You may be well versed in the latest work at height regulations. But would you know what to do if you had to rescue someone from the top of a tower crane?
Andrew Barker watches the Rescue Genie in action
BRECON HOLROYD is not your everyday entrepreneur. There's no corporate schmooze or designer suit. He's just an ordinary bloke from Sheffield who not so long ago had an unexpected flash of brilliance that could save lives. Two years on, the Rescue Genie is finally ready for production.
What's great about the Genie is the minimal risk it poses to the rescuer in an emergency.
'In competitor systems, quite often the rescuer becomes tied in, a link if you like, and what you can't do is begin a rescue and then walk away - you're committed, ' says Mr Holroyd. 'With ours, you might begin to winch, then you can go get help, or go down and make the casualty more comfortable. You can't do that with most of the other systems.'
It's no wonder Brec, as he likes to be called, has made his living working at heights. His namesake, the Brecon Beacons, are the Welsh uplands renowned for their lofty peaks and picturesque views. He shows up at the £25 million Suttons Wharf development in East London, a Galliford Try site, ready to demonstrate the Genie.
It is slung across his back like a bazooka. All the components are packed into a metre-long sleeve of yellow vinyl.
With the butterfly stitches peeling off a fresh gash on his neck, the inventor from South Yorkshire has something of the returning war hero about him. He's in town to conduct a demonstration for Galliford Try's health and safety managers and a training session with the Genie for their crane operators.
'Watch his head, ' he barks from the 140 ft summit of the site's tallest crane. The t rainees from Falcon Crane Hire are mid-hoist and a man-size dummy rears its faceless head out of the cab. 'Talk to him then.'
'You'll be alright mate, ' says a timid trainee as the mock human is lowered onto the slew ring platform a few metres below. A deft crank on the pulley reverses the direct ion so that the same leng th of rope that got the dummy out of the cab can lower him down feet first. As he goes over the rail, a locking device prevents the rope from racing through the reel as he dangles and d rops, like a pendulum having a grow th spu r t.
Alarmingly, there's just a single cord supporting his entire body weight. Because there is no second rope, there is no margin for error.
The Rescue Genie was the brainchild of Mr Holroyd and his colleague of 15 years, Mark Bright. Both are 41 and height safety t rain ing consultants with their own businesses.
'Mark and I have a good working knowledge of ropes and pulleys. I used to train industrial rope access but I'm more into rescue now. I train the Ministry of Defence and people like that, ' says Mr Holroyd.
Two years ago at Mr Bright's training centre, Magna Tower in Sheffield - which Mr Holroyd refers to, with a chuckle, as a 'Mecca for roped access' - they realised impending work-at-height regulations would force employers to improve their rescue provisions.
This presented a ripe opportunity to capitalise on a r ise in demand for equipment of this k ind.
'When we started, what we envisaged wasn't the system you see today. During the trials we had this eureka moment which lasted about a second, when we came up with the lever, ' Mr Holroyd says.
The lever is the unique element in the rescue kit that sets it apart from the competition. Using levers instead of a pulley system represents approximately a 6 to 1 mechanical advantage. Even though there is a pulley, the apparatus doesn't require the pulley systems traditionally used in height rescue. The main competitors, however, do.
Mr Holroyd says: 'Pulley systems aren't simple. If you want to lower someone 50 m on a 4 to 1 pulley system, you would need 200 m of rope, 4 x 50 m. As the pulleys come apar t, you'll have fou r falls of rope: you're saving on that straightaway, which is a massive benefit. We wanted to get rid of the pulley systems. If one pulley spins inside the other, it can be impossible to work.'
A harness was another stumbling block, because what they wanted was a design that could, in an emergency, be fitted to a sedentary casualty.
'If you're not already wearing a harness, you can't get one on someone sat immobile in the cab, ' says Mr Holroyd.
Inside the Galliford Try cab there's barely enough room for a sandwich box, let alone two men to fit a standard harness to a fully grown and, more than likely, unconscious third. Elbow room comes at a premium, so it's not surprising Mr Holroyd and Mr Br ight sought an alternat ive. Ideas like get t ing a d r iver to wear a harness at all times to inventing a cab seat with a fitted harness were bandied around. Did they make the trial stage?
'No chance - what with sweaty bums and whatever, they would wear out within a month, ' he says. So they came up with a design resembling the Greek character phi. The horizontal strap is passed under the arms while the trailing verticals go between the legs and attach above the shoulders to form a cradle. It was this design that made the grade.
Suspension trauma is a potentially fatal hazard of wearing a harness. It can occur when the legs are immobile and lower than the heart. It has been known to kick in in under 10 minutes - the target time for the Rescue Genie.
The pair soon realised speed of rescue was an area badly in need of improvement. They found it was the lifting and transferring of weight that slows down a rescue and not the descent itself.
'It only takes seconds to lower someone 100 m, ' says Mr Holroyd. In fact, it's this mat ter of speed that has been singled out by industry honchos as the Genie's standout quality.
'What we have done is show the system to other rescue professionals over the past two years and it's acknowledged by them as being the best kit available.
They say: 'You know, I really wish I'd thought of that' - I had to say that didn't I?'
David White, health and safety manager for Galliford Try, is one such professional who has given his approval. He says: 'Traditionally, rescue procedures are the part where risk assessments fall down. What to do when something goes wrong is where most risk assessments start to get a bit hazy and rely on all sor ts of things such as the f ire br igade coming to the rescue - not a realistic answer, really. To find something on the market that's user-friendly, quick and easy was obviously very interesting.'
Mr Holroyd employs a riding-a-bike philosophy towards training. He feels the equipment needs to be simple enough so that a single session can provide the necessary skills for life.
'For people like these lads it probably will never happen for real and they probably won't get much refresher training. But two years from now someone m ight need to be rescued , so it needs to be very simple.
The lever mechanism itself is very easy to pick up.'
The trainees agree. Barry Henson is an erector for Falcon Crane Hire, which subcontracts to Galliford Try. He says: 'In the event of an emergency, this device will be 100 per cent. It's simple but very effective. We've tried a couple before and this was by far the best without a doubt. On the training side, it's not difficult. Everything's in the one bag and it all works in sequence.'
His colleague Steve Dinverno says: 'It gives you a lot of confidence going up the crane knowing that someone can get you down if you have an accident up there. A lot of these systems are very good when you've got the instructor standing next to you but two years down the line when you've got countless amounts of rope in f ront of you you're think ing: oh my lord what to do? This one's got an idiot's guide, you just follow the arrows, so for people like us it's alright.'
The overall cost of development amounts to around £20,000 including the patent. Only a small number of units have been sold so far to meet this initial outlay.
'The rescue market is quite lim ited , ' says Mr Holroyd , 'it's not like I've invented an ironing board.'
It may not be a household essential but a manufacturing deal is nevertheless imminent. 'We've been trying to keep it under wraps because what we didn't want was to be overcome with demand and not be able to provide it. I get three or four enquiries every day and I'm pulling my hair out, ' says Mr Holroyd.
The next goal is to enter the Rescue Genie in the 2007 Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents awards.
'We're now in a position where we're going to push this product worldwide. I think a large proportion of the world's tower cranes are in Dubai and a friend could get sales for us there. Ultimately, we're looking at selling it with a DVD so all the training can be done in-house. The problem is we haven't spent any money on marketing. We've just gone out and demonstrated it, like we've demoed it today. Neither of us are that clever - we're definitely not as clever as the sum of our parts, ' he laughs.
For more information call Brecon Holroyd or Mark Bright. Tel: +44 (0) 1142 286 3971