Best practices of working at height should be driven from the top down
Improving site safety is as much about educating company management to make the right decisions, select the right equipment, and ensure the correct processes and procedures are in place, as it is to ensure operators are qualified to operate machines, according to Paul Rankin, managing director-Middle East and International, Rapid Access
Erecting scaffolding or hiring aerial work platforms (AWPs) are not solutions by themselves to working at height. Organisations involved in working at height face huge safety and skill gaps all over the world including the Middle East. Slips, trips and falls are among the most common causes of workplace injuries and are also the most likely to result in deaths. Irrespective of whether operators have qualifications to erect scaffolding or operate AWPs, they need to improve their competencies and familiarity with machines to ensure site safety.
According to Paul Rankin, managing director-Middle East and International, Rapid Access, the most common safety process ignored by contractors is the investment in continuous education. He points out that knowledge about best practices or appreciation of working at height should not be limited to people working on sites. They must be initiated and driven from the top down.
“AWPs are recognised as the safest means of working at height, but the most important service we offer our customers is education. Improving site safety is as much about educating company management to make the right decisions, select the right equipment, and ensure the correct processes and procedures are in place, as it is to ensure operators are qualified to operate machines,” says Rankin.
Paul Rankin, managing director-Middle East and International, Rapid Access.
Rapid Access, which has been operating in the Middle East since the 90s, has emerged as the leading supplier of training related to working at height, with over 50% of Middle East operators trained through the company’s programmes.
“Rapid Access offers a range of multi-tiered and multi-disciplined training courses. In addition to AWP operator and scaffolding licensing, we also provide full day workshops for managers, general work at height qualifications, machine familiarisations, short tool box talks for sites, as well as a range of bespoke courses. We deliver the courses in different formats such as classroom and practical lessons as well as virtual reality (VR) simulations,” says Rankin.
Rapid Access serves the Middle East region through its depots in every GCC country, and the company’s footprint extends to North and East Africa, India, and Western Asia.
Its rental fleet has grown 40% to over 4,000 AWPs, representing over 30% of the total number of AWPs in the Middle East. In 2017, Rapid Access was acquired by France-based Loxam Group, the third largest AWP rental company in the world. Rapid Access currently operates as a powered access specialist division within the Loxam Group.
“Rapid Access is more than just a rental equipment and training company; we serve as consultants for working at height operations. We provide customers with advice and bespoke solutions that include conducting surveys on customer work sites, providing customised training solutions, developing new systems to increase safety and productivity, and helping to manage the utilisation and efficiency of hired equipment. We pride ourselves on building trust with our customers and delivering the service they expect of the world’s largest access specialist,” says Rankin.
Since 2011 Rapid Access has developed over 25 bespoke products, designed to increase safety and efficiency, or to tackle unique and specific customer problems. Two examples of such products are SkySiren and SkySentry. The SkySiren was designed to reduce the likelihood of serious injury due to entrapment in boom type AWPs. It has since been mandated by large contractors and organisations across the world and can be found on many sites in the GCC. SkySentry, which was developed over the last 5 years and launched in 2018, helps prevent unauthorised use of equipment and drive machine efficiency on site.
“We’ve achieved the biggest technological advancements in after-market solutions such as SkySiren and SkySentry. Since the beginning of the year, almost 100 customers have started to use our SkySentry product to help improve their site operations. Other examples of bespoke solutions include SkyTel, developed to help install and maintain cellular antennas, MRS, designed to install modular systems faster and more safely than current methods and SkyHandler, an attachment for telehandlers which work as a pair of robotic arms to install heavy equipment at height,” says Rankin.
Rankin points out that most of the emerging product development and technological advancements in the AWP industry will be in the electrical systems and maintenance procedures that can benefit the rental market, similar to the automotive industry. This is all the more important because the number of companies providing AWP rental solutions has steadily increased over the last few years, reflecting the increasing standards of health and safety and the awareness of AWPs within the region. The AWP rental market is growing globally, and there is no reason to expect the Middle East to perform any differently. It is expected that regional AWP fleets will continue to shift towards smaller and medium sized equipment as companies become more aware of the efficiency and safety benefits of AWPs, such as in FM and M&E sectors.
“Customers want a wider range of electric and hybrid options from new AWP models. The fundamental design of AWPs has changed very little over the last 30 years. Operators today will notice very little difference in a machine model from the 1990s and a machine from 2018. What is more important is ensuring that rental companies provide the highest quality in their maintenance procedures, which is only possible with experience in this unique part of the world,” says Rankin.
Rankin elaborates on the AWP rental business model and why it remains more popular than equipment purchase in the region.
“There is no simple formula to indicate whether buying an AWP is a better alternative to renting. The reason why rental is preferred is that it is easy. The decision to buy access equipment is difficult because there is no one-size that fits all. You can’t buy a 15m machine and expect it to work at 40m. Does that mean you should buy a 40m machine, which is harder to transport, store and operate than a 15m machine? With Rapid Access, our customers can choose almost any model between 3m and 60m, and if they want they can return it after a day. They don’t have to worry about a high-value asset. Even for our largest customers, rental is the simplest and most cost-effective solution because they benefit from the expertise that we have in the maintenance and repair of equipment, which are expensive. AWPs are high-value and complex items of equipment designed to provide safety in high-risk environments. Companies all over the GCC prefer Rapid Access to look after the complexity of owning this equipment, and instead receive excellent customer service and a hassle-free work experience,” explains Rankin.