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Executive Report:

Clear opportunities

Last month, Nigel Strickland explained the new Working Exposure Limits for dust introduced under a revision to existing CoSHH Regulations. He now discovers that hirers are responding pro-actively with specialist advice and equipment.

The primary driver of change regarding attitudes to dust exposure in construction is the Health & Safety Executive (HSE). Its strategy is based on its Disease Reduction Programme (DRP), focusing on occupational asthma (particularly as a result of wood dust), and chronic pulmonary obstructive disease (COPD), which causes 4,000 deaths annually. Illustrating the importance of the dust issue, no less than three speakers addressed the subject at the recent Plant 2007 conference organised by Construction News. David Vowles, Senior Policy Advisor on Air Quality with the Greater London Authority discussed challenges faced by the capital’s prodigious development plans for the next 20 years. The management of air quality and the control of dust and emissions from construction will be guided by the London Best Practice Guidance (BPG) document (www.projects.bre.co.uk/dust/index.html). Dr Robert Ellis from the HSE Disease Reduction Programme spoke on silica dust, respiratory disease and the law, with specific emphasis on his project on reducing risks in kerb laying, paving and block cutting. Finally Neil Thompson, Group Brand Manager with Speedy Hire, gave a hirer’s perspective of the dust issue, with particular reference to Speedy’s just-launched campaign (described below) on raising awareness in construction.

To understand the potential impact that the new regulations could have on our industry, and the opportunities arising, consider Sweden. It has a vibrant construction economy and its population enjoys a high standard of living and long life expectancy. Awareness of the occupational health issues surrounding dust in construction became evident during the mid 1990s, when many developments in the manufacture of dust extraction equipment took place. Three Swedish manufacturers now dominate the €4m national market for dust extraction and accessories in construction, with Dustcontrol estimated to have a 65% market share, Pulman Ermator 30% and Nederman the remainder. These companies also dominate the wider European marketplace.

Five major players

Sweden’s hire industry is well developed and dominated (60% of total turnover) by five major players, including two of Europe’s leading rental companies, Cramo and Ramirent. Below them, five companies, including Lambertsson, occupy the middle ground, with a further 150-200 independents completing the picture. Total turnover is estimated by the Swedish Rental Association at around £500m. Virtually all these companies regard dust extraction equipment as standard hire products, with Cramo alone having more than 1,300 Dustcontrol extraction vacuums in its fleet. Using these statistics and the knowledge that Cramo has a 30% share of the Swedish market, a rough calculation of the total number of dust extraction vacuums available for hire suggests 4,000-5,000 units.

In the UK there are an estimated 5,000 companies in the tool and equipment hire sector, with a total turnover of more than £1 billion. Based on Sweden’s statistics, it might not be too wide of the mark to suggest a potential UK market for dust extraction vacuums to eventually reach 35,000 units. An interesting cross section of hire companies are already seizing the initiative, including most of the nationals, but also a significant number of independents.

For example, Paul Houlihan from GGH Hire of Enfield states that his company added its first dust extraction vacuums to the hire fleet five years ago, with two machines being used in conjunction with wall chasers. Since then its fleet has grown to 23, reflecting a growing awareness amongst customers of the new regulations, and this is being typified by an increased partnering of dust extraction vacuums with power tools such as chop saws for second-fix carpentry work.

Significant increase in demand

In 1999, Brandon took its first tentative steps into hiring mobile dust extraction vacuums by adding Dustcontrol Dc2800’s to the fleet. Supported by specific marketing literature and web based information, Brandon’s pioneering approach has seen its fleet steadily grow to 350 units and currently comprises a mix of four models. Senior Buyer Bob Baber reports a significant increase in demand since the introduction of the new WELs, including interest in three-phase equipment for major industrial contracts. He adds that the hire of ancillary Air Cube air cleaners is accelerating and that, once customers working in hospital refurbishment projects have tried the combination of dust extraction vacuums and air cleaners, repeat orders follow almost automatically.

However, it is not just in the major cities that a pro-active stance can pay dividends. Andrew Parker, Managing Director of YHC Hire Services in Yeovil, operates in an area where the key industrial markets are predominantly aerospace and food preparation. Both industries require the highest levels of cleanliness with zero tolerance of dust contamination, and Andrew reports a very solid upturn in demand for dust control from building contractors. As well as offering dust extraction vacuums and air cleaners, YHC can prefabricate dust containment modules that form enclosed work zones in sensitive environments.

A-Plant continues to provide customers with Health & Safety information on dust with the launch this month of several new initiatives. These include an enhanced version of the company's Site Safety Pack, featuring a new Dust Supplement focusing on the reduced WELs. Its fleet includes Dustcontrol dust extraction and suppression equipment.

Impressive Speedy campaign

Meanwhile, Speedy continues to build on its highly impressive Safety from the Ground Up campaign, with the latest component under the title ‘Let’s clear the air on dust control’ launched last month. This is Speedy’s biggest ever Health & Safety campaign and is built on the use of independent customer research and focus groups, close co-operation with the HSE and the thorough training of the company’s sales force and depot teams. As well as adding dust extraction equipment to its hire fleet, Speedy has made a significant investment in dust monitoring kit, breathing apparatus and the creation of a dedicated customer training programme.

Speedy’s Neil Thompson contends “Our research revealed there is not much understanding of the different types of dust and its effects on health. None of the operatives questioned mentioned asthma or silicosis unprompted when asked what health concerns they had about dust.” He says that HSE has identified asbestos, wood and silica dust as the ‘big three’ particulates to focus on, as they threaten the health of site operatives. However, particles from diesel equipment, lead, solvents, two-pack paints and other chemicals can also cause serious ill health such as asthma, COPD, dermatitis and rhinitis. “Given that 63 times as many people die from COPD than from falls at height, our findings show a worrying lack of knowledge from some of the people who are most at risk.”

Ken Stewart, Group Procurement Manager for GAP, reports that the company’s recently launched Split Second safety campaign reflects the trend towards increasing awareness of dust, and health issues generally. ”GAP is working closely with key suppliers, such as Makita, who have been very pro-active.” Scotia Plant in Motherwell continues to build on its six years’ involvement with dust extraction and the company reports a discernable upward trend in demand, especially among flooring contractors and companies carrying out construction and maintenance work within food production facilities and industrial premises.

It is encouraging to see clear evidence of both national and independent hirers providing innovative solutions in terms of equipment supply, training and education in response to the revised legislation. It is also worth noting the numerous companies that have been involved in providing dust management solutions for many years and see the new regulations as vindication of their pioneering approach. Supplying dust extraction, air cleaning and dust suppression, alongside education, training and support, is a powerful commercial combination.

Executive Hire NewsArchivesMay 2007Executive Report › Clear opportunities

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