Friday, November 9, 2018
We must use the upcoming LiftEx trade show to unite against falling safety standards in the industry, says Steve Hutin, the managing director of Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd.
Walk around LiftEx next month—the event takes place 14-15 November at Arena MK in Milton Keynes, UK—and you’ll see lots of bright new lifting equipment on show.
Hoists will sparkle under the exhibition hall lights. Synthetic slings will hang resplendent in all the colours of the rainbow. Shackles will shine. Gantries will glisten. Visitors will be able to see their reflections in control buttons. All the while, we’ll be celebrating the technological advancement of our industry and pat each other on the back for being lifting professionals.
It’s all rubbish…
…if we continue to preside over an industry where safety standards, particularly in terms of rigging gear, are getting worse—not better. I’m deadly serious.
There are some fabulous things about our trade and I’ve blogged before about seizing the opportunity organisers the Lifting Equipment Engineers Association (LEEA) will give us at LiftEx to engage the younger generation. But what kind of marketplace do we want them to find when they choose us over the super-safe alternatives? I want the next batch of apprentices or young professionals to ply their trade in a sector that takes safety so seriously, everyone goes home to their families at the end of every shift. Always.
Unfortunately, we’re seeing an increasing volume of photos and hearing a greater number of horror stories (not just because it’s Halloween week) revealing the abundance of rigging items being put to use that are not fit for purpose. We’re an industry in reverse.
Have some people forgotten Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations 1998 (LOLER)?:
“If your business or organisation undertakes lifting operations or is involved in providing lifting equipment for others to use, you must manage and control the risks to avoid any injury or damage.”
If you had seen the samples I’ve witnessed recently, you’d doubt some suppliers had even read it. Here, in 2018, thousands of lifts are taking place using slings and rigging tools that have been declared fit for use showing clear signs of corrosion, cracks, distortion, wear, elongation, missing catches, lack of maintenance, cuts, abrasions, poor assembly, and more! I’ve seen the photos. Unsuspecting professionals trust their lifting equipment suppliers with their lives. And they’re being let down.
Another reminder from LOLER:
“Records of thorough examinations should be made and, where defects are identified, they should be reported to both the person using the equipment (and to any person from whom it has been hired or leased), and the relevant enforcing authority…”
So who’s to blame?
The attitude of some big tool hire companies doesn’t help for a start. We always recommend that an end user work with a specialist lifting equipment company on anything related to cranes or hoists. As Davey Walker, our business development director (Scotland), recently told trade media, there are one-stop-shop hire businesses out there—plenty of them—that stock a variety of products, but far too many have a diluted pool of experience when it comes to lifting gear. And, he added, it’s a mistake to approach the supply of any lifting-related product or service with a tool-hire mentality. Hear, hear!
Davey’s reference to the dilution of expertise resonated with me. There’s nothing wrong with diversification per se but a supplier should ensure they back-up such expansion with the appropriate skills. If a firm is making a move into the lifting equipment hire market, they should know LOLER inside out and recruit or train enough personnel so they are competent. My business wouldn’t expect to successfully supply a new product into an unknown marketplace solely upon acquisition of stock. It’s a pity some suppliers sell lifting gear with exactly that attitude.
It’s easy to see how competency gets diluted. How can a tool or plant hire company with 50 depots across the country make sure expertise in a new product area is prevalent at each site? They can’t. The problem is compounded if the company keeps expanding in terms of facilities and product areas. It’s one thing for a finance guy to identify the possible margin on, say, wire rope slings, and make a calculation on coveted market share, but quite another to “…manage and control the risks to avoid any injury or damage.”
Of course, these larger companies are not averse to safety; their core business areas might be beacons of good practice. However, they can’t afford to apply the same resources to the bolt-on divisions, such as lifting gear. Look at the turnover of some of them and the revenue being generated by the hire of below-the-hook equipment alone and it’s clear they don’t have enough fully trained personnel to ensure they meet demand in line with proper protocols. Corners simply must be cut to get product out the door.
Might there be a way industry can monitor skills versus turnover related to certain items of equipment?
If £20k a month is being generated by rigging hire but nobody can call lifting their principle area of expertise, something is wrong. I’d like to see some regulation in this area, whereby a company with turnover of £1m must have five employees qualified to a certain level based on LEEA training programmes. If a business turns over £20m, they must prove that 100 personnel are suitably qualified. And so on.
A snowball effect is created by the fact that a one-stop-shop often appeals to larger companies (the construction sector is sometimes guilty of this). In other words, a contractor or end user might find it convenient to source powered access equipment, industrial lighting, traffic management products, protective clothing, and rigging gear from a single source. That’s why we need to raise awareness that lifting equipment is a regulated industry in itself and needs to be treated as a specialist area. It’s worlds apart from a tool that’s hired for short-term use by a novice.
When I started in the lifting business 26 years ago it was different; the tool hire firms stuck to their area of expertise and specialists supplied lifting gear. In their “race to the bottom” on rental equipment prices, hire firms forced themselves to look for margin elsewhere. I acknowledge that technology has evolved and changed the functionality and mentality surrounding order processes but we must preserve safety standards.
It’s not about tradition; it’s about preventing accidents and fatalities.
Let’s use LiftEx to raise awareness and start reversing this worrying trend.
We’re taking an expanded team to the show this year; we all look forward to seeing you in Milton Keynes.
Rope and Sling Specialists Ltd