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Designing safety into surface preparation

Operators benefit most when manufacturers consider safety. Connie Johnson explores how equipment manufacturers can learn from contractors to create a safer industry.

According to health and safety consultant, Arinite, construction is the fourth most dangerous sector to work in globally. Contractors and machine operators are clearly most at risk, but they can also be the most influential in understanding how to improve onsite safety.

According to 2023 HSE data, UK construction workers were almost twice as likely to suffer work related injury or ill-health than other industries.

‘Everyone involved in construction has a role to play in keeping people safe and healthy,’ said Mike Thomas, HSE’s acting head of construction division. ‘We want everyone in the industry, from designers to contractors and their workers, to be aware of the risks associated with any moving or lifting task and put appropriate measures in place. The health of workers must be considered’.

So, how do you lift a 200-pound flooring machine onto a trailer, drive it to a jobsite, unload it, take it up two flights of stairs and complete a flooring job without ever risking injury? By choosing machines designed with safety in mind.

Machine transit
Transporting machinery to a site can be challenging. While it may feel more like simple logistics rather than a safety risk, lifting machinery onto transport, upstairs or across rooms when on the job site could cause injury. Designing machinery for safe and secure transit can help protect staff and members of the public.

Fork pockets, for example, improve safety when moving large ride-on machines with a forklift. The forks slot into pockets fitted to the machine’s underside, keeping it stable during transit. Manufacturers can also include features like anchor points for securing the equipment, or lifting arms for hoisting it into position.

Walk-behind scrapers, while smaller, can still be difficult to manoeuvre. Modular scraper designs or removable weights are helpful, particularly when carrying the machine upstairs in buildings lacking an elevator.

Operational hazards
Good working practices help mitigate risks to contractors on site. Proper dust management, for example, is essential as surface preparation jobs like grinding, scarifying and shot blasting create dust, which is harmful if inhaled. Using a dust collector fitted with a high-efficiency particulate air (HEPA) filter removes microscopic particles, which are often the most dangerous.

In addition, frequently using heavy equipment that requires high operator input can lead to musculoskeletal symptoms. Machines with independently powered wheels, on the other hand, offer enhanced manoeuvrability, enabling them to pivot and turn independently with little operator input, significantly reducing operator fatigue and enhancing efficiency.

Likewise, machines that give contractors increased control can provide a safer working environment. Unlike conventional floor scrapers that operate on a binary on/off mode, advanced scrapers, such as the Rogue, offer comprehensive customisation of speed and blade oscillation, ensuring optimal performance and operator safety.

Communication is also key to creating a safe working environment. For instance, contractors should inform facility managers of any issues that arise during a job to reduce the risk of injury while on-site. To make long term change, contractors can also collaborate with equipment manufacturers, sharing their on-site experiences to understand what new machine features could help improve safety for construction workers throughout the industry.

The introduction of health and safety measures has helped the construction industry make significant steps to improve safety, but it’s clear that continuous work on heavy-duty machinery can put contractors at risk. Equipment manufacturers can play an integral role in further improving safety by listening to machine operators.

By adapting machines to contractor feedback, manufacturers can design flooring equipment that delivers productivity but also keeps the operator out of harm’s way.
Connie Hardy is vice president of marketing at National Flooring Equipment

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