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Wed 6 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Safety first

The manager of a Dubai-based firm providing safety equipment and training believes modernisation is the key to preventing accidents.

The manager of a Dubai-based firm providing safety equipment and training believes modernisation is the key to preventing accidents.

In mid November last year another high-profile accident made it in to the papers. A crane moving a heavy weight on a Dubai construction site banged into part of the building and shed its load, resulting in eight deaths.

Some equipment doesn’t meet the standard... We find some fails by as much as 25 per cent.

Of course there are a lot of cranes in Dubai, and some accidents are, sadly, inevitable. However, Rob McKenzie, the manager of Safety Plus is one of a growing band who believes that the systems in place to train operators and certify equipment need to be modernised to meet the growing demands of the city.

"The main issue is that of cost. At the moment, whoever inspects at the lowest price generally gets the job."

While this is the case everywhere, the framework has been in place in more mature countries to inspect to an international standard.

"What we have in the UK is BS 7121. This means every crane has to be inspected at a minimum of 12 month intervals. A lot of companies do that here, but not all of them. Some you only have to look at their equipment to see that they don't conform to it.

Equipment quality plays a part here. McKenzie adds, "The bulk of the equipment is coming in from the Far East. Most is good equipment, but there is some that isn't - some is made under licence for major companies. The problem is we don't know what is quality.

I've been in China and been told that the equipment conforms to international standards. But does it really? We have subjected some to material analysis and it doesn't. I know that for a fact.

"For example, grade A chain - which is a really big issue in Europe at the moment - the Chinese make tons of the stuff and say it is manufactured to EN8184.

There has been a big rise in the cost of new materials, so some foundries are using suspect, recycled stuff. Yes, they can produce it, but at what cost?" McKenzie adds that he can prove the quality of ropes, slings and chains on a special test-jib that his company uses for proof loading, "This is a 200-tonne jib.

If you manufacture to the correct standard there is no requirement to proof load, but site managers want us to do it. We get some failures from time to time. The manufacturers all say that their stuff is the best and then we find that some of it is out by as much as 25 per cent. Twenty-five per cent for a supposedly grade-A chain!" he emphasises.

Always, we get the guys from China saying it meets this or that standard, but we can stick it on the jib to see if it is true.

Apart from quality, McKenzie has found that the age and use that equipment has been subjected to is a factor in failure, and therefore accidents. Producing a rusty, broken tensioning lever, with bits of clutch spilling out from the pivot, he says. "These are types of things we get for inspection - this thing is finished.
Often the owner wants a piece of paper saying it's OK, but there is no doubt it is scrap. But then they ask, can you give us it back, then..

It's the issue of operator training that McKenzie believes it is the regions top priority to solve, though. According to him, site managers don't allocate enough time to ensure full proficiency, "The first question I get asked is, ‘Will my person be qualified?

For a start, they don't want to release their person for longer than two or three days. So I make a two-day course where I'll take an operator from their company, and make sure that he complies with the regulations, knows what he should be doing and conforms to company standards and assessing on the ground, giving him a couple of tasks to do.

Then I can give him a certificate of achievement." However, two days might be enough time to make sure the operator can achieve the basics in a crane, it is not enough time to tell if the person is truly competent or not.

Now I've been showing a guy for two and a half days the way to do things, and then assessing him on the ground. I don't know if he is competent or not. What he did was he passed an exam that I gave him and he did it to a certain standard. I can't measure a person's competencies after two days.

McKenzie believes that operator training must be more detailed and spread over a reasonable period of time. Producing a scuffed and faded crane sling, with a tear right down the middle he explained "This is some equipment I use in my training.

It came from a civil engineering company who were putting up a staircase. The concrete section they were lifting weighed nine tons - and they dropped it, damaging it beyond repair. I said ‘Did the person who was doing the job put a sleeve on the sling where the sharp edge was?'

He said that he had, but it had cut through the sling anyway. Just at this point they were picking up the replacement staircase and they brought it over and they had the sling over a sharp edge with no sleeve and all of the weight on it.

With the harness there were three slings on it, this one was in the middle, and two holding it on balance. He said, ‘the weight's on three!'

But no, the weight was only on one. Because the middle was taking all of the weight, the other two were just counterbalancing it.

Now, that's a four-ton sling and it destroyed it. Luckily no-one was injured, but they could have been." However, going back to the accident referred to at the beginning of the article McKenzie said "I think there have been negotiations with some people about upgrading the standards.

We have members here of LEEA , so we are trying to get a few of these together." Finally he adds that he is confident of modernisation and progress in the Gulf, "It's going to change - It's got to change!

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