During one visit to a facade access project, we were taken to the roof to check out the facade access system, a locally made machine. Once we entered the roof, we were startled by what we saw. From a distance we could already see that this was a very dangerous machine. Some implications which we spotted at a glance.
- No lower or upper limit switches: These switches are normally installed to stop the winches when the cradle touches a solid surface or comes too close to the pantograph. In this case, the cradle would not be stopped when hoisted to high or descended too low, causing a collision.
- A faulty pantograph: The design of the pantograph raised serious doubts about its strength.
- The machine was not designed to any standard: The design of the machine implicated that the quality and safety of this system was questionable.
Our first reaction was that nobody should ever use this machine. In a response to that, I was asked to find a solution for this situation and to make an offer. But before I could do that, our partner suddenly sent me a newsletter article. The unsafe machine made it to the headlines: it had fallen off the roof, with all its consequences.
The big question that came to me was: “how is it possible that the definition of safety and how to deal with it varies between different people?”
“We always have done it this way”
The viewpoint on safety more or less comes down to the same issue, which is the perspective from which you look at things.
For example, when you know you are not working safely, but still continue to work anyway just because of the argument “I’ve always done it this way” it will be just a matter of time that something will go wrong.
Probably the most important question to ask is how people develop such a perspective on safety.
Possible explanations for unsafe perspective
- Absence of standards: Very often you see people developing a risky perspective on safety when no real standards exist in their country. Plenty of local manufacturers just place an unsafe machine on the roof without any hesitation. Until something goes horribly wrong. The absence of standards and the lack of knowledge from the manufacturers about standards is to blame. But how can you blame a manufacturer when no standards exist? Swift resolutions are required in those cases.
- Lack of knowledge from clients: The majority of clients deal with placing a facade access system only once or twice in their lifetime. Obviously, they’re no experts in placing these systems, so they trust the manufacturer in placing a safe system without any risk for the end user. When a manufacturer (unknowingly) places an unsafe facade access system, the client is not able to spot this and unsafe situations occur.
- Misunderstanding: A client thinks he is hiring an expert. In case of the example discussed earlier, a local manufacturer with lots of bad and mediocre references. Nevertheless, the assumption here is that the manufacturer is innocent until proven guilty and can continue with its business.
- Third parties: A third party should help out a client in need of advice to prevent unsafe situations to occur. But in lots of cases, a third party is not hired or they lack knowledge to provide good advice.
- Money: Obviously, money plays an important role. The more manufacturers make use of high quality materials, sophisticated 3D models and customizations, the safer the facade access system will be. But on the other hand the price will be higher.
How to minimize unsafe practices?
Unfortunately, accidents like the one described still happen too often worldwide, hurting lots of people closely involved in these accidents. We want to contribute to safer facade access systems everywhere in the world by sharing our knowledge and educating all those involved in facade access around the world.
That’s why we have developed an infographic for those considering placing a facade access system and hiring a manufacturer to do so. This infographic points out the most important factors in different stages of the process and provides a guideline for safe practices.
Hopefully, sharing this knowledge will globally align the perspective on safety on the long run.