New safety designs

A range of products has recently been launched to help workers handle materials safely on site, after an incident highlighted a systemic problem when manually handling large-format board products on site.

In the incident which occurred, plasterboard had been stacked against an unsecured ladder and site operatives were sliding the sheets, each weighing 32kg, up to colleagues on the floor above as there was no safe system of work in place as the stairwell openings were not guarded and they were partially spanned with scaffold board resting on insecure scaffold poles. This incident was not of course unheard of as many similar incidents and near misses frequently happen on sites where bulky materials have to be lifted manually between floors.

Shortly after this incident occurred Protec, a product manufacturer with headquarters in Adlington, Cheshire produced a brochure with a new range of products, products that may well have helped to prevent this very incident.

Protec’s core product is a range of temporary protective sheeting designed to prevent damage to finishes and to provide anti-slip surfaces during the construction process. This new range represents a departure for the company as these are purely safety products.

Dubbed ProSafe, the range includes a temporary handrail system for guarding against falls through unfinished stairwells, a ladder-lock to prevent unauthorised use of fixed ladders, and three products designed to facilitate the safe transfer of products and materials between floors.

The ladder hatch, safety-deck hatch and plasterboard hatch are simple products, and not entirely unique, as Protec’s head of commercial Greg Dunne admits. “There have been various similar products knocking about for a while, whether made out of plywood, not reuseable, and things like the ladder hatch, there have always been formulations of this concept”.

“If however, you want something completely brand new you would single out the safety-deck hatch, which is our brand and completely brand-new”.

The safety-deck hatch was developed a year ago from the company’s plasterboard hatch, which has been available for approximately 18 months. The products are made from steel checker-plate and are in essence simply hinged trap-doors shaped to allow specific items to be posted through them similar to posting a letter through a letterbox.

Development of the new range has been led by Protec’s development manager Emma Ward, who said: “My job’s about creating relationships with customers to really understand what their challenges are on site”, and it didn’t take her long to identify challenges concerning manual handling.

A very large proportion of Protec’s business is with the house-building industry and it was one of the UK’s leading house-builders that alerted Ward to a pressing need for a new way of passing sheets of plasterboard from one floor to another. It is common practice simply to carry boards up the staircase one by one, an awkward and potentially risky operation. Not only do you risk damaging the board and the walls, but even the smallest standard size is tricky to manhandle up a staircase.

The design for the new plasterboard hatch has been perfected, and a steel unit is installed over an opening cut into the chipboard decking of the suspended floor. Presenting a long, narrow slot with a hinged cover, the hatch allows individual boards to be lifted up from below while avoiding any risk of trips or falls.

The design was also the basis of a new safety-deck hatch, developed last year, “it’s a reformulation of the plasterboard hatch with a box added so you can get the supports up as well as the deck units” explains Dunne. Safety decks are widely used in the house-building industry to provide a working platform inside the building. Comprising deck units and support legs, usually with proprietary edge protection, these systems are carried up from floor to floor as work progresses.

Just like the plasterboard hatch, the new safety-deck hatch allows these components to be handed up safely through a protected opening in the floor. Hatches designed for this purpose already existed, but all of them had openings large enough for a person to climb through. They rely upon operatives opening and closing the hatch when delivering the decking components. If left open, these hatches create an unguarded void that someone can fall through.

The Protec hatch has a slot for the safety-deck leg and a longer separate slot for the deck itself, with covers hinged to a frame which can be opened separately or both together. The hatch is left in until pre-paint so that other components such as architraves, skirting boards and pipework can also be passed through safely. The design has been approved by the manufacture of the chipboard flooring and has received the go-ahead with a detail to refit the floor after the hatch is removed.

The Protec range, illustrated in Protec’s new brochure, is actually just the formalisation of a largely reactive, piecemeal product development process spanning many months.

Driven by client demand, the products have been designed and supplied to order. “They have been available and we’ve kept them in stock, but we haven’t marketed them until now”, explains Ward.

The house builder that worked with Prosafe to develop the safety-deck hatch now uses it on every site in one of its regional divisions, says Ward. Dunne says that other leading house-builders are also showing some enthusiasm for the product.