What should safety managers look for when procuring an affordable Barrier system to mitigate Drops risks at their sites? How can operators reduce long-term expenditure while improving safety? Mike Rice, Dropsafe’s Commercial Director explores why innovative new products that set the highest standards for safety performance need not carry the highest long-term cost.
While much is made of the distinction between ‘conventional’ and emerging industries, oil and gas, renewable energy, power generation, marine and mining all share a common challenge, and a common goal. Key personnel face challenging working environments in all of these sectors, and site owners and operators have a duty to protect them.
The safety landscape has changed rapidly within these industries in recent years, a process driven by ongoing pressure to modernise and accelerated by the effects of the pandemic. This, in turn, has spurred innovation in some of the key areas that constitute a robust HSE strategy, including Drops prevention.
However, innovation in safety systems can take more time than it should to reach those that benefit most. Longstanding reliance on traditional Drops prevention solutions, coupled with the pace of change – and the hurdle posed by upfront cost – can make it challenging for safety managers to stay on top of evolving best practice.
This article looks at the evolution of Barriers – a crucial line of defence against Drops through stairwells and elevated walkways. We will explore the solutions on the market and demonstrate why opting for an innovative solution that is ‘ahead of the curve’ – the Dropsafe Barrier – will pay dividends in the long-run.
Why do I need a Barrier system?
This is the first question that may spring to mind – and, in many ways, it is one of the main ‘barriers’ in itself to effective Drops prevention.
However, the statistics around Drops speak for themselves. Drops are a key cause of injury in any industry where working at height in hazardous environments is common. UK HSE figures show that 16% of 2020 fatalities across all industries were due to workers being ‘struck by a moving, including flying or falling object’. In the US, 241 fatalities were caused by Drops incidents in 2019.
Elevated walkways and stairways are particularly high-risk areas for Drops incidents due to large gaps between railings and the fact that there are often personnel walking below. Barrier systems exist in a variety of forms, but all are designed to affix to railings across work sites, tackling these Drops incidents in two ways:
1. Preventing tools being knocked through gaps in stairways or raised working platforms.
2. Stopping ricochets to contain Drops that have occurred in the vicinity.
In other words, while stopping Drops from occurring in the first place must remain a focus, Barriers provide an essential second line of defence by ‘plugging the gaps’ between railings. They prevent incidents that threaten personnel safety, loss of or damage to equipment, and potentially severe financial and reputational impacts.
What are the characteristics of an effective Barrier system?
While the basic principle behind a Barrier system is very simple, it is important to understand that not all Barriers are created equal. Indeed, at Dropsafe we strongly believe that Barriers are only truly effective – in any industry – if they possess three main attributes. These are: flexibility, speed and durability.
A best practice Barrier range needs to be flexible in two ways.
Firstly, installation and reinstallation of the Barrier should be hassle-free. For example, a mine site may require existing Barriers installed on a different section as the mine expands. This saves labour-time and increases the versatility of the solution.
Secondly, the Barrier range should offer solutions tailored for real-world environmental conditions. The operating environment of a North Sea oil rig is significantly harsher than a climate-controlled power generation facility, and therefore requires the most robust solution possible.
When a facility operates without a best practice Drops prevention Barrier system installed, personnel are left more vulnerable to Drops incidents in that period. Ensuring timely global delivery of solutions is crucial in enabling HSE managers to tackle Drops risks quickly.
Rapid, tool-free installation is key to reducing costs during this process. Solutions which require ‘hot works’ lead to greater costs and may increase safety risks to an unacceptable level in hazardous mining or hydrocarbon facilities.
The leading Barrier systems are built to last. A ten-year warranty is the gold standard which operators should look for when procuring a new Barrier solution.
Durability ensures that long-term reinstallation and maintenance costs are reduced compared to consumable products such as plywood and mesh netting, opening the door to low-cost, long-term ownership.
These attributes are, not coincidentally, the core principles that informed the design of the Dropsafe Barrier range, which has been specifically engineered to meet the needs of end users across multiple high-risk industries. With its modular design, and tool-free installation, it is a significant step forward from some of the more traditional and ‘makeshift’ solutions used to date.
The Dropsafe Barrier, which has seen widespread adoption by safety-conscious site managers worldwide, is available in two variants. The moderate environment ‘ME’ version is ideally suited for use in indoor and temperate conditions, leading to its use in power generation plants and mine sites. The extreme environment ‘XE’ model is engineered for maximum protection at offshore facilities and harsh weather onshore sites, leading to widespread adoption in offshore energy. Both models can use attachments suitable for category 3 or category 5 wind speeds.
You can read more about the features of the Dropsafe Barrier here.
How do Barrier systems compare on cost?
With the Dropsafe Barrier, we have aimed to raise the bar and bring to market a highly engineered, innovative solution that paves the way for new standards in global Drops prevention.
However, we appreciate that this is only possible if the solution we offer is affordable. HSE teams on tight budgets need to know that the Barrier system they are purchasing stacks up favourably on cost against other similar products.
So, following on from the cost analysis we undertook in our Slipping Through the Cracks report, we constantly assess how the long-term costs of the Dropsafe Barrier compare against some of the other most commonly adopted solutions in the market – including flexible mesh netting, bolted and expanded metal fencing and, in some sectors, plywood.
The results are almost invariably the same. While some products – notably mesh netting – have a low upfront material cost, the moment we take into account all of the subsidiary costs of Barrier ownership, including installation, replacement and reinstallation, the more flexible, durable and quick-to-install Dropsafe Barrier comes out on top.
The most innovative and effective safety products do not always come with the highest price tag. More importantly, as we have said before, cost need not be a barrier to robust Drops prevention. As standards continue to evolve, safety managers across all industries have an opportunity to set new benchmarks – and gain wide ranging competitive advantages – by leading adoption of systems that save lives, save money and enhance reputation.
To help site operators and safety managers make more effective decisions in their procurement of Barrier systems, Dropsafe has analysed the long-term cost implications of different Barrier solutions in its whitepaper, ‘Slipping Through The Cracks’. To find out more, visit the report page here.