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Market trends: Access equipment

With more sign-makers now realising the benefits of access height training, Rebecca Paddick looks at how more businesses could see profits soar by reaching for the skies

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Working at height safely requires a considerable level of training

The only way is up

The cost, time-constraints, and safety risks once deterred many sign manufacturers from installing high signage. Yet, despite these restrictions, such projects could bring in much-needed revenue at a time when additional income is crucial. Companies committing their work force to specialist access height training programmes are now reaping the benefits of additional contracts, and as a result, are making more profit.

Training to gain

Lavendon Access Services, the largest access rental company in the UK, has contributed greatly with the design and development of a number of powered access safety courses, and currently trains more than 20,000 people each year.

Major sign companies have realised the benefit of training their employees.

"This gives them greater control over their fixing schedules and adds to the skill sets of their employees,” explains Richard Miller, executive director of sales at Nationwide Platforms, a subsidiary of Lavendon.

He adds: “There are numerous benefits to signage business employees receiving working at height training. Firstly, with many sites requiring training as a necessity, it enables signage firms
to take on more work. Secondly, by training their own employees, rather than sub-contracting work, the business can often have greater control of the quality of the work they produce, and of course not sub-contracting work can also result in reduced costs in the long term.”

To buy or not to buy

Lavendon has helped developed
a number of platform accessories
for quick and safe working at height

Due to varying work schedules and applications, many sign-makers are opting to hire equipment such as cherry-pickers, rather than invest in their own machines.

“Any sign-maker thinking of buying an access platform would firstly have to consider how much variety they require when working at height. Many customers find that our greatest strength is being able to provide the choice of more than 11,300 machines,” adds Miller

Lavendon’s equipment options range from scissor and boom lift, with working heights up to 45m, to truck and van mounts that can reach up to 100m. Scissor lifts provide vertical lift with a range of different sizes for indoor and outdoor applications. Boom lifts also offer sideways outreach by means of a telescopic or articulated boom. The work platform can reach around and over obstacles, and can be rotated around 360 degrees.

Once decided on the appropriate machinery, another consideration is the value of the investment and whether owning equipment would be financially viable, particularly considering the maintenance and regulations associated with powered access kit.

“In the signage industry, we’ve found that our customers often require flexibility when hiring equipment on long-term projects. In these situations, we encourage our customers to hire our machines on an ad-hoc basis, which gives them the adaptability and choice they require,” explains Miller.

Red tape woes

Sussex-based Tara Signs train their own workforce
to work at high levels

Despite its seemingly obvious benefits to business, venturing into the heights is often considered a mine-field of red tape. The Work at Height Regulations (WAHR) 2005 apply to all work at height where there is a risk of a fall liable to cause personal injury. Workers will therefore have to gain a number of certifications to ensure safe practice.

It is because of these safety measures that sign-makers will often hear the terms IPAF and PASMA when considering access height training, as these are generally considered an ideal starting point. The International Powered Access Federation (IPAF), serves as a forum for powered access workers and offers some helpful starting points. Those who successfully complete IPAF training are awarded the Powered Access Licence—the PAL Card—the most widely held and recognised proof of training for platform operators.

The Prefabricated Access Suppliers and Manufacturers Association (PASMA) provides and governs the industry standard training scheme for mobile access towers. The half-day Work at Height Essentials Course explains how to use of mobile access towers, and gives an insight into the use of all forms of access equipment. Delegates attending this course receive a PASMA certificate and photocard for the relevant level that is valid for five years.

Earlier this year, David Catanach, director of the British Sign and Graphics Association (BSGA), completed the IPAF 3a/3b training, which teaches the safe use of scissor and boom lifts.

“I did this as the BSGA promotes exactly this sort of skill learning that will raise the standards of work within the sign industry,” says Catanach, adding: “I needed to know what the process is and how difficult or easy it can be. It was both easy and worthwhile as it turns out.”

Global Erecting Sign Services carry out building wraps
at height via rope access

BSGA promotes and recommends access height training as a must-have if a company is going to be engaged in working at height., as Catanach explains: “Apart from raising the standards of work in the industry, it is a simple matter of ensuring that the workforce is protected by having the right knowledge and tools for the job without putting themselves in danger.

Sign companies are beginning to recognise the benefits to both their business and employees of these courses. It is now considered a valuable tool and asset for the business rather than something they are forced to do

The BSGA has taken a leading role in the development of a wide range of structured training programmes designed to help equip and qualify workers for their roles in the sign industry.

 Catanach also stresses the importance of researching training options before embarking on a course: “If a company is investing in its workforce to receive training, then make sure it is the right training and that these skills are used regularly to maintain the knowledge gained. By all means, compare prices from different vendors but look at it as an investment for the business now and for the future.”

Calling in the specialists

GESS install banners via rope access

Installing signage from height has, in the past, been dominated by specialist sub-contractors. As well as the required certification, there is further regulation for equipment. Signage installations company, Global Erecting Sign Services (GESS), have completed a variety of contracts at street level and at extreme height, and regularly work with sign-makers.

“Most kit needs replacing around every 18 months, and independently inspected every six months. The rope access qualification must be renewed every three years at full cost, members of your workforce will need to be put through a manual handling course and you need a first-aider on site,” explains head of operations at GESS, Gavin Clark.

He adds: “This regulation is fine for us because we’ve got the skilled staff, the certification, the equipment and the insurance, so it means more business is coming our way as a result of this. Working from height is now requiring more paperwork, and it can be difficult to tick every box.”

As well as using fully-certified staff, GESS provide all of the equipment for an installation, the insurance, the necessary documentation for health and safety, and also carry out a visual survey prior to the installation to ensure the right equipment will be used. The company’s workforce is also Industrial Rope Access Trade Association (IRATA) trained, allowing them to carry out rope access tasks. The IRATA hosts a range of training course for different technical grades.
Extreme height expertise

Tara Signs produced two sets of 3.8m
high built-up logos for J P Morgan

Yet despite the many obstacles, one UK sign manufacturer is making a profit working from height. Sussex-based Tara Signs were required to produce two sets of 3.8 metre high built-up logos, internally illuminated via LED, for installation on the north and south elevation of J P Morgan’s 502 feet high office building in the Canary Wharf area. With a requirement to engineer and install the signage solution at this extreme height, the project brought with it a set of challenges.

Tara Signs is one just a few companies in the UK with expertise in managing projects where signage is required in high rise buildings, as sales manager, Marc Finnegan, explains: “Training our own workforce to work at high levels meant that we were in control of our installations at all times, and we didn’t have to rely on sub-contractors.”

Tara Signs manufacture a wide range of signage from large-scale corporate projects for blue chip companies, to smaller customised signs for local businesses, and have chosen to train their own workforce in order to make the firm more adaptable to new contracts.

We currently sub-contract specialist installation teams, but we are also embarking on getting our own teams completely certified for cradle training, purely because at the moment we have a need for high level installations off of cradles

So it is more of an investment to train in-house,” Finnegan says.

The complex JP Morgan project also required a solution from specialist material supplier Robert Horne Group.  The company recommended using Lexan Opal SG3050B as the polycarbonate had all the properties required for the job in hand, including strength, a brighter white colour when illuminated and excellent diffusion eliminating hot spots.

Richard Miller executive director
of sales at Nationwide Platforms
a subsidiary of Lavendon

It is also virtually unbreakable according the manufacturer and is designed to withstand high winds and weather extremes—a must for signage solutions installed at height.

“We like to ask questions of our customers in order to understand the application,” comments Robert Horne Group’s commercial director, Frank Moran.

He adds: “Making these large signs is a big investment and a substantial commitment for any signage company, and our aim is to provide our customers with a level of expertise which helps ensure their purchasing decisions can be made with confidence.

“We are interested in our customers’ work and like to understand the many different types of end-user applications our products can be used for. This allows us to propose and recommend the most suitable materials to match the requirements.”

The development of LED technology is one of the most rapidly changing dynamics in the signage industry and this is having significant impact upon the end-user in terms of quality of the illuminated image and what type of applications can be archived.

Moran continues: “External applications, acrylic and polycarbonate in particular, will often need to be backlit, and this is where our range of LED lighting solutions can make a difference and add real value to the finished product.”

New set of challenges

But Finnegan counsels that working at such high levels can create some difficult problems: “Obstacles such as road restrictions can sometimes be overlooked. We were approached to complete a sign installation in the centre of London, where we had to organise road closure permits to allow for large lifting platforms and access equipment, as a result we were given a very small window to complete this job, making it all the more difficult.”

And, sometimes Mother Nature isn’t always on your side, as Finnegan explains: “We had planned to put a crew on to a cradle for another high level installation in London, but we couldn’t complete the task because the wind levels were above 12mph, which meant the cradle couldn’t go out, and everything was aborted.”

Tara Signs has continued to use sub-contractors for high level installations, but did not want to rely on this option, as Finnegan adds: “Some cradle-trained sub-contractors are in very high demand. If we’ve got our own teams that are able to cover every aspect of the sign installation, then we can lead the whole process.”

But this doesn’t spell the end for sub-contractors as Finnegan also thinks there is a strong future for sign-makers joining the sector, and for existing installation firms: “There will always be a need for qualified sub-contractors because some areas when working from height have very specific requirements.”

Weighing up the options

Currently, there is a relatively small number of highly specialised sign manufacturers with the experience and know how required to satisfactorily complete high signage contracts. Working from height is notorious for its legislation on liability, health and safety, maintenance, and insurance, which can sometimes deter new business. But, instead of playing it safe and keeping their feet on the ground, sign companies are now looking up for new opportunities and potential profits, and are working alongside specialist installation companies, to complete more high-rise projects.

If researched effectively and planned properly for an individual business, access height training could be a solid additional resource for sign manufacturers, in a time of continued economic uncertainty.

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