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Safety check is in the post


Planet Platforms has devised a fall arrest system designed for safe working at height on temporary site buildings. Andrew Barker reports

INSTALLING a temporary building on site presents a conundrum for health and safety managers.

To detach the structure from its lowering cable you need to get on the roof. But to gain roof access safely you need a fall arrest system, which is difficult to install without roof access in the first place. It's a chicken and egg situation.

Contractors have made do one way or another for years. But the dangers of not having a workable system of operation in place were tragically demonstrated three weeks ago when a man fell to his death from the roof of a cabin in plant hire company A-Plant's depot in Maidstone, Kent.

He was untrained in roof access but had decided to clamber up and attach a cable to the cabin roof when a lorry showed up.

It was the driver who found him dead. The Health and Safety Executive held an investigation and the park closed for two days.

But a new product is being launched by Planet Platforms which aims to bring a safer way of working.

The SAFEpost can be assembled in a matter of minutes. Once secured to the foot of a building, horizontal sections are connected on the ground level to meet the required height.

Using a lanyard and harness the worker secures himself to the top of the pole, then raises it up single-handedly as if to toss a caber, f ixing it to the jack leg on the side of the container using adjustable brackets. Essentially, users are already secure before their feet have left the ground.

'It has great potential, ' says Brian Sutherland, health and safety chairman of the Modular Por table Buildings Associat ion.

'It's lightweight, practical and, most important, quick to assemble. In the light of the recent tragedy, it shows you just how much these products are in demand.'

Mr Sutherland believes the speed factor sets the SAFEpost apart from the competition. While other products on the market have built-in lower ing systems, a facility the SAFEpost lacks, the SAFEpost is less cumbersome.

'The key to health and safety is speed, durability and practicality. At long last someone's come up with a device that has all three, which means people are more likely to use it, ' Mr Sutherland says.

Peter Ellis, sales director for product developer Planet Platforms, recognised there was a gap in the market that needed filling. He says: 'Previously people used to harness themselves to the back of a lorry. It didn't really fit the criteria but that was the safest way, provided the lorry was there. If there was a leak that needed fixing, the lorry wouldn't normally be there so there's nothing to stop you from falling off.'

Other options for ensuring safety for work at height on low buildings involve scaffolding or scissor lifts. Not only are they costly and time consuming but they can actually create more danger than they prevent. 'As a safety measure the clients demand them on site but you end up having to jump out or lean across from them, which is totally illegal, ' says Mr Sutherland.

When he came across an idea with the inherent advantage of being secure from the word 'go' Mr Ellis was obviously interested.

The concept was the brainchild of Jim McCappin, an environmental health and safety manager for the Hewden plant hire company. He d rew up a prototype then Planet Platforms took six months altering the design until it was satisfied.

The SAFEpost's suitability is not limited to installation and removal of cabins. It can be used for repair and maintenance and f it ted permanently if desired. It also breaks up into sect ions of a maximum 2.5 m that fit onto a lorry loader.

'Once they get a universal fitting it'll be fantastic. There's no reason why they couldn't , ' says Mr Sutherland.

This is not too far from being achieved. Mr Ellis has carried out tests on various containers other than jackleg cabins and believes the SAFEpost is compat ible with approximately 95 per cent of products on the market.

After almost a year in production the SAFEpost has now passed its British Standard tests. It is structurally sound and can take up to 10 tonnes of load. It also falls within the manual handling regulations for being lifted on and off the lorry.

'We feel we've covered most bases, ' says Mr Ellis.