Advancing Safety and Efficiency in High-Rise Construction with Innovative Safety Screen Systems

Ian Fryer explains how the latest safety screen systems are helping to address the need for debris and edge protection in the construction of high-rise and tall commercial buildings, and highlights the improved working cycles, efficiency gains and advertising opportunities they can deliver

Increasing urbanisation has led to an upturn in high-rise construction. This is particularly true in emerging economies. It goes without saying that the key economic driver for this trend is the lack of space in densely urbanised areas, with rising populations in cities also meaning mixed-use buildings are gaining greater importance.

As such, debris protection is one area that needs urgently addressing to ensure contractors and their employees, as well as the general public, remain safe and secure. Particularly with cast concrete construction, where concrete slabs extend beyond a building’s footprint, the opportunity for debris to fall over the edge is high unless there is protection in place. Health and safety should, naturally, never be compromised, particularly given the impact that debris falling from height can have. For example, an M20 nut falling 12 floors gains 50 joules of kinetic energy. With more than 14 joules enough to fracture a human skull, the importance of assured perimeter protection systems should not be underestimated.

On site, contractors are under incredible pressure to turn developments around quickly, on time and on budget. When the sheer scale, tight timeframes and number of sub-contractors involved in many high-rise construction projects are taken into account, it is clear how easy it can potentially be for health and safety risks to arise. In inner-city areas with limited space, pedestrian walkways on the periphery of a site need to be protected from falling objects, and then workers on the ground – who might be transporting goods from one point to another – must be kept safe from the building work that is taking place above them. On the other end of the spectrum, falls from height are the main cause of fatal accidents for those working in the construction industry in the EU, for example. And then there’s the issue of ensuring neighbouring buildings are not damaged, or a contractor could be faced with a costly penalty and dispute. In short, the construction industry has a duty to make the protection of people an absolute priority. For those seeking an assured debris protection solution, safety screens are a best practice approach for managing health and safety.

Safety first

Providing maximum debris sealing, a safety screen system delivers assured perimeter edge protection for site operatives, preventing falls from height, as well as sealing in construction debris and stopping objects from falling. Safety screen systems also accommodate various climates, with solutions available that can shelter workers from wind and rain, while providing ventilation too. This, ultimately, helps minimise downtime as well.

Other benefits include helping reduce vertigo for workers, further improving productivity levels too. Multi-level safety screens can therefore significantly speed up working cycles for contractors.

There are a range of key considerations that contractors need to bear in mind when specifying a safety screen system. The available space will influence whether safety screens arrive preassembled or are assembled on site. The capabilities of on-site operatives may also dictate whether systems arrive ready-assembled.

Wind load is also an important consideration when erecting safety screens for tall buildings, and only becomes more critical as the height increases.

Location is also a key consideration when specifying safety screens, as these can represent a significant opportunity to carry publicity messages for a development. Using this opportunity to help offset the cost of the system can enable the contractor to justify the use of safety screens on factors other than just perimeter protection.

Other opportunities

One additional benefit of using safety screens is that they can be used for advertising. While plywood or corrugated steel cladding requires any marketing to be added to the systems separately, plastic screens can be printed with promotional messages in mind. This is a very popular option, as it can help provide the ultimate protection against the elements for workers, while also advertising brands and key marketing messages in prime locations in busy city centres. In fact, savvy contractors can even sell this advertising space to their client or other third parties, with the capital raised going towards the cost of the safety screen system.

Other features to look out for are hydraulic climbing options, which can help reduce the reliance on crane-assisted lifting. This functionality enables multiple screens to be lifted on the same hydraulic cycle, further improving safety and efficiency levels. An integral spring-loaded latch ensures safe and simple hydraulic lifting.

Another key benefit to note from the latest safety screen systems is how they can help avoid and limit on-site hazards. Previous safety screen platforms would typically be half a metre or so below the slab falsework, resulting in a perimeter platform that was practically redundant, as well as presenting a potential trip hazard for workers. The latest solutions now ensure that perimeter access platforms are absolutely level with the falsework soffit, to help reduce trip hazards and provide guaranteed peace of mind for contractors.

Health and safety in the construction industry should never be compromised. With high-rise construction increasing, ensuring the right perimeter protection is in place has never been more important. Fortunately, contractors can feel confident with the latest edge protection solutions that on-site health and safety is assured.

Ian Fryer is Divisional Product Innovation Manager at RMD Kwikform, a global leader in formwork, falsework and ground shoring solutions, as well as safety systems and accessories for projects requiring temporary works. The company operates in an extensive range of building and infrastructure sectors, including residential and commercial buildings, rail and metro, bridges, roads and highways, stadiums and leisure, airports, water utilities and mining.
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