Working at height is one of the biggest safety issues in the construction industry today. Every year, there are over 11,000 reported accidents, most of which are at heights of less than two metres.
The rail industry is no exception to these grim statistics, although it is working hard to reduce the problem. Companies such as Balfour Beatty Plant & Fleet Services are grasping the nettle and have banned the use of ladders on sites.
This should remove a lot of the ladder-related accidents, but then how do they cope when working at height seems inevitable?
One answer is to use safer, but more expensive, equipment. Cherry-pickers and access platforms can take the place of ladders, but they are costly and time-consuming to use.
The other solution is to think laterally, and that is just what Balfour Beatty has done. Developing an initiative they have called “Feet On The Ground”, the intention is to make all work possible from ground level.
Balfour Beatty Plant & Fleet Services have a fleet of 2,500 accommodation cabins of various designs that they deliver to work sites all over the country.
Each one has four lifting eyes on top, and previously an operator needed to go onto the roof of the cabin to attach the lifting chains or strops to each eye. He had to get out ladders, don his anti-fall protective harness, find someone to foot the ladder, and then go up and attach the lifting devices. Time consuming, costly, and inherently risky.
As a solution, various low-level lifting eyes and even sliding eyes were tested, but none were totally satisfactory. So, working with Dave Thompson of Thompson Engineering, Balfour Beatty developed its own solution – Lo-Loc.
This is a clamp that can be attached to a cabin’s conventional eyes, and to the lifting straps, all from ground level.
How does it work?
First the strap is attached to a Lo-Loc using a conventional shackle. Then a specially developed tool with a long handle is attached to the Lo-Loc and clamped into place.
The operator then lifts the Lo-Loc up to roof level using the pole-like handle and, from the ground, clips it onto the lifting eye. A simple twist of the tool’s handle disconnects it from the clamp, and the Lo-Loc is installed. Do that three more times and the cabin is ready to lift.
Removal of the clamps is a reversal of the installation procedure. The head of the tool tilts, so it can be attached to Lo-Loc clamps that have toppled sideways and are not sitting vertically, and then the device is unclipped from the lifting eye and returned to low level.
The whole process is simple – and quick! Estimates are that using Lo-Loc the process of lifting a cabin into position is 30 minutes quicker than when using old-fashioned ladders, and the operator’s feet never leave the ground!
A solution this neat must be expensive, and in a way it is. Four clamps, a tool, and an extension handle to reach the roofs of cabins still on the back of a lorry, cost around £1000.
However, if every lift saves 30 minutes, which at £50 an hour is £25 saved every time, then in 40 lifts the system is paid for. After that it makes a profit.
In this case, improved safety is better, quicker, and cheaper. So now there can be no excuses….