

Mr Heathcote shakes his head. 'That report was specifically on the industry in Scotland, where system scaffold has a much greater share of the market, so it is likely that there are more incidents.

'One of the points made was that system is easy to adapt and that people were making the whole structure unsafe, ' says Mr Heathcote.

Training is the way to improve the safety of all workers on scaffolds and the System Access Fall Elimination industry body set up by the sector aims to train all workers to a level of competence that allows them to change systems safely.

'There is no reason why the sector can't multi-skill, ' says Mr Ball, 'The petrochemical industry has been using system scaffolds and multi-skilling for years with no significant increase in accidents.'

The basic premise for Mr Heathcote is that, after years of threatening to take over the scaffolding industry in the UK, finally all the stars are in alignment and system scaffold is ready to take off.

He says: 'These European standards will provide further growth in the scaffold industry. At the moment we are in the foothills of an exponential growth curve.

At Peri we have seen this before with formwork - 15 years ago that sector was very traditional but that has totally changed and I see no reason why scaffolding can't go the same way.'

Peri Up system

'OUR Peri Up system has been totally developed as a system scaffold. Some of the older systems were trying to bridge a gap between tube and fitting scaffolding and system, ' says Peri product manager Howard Ball.

He has spent the past few years working alongside his counterparts in Germany to help develop the scaffold system that it is hoped will make Peri one of the key players in the scaffold sector.

The company is aiming for a market leadersh ip position with Peri Up by the end of 2010. In a tiny market it is not inconceivable that that could happen and a st rong product is key to that rate of development.

Like most good products the key behind it is star tlingly simple. The whole system is based on a 250 mm modulus. So every par t of the system is a mult iple of 250 mm, enabling pieces to fit snugly together.

'Historically systems have been developed on plyboard sizes, which means that systems did not work on the same vertical and horizontal dimensions, ' says Mr Ball, 'The 250 mm modulus means it is extremely adaptable in terms of layout. It gives as much f lexibility as traditional tube and fitting.'

Already the system is proving of interest to house builders, who like it because of the repet it ion and speed involved in changing the layout around when bricklayers are working, according to Graham Bentham, business development manager who is charged with ensuring Peri meets its market leadership target.

'But it not just house builders who are interested in the system, we have had a lot of interest from across construction industry and also the petrochemical and entertainment industries, ' he says.