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Working at height

Installing signs and banners hundreds of feet in the air is a specialist area of the industry says Harry Mottram, who looks up at some of the aspects of working at height

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While work was carried out at Piccadilly Circus, Global Erecting Signs wrapped the main areas with advertising banners

High end of the sign industry

It could be described as the high end of the sign and wide-format print industry. Working at a height is a specialised area of the business with skills such as abseiling, scaffolding erection, façade construction and montage installation all involved. And above all, health and safety is at the forefront of the business since workers will be hanging from ropes hundreds of feet up, or standing on scaffolding, operating from cherry pickers and ascending ladders high above ground level.

Risk and Method Statement

Frankie Higgs is the contract manager at Global Erecting Signs, based in Cambridge. He says those who work at a height must be fully trained and hold the relevant qualifications and health and safety comes first. He says: “All of our people have special training in all the rigging and the health and safety requirements, first aid and are highly experienced in working at height via rope access and are all Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) qualified. We do a full Risk and Method Statement for every job and that includes the weather. If the wind is over 30mph then we’ll postpone the work, because if you are hanging on a rope then you need to be safe and the weather conditions stable.

We do a full Risk and Method Statement for every job and that includes the weather

“Rope access is required where if you can’t access a site with a big machine like a crane or a cherry picker then we will attach our ropes to the building on the roof and we would then descend from there to do the installation. We are also involved in putting up the scaffolding and on occasion we may have to abseil off the scaffolding if we can’t get through the plastic sheet covering it for instance.”

O Factoid: The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) is an international organisation that sets the standards for practice and safety for the industry  O

Higgs mentions that the plastic sheeting is usually one of the products from Monarflex although there are a number of alternative brands such as Powerclad, Scafflex and Tarpaflex all of which offer a range of membranes, coverings and sheeting.

Rope technicians

The Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) is an international organisation that sets the standards for practice and safety for the industry. Rope technicians are required to re-certify every three years in order to demonstrate they maintain the necessary abilities in order to work safely. Technicians may also progress through three levels as time, experience and training allow; each demanding a greater knowledge of the rope access skills necessary at the worksite.

IRATA qualifications are based on the Training, Assessment and Certification Scheme (TACS) document, following levels set and maintained by the association. They are dependent on both technical skills, theoretical knowledge, and workplace experience. As such, they provide prescribed levels of ability for technicians to achieve. IRATA certified qualifications are recognised globally and are ‘the’ benchmarked highest standard qualification for rope access.

Health and safety

Russell Stuart of the scaffolding, ladder and work platforms manufacturer Zarges says that health and safety is the cornerstone of the industry. He comments: “One of the most important points to consider is the regulations surrounding working at height. For instance, under EN131-1 and 2, all leaning ladders that are three metres or longer will have to be equipped with a stabiliser bar to ensure stability.

Working at height is a challenging area of the sign industry and requires specialist training and attention to weather conditions.

The standard includes a ‘professional’ category that replaced BS 2037 Class 1, the previous standard for industrial and heavy-duty ladders. Along with stricter test requirements in terms of strength and slip-resistance, EN 131-2 also sets out additional regulations for mechanical durability tests and torsion tests. EN 131-1 and EN 131-2 does not expressly prohibit the continued use of current ladders.

The famous former GPO and Post Office Tower given a spectacular banner by Global Erecting Signs in London – now of course known as the BT Tower

However, as ladders are ubiquitous within industrial and trade skills, it is essential that they are reviewed regularly to ensure they meet safety standards. Furthermore, you must ensure that you are using the right tools for the job, a quality ladder is characterised by its durability, in both terms of design and material.”

He also mentions the small matter of weather conditions as it isn’t just high winds that can affect working at height. Stuart says: “Weather challenges are important considerations all year round for those working at height, however, when it comes to the end of the year, heavy snowfall, high winds or flooded roads increase the pressure on field service personnel to operate in challenging conditions to keep people safe. Often, their services are time-critical and cannot be delayed until the weather improves. Ice and mud can turn even the safest of working spaces into a slippery trap. When working outdoors, uneven surfaces or frozen ground can be a serious hazard, so it is important to ensure equipment is appropriate for use. For example, ladders should be fitted with non-slip features and with stabilising bars at the base to ensure they are safe on potentially hazardous surfaces.”

When working outdoors, uneven surfaces or frozen ground can be a serious hazard, so it is important
to ensure equipment is appropriate for use

Another aspect Stuart adds is the equipment that workers need in these testing conditions. He says: “When planning for a project which will involve working at height, health and safety are the primary concern. However, one consideration which is frequently overlooked is carrying out an individual risk assessment to understand what type of ladder is right for what kind of job. It is illogical to assume that the conventional ladder we all know, straight up, straight down, would even begin to support the variety of needs of those working in a range of trades.

Staff from Global Erecting Signs show their skills on the ropes as they install a banner

“Those working at extreme heights for extended periods of time should consider using a mobile scaffold tower that allows them to work with both hands free. This access solution provides greater stability and opportunity for movement when working at height for an extended amount of time and can often be much more comfortable and safe. Other access solutions that should be considered are when jobs require access from two angles, or to go over a large obstacle such as pipework, double access ladders provide a far better solution that traditional solutions. It is vital to think carefully about what equipment is best suited to which job in order to ensure work is carried out safety and efficiently.”

Workers need a head for heights when working on tall buildings and to pass the necessary qualifications

David Catanach of the British Sign & Graphics Association (BSGA) stresses the importance of health and safety to the members of the trade organisation. One recent case highlighted how cavalier some sign-making companies can be with the safety of their workers. It concerned the installation of a large sign on the top of a building that was carried out without any pretence at safety. No safety barriers, no hard hats, and no one to steady the ladder.

Catanach says: “One man stayed down in the van, one was on the roof and another went back and forth up the ladder. And this was the guy who fell off the ladder, and of course everything stopped. It was a health and safety equipment nightmare, no guard rail around flat roof or anything like that and nobody at the base of the ladder.”

He said when they were told about the case, the BSGA were outraged, as to add insult to injury, after the worker had been admitted to hospital the work recommenced without any changes to procedure. Catanach concludes: “We at the BSGA were incredulous that a sign company actually sent the workers back without any further protection. Even if they had used a cherry picker they would have been safer. Some firms won’t spend an extra few quid for the sake of the safety of their employees – let alone getting the job done properly. That is one of our biggest frustrations of the BSGA. A lack of professionalism by small minority.

“Health and Safety is important not just for the wellbeing of people but it serves another purpose. If you present your company by using the correct equipment and the correct safety equipment and everything else then yes it costs you a bit more money, but you present yourself as a professional company who will do the job to the highest standards.”

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