Steel fabrication firm Lowe Engineering is set to make a significant contribution to improving safety on construction sites with an innovative flooring solution developed to prevent workers falling down riser shafts.
Lowe has launched the Lowe Riser Pod, a pre-manufactured solution that provides a strong, integrated and impermeable covering which closes up the openings inside service shafts in multi-storey buildings.
Made from steel, the pods consist of a series of moveable steel cross beams covered by chequer plates. During the construction phase, the pod acts as a part of the floor, then, when it is time to install the services, the chequer plates are removed and the services fed through the voids.
Lowe uses the service drawings to ensure that the configuration of the holes reflects exactly the arrangement of the pipe-work, meaning that the building’s eventual owners will benefit from a tailor-made floor within the shaft on each level, making access and maintenance a formality.
Falls from height are of major concern to the construction industry. More workplace deaths result from falls than from any other incident and, according to the HSE, there were 21 fatalities and 938 non-fatal accidents caused by falls last year, with seven construction workers dying in October and November alone.
Despite this, one in six sites fail to address the risks of working at height and in many cases, solutions preventing accidents in and around riser shafts are often relatively primitive, either involving surrounding the hole with barriers or covering it with sheets of timber.
This makes it relatively easy for someone to dislodge the barrier or timber and fall through the gap, or drop a tool onto a colleague many floors below them.
Ken Ward-Salt, senior projects manager at Lowe Engineering, which is based in Staffordshire, said: “The current methods contractors use to safeguard personnel working around riser shafts are very unsatisfactory when you consider the risks involved.
“The Lowe Riser Pod represents a huge step forward, because it solves so many problems in one go. Not only does it completely cover the hole, it is extremely safe and efficient to adapt it for the services themselves and it will carry on saving lives during the lifecycle of the building.”
Each Riser Pod is delivered on site already pre-measured to fit the desired dimensions of the shaft opening. Pods have lifting eyes at strategic positions, allowing them to be lifted into place onto table formworks or fixed to structural steelwork before the concrete is poured to create the floor.
They have pre-welded tangs for casting in which, as the concrete cures, ensure that the pod becomes integral to the floor. It is so secure that it can support the weight of a MEWP (mobile elevating work platform), while there is no need for barriers or timber panels – and no danger of objects being dropped down the shaft.
The pods also prevent water ingress into the shaft and help to stop fire spreading between floors, ensuring compliance with the Joint Code of Practice on Fire Prevention on Construction Sites 7th Edition May 2009.
When covered in intumescent paint, they can also significantly reduce fire damage when a building is in use.
Having the removable plates arranged in a specific pattern is the real secret to the success of the Riser Pods, but if the service drawings are not available in advance, Lowe can provide pre-measured pods topped with steel sheets that have no cut-outs.
Then, when it eventually receives the plans, Lowe will manufacture a series of replacement floors with pre-cut holes and lids, which can be installed once the temporary covers are unbolted and removed. The cross sections in the pod are moveable, to eliminate service clash.
Lowe has two silver RoSPA awards to its name and has manufactured steelwork for the construction industry for 17 years, and has been supplying riser covers for over 10 years on major contracts throughout the UK.
Demand for the pods has been such that more than 1,000 riser openings have already been constructed using the Lowe Riser Pod technique. These have already resulted in a measured reduction in accidents of over 90 per cent.
Ken said: “There is a huge need to reduce the incidence of death and injury caused by workers falling from height, so it’s no surprise to us that contractors all over the country have shown huge interest in the Riser Pods. “We are proud to offer a product that not only has the potential to save lives but which is a simple solution to a big problem.”