More than most engineering companies, RMD Kwikform is familiar with the growing number of challenges facing contractors on high rise projects.
A leading producer of protection screens, RMD Kwikform has grown its business at the same time as the number of cranes popping up across the UK’s largest cities has risen exponentially. Simultaneously, the need for subcontractors and their suppliers to do more than merely pay lip service to safety issues is ever more pressing.
“In the last two years, use of screens has become even more common than ever,” says RMD engineering director Ian Fryer. He adds that the company now receives enquiries about screens on almost any job of 15 storeys or higher.
So, why is the need for screens finally hitting home? And what makes RMD as well placed as any to supply them?
“They were quite common before the recession, but they went on the back burner when the market slowed down,” explains Fryer. “Now there’s been a bit of a boom, especially in London, it’s almost become the industry norm.
“People are seeing the benefit of what they offer in protecting not only the public but their own workforce as well.”
And it isn’t just safety that is at the heart of the growth in screen usage; protecting workers from the elements can save clients and main contractors time and money, while simultaneously removing the risks associated with vertigo, from which even experienced construction workers can suffer.
At least one major contractor already has an internal policy that it will demand that screens to be used by all subcontractors on jobs over a certain height.
It’s a trend that others are likely to take up, according to Fryer.
RMD’s own screens are currently being used on three major jobs: two in central London and another in Manchester city centre. Each of these provides a different challenge, and each shows how the new generation of screens must be adaptable to the whims of designers and architects.
“Buildings with more complex geometry create more design challenges and make our solution more complex,” says Fryer.
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“But our system can adapt to any geometry – it just might take a little more thought.”
The other variable is how high the screens need to be. Traditionally, screens covered the wet deck being cast and two dry decks below. Now, RMD has begun to see customers asking for two levels of wet deck protection. This also saves time –and inevitably money – by cutting down the number of times a screen has to be lifted.
For example, on a project where a slab is being poured every two weeks, the larger screen will only be moved once every four weeks, reducing the amount of crane time, which, as every main contractor can tell you, quickly adds up. RMD estimates that on an average project, up to three quarters of a day can be wasted lifting a screen just one level.
Time and cost savings
Furthermore, on some projects, cladding can be put on to a building at the screen’s lowest level. Once again, this can save days and cost, despite the larger screen’s higher price point.
The RMD screens are assembled off-site in its yard near Birmingham. They can be adjusted to the size or shape of building. And the business is booming as the fashion for tall, glamour projects shows little sign of slowing.
The number of enquiries for its screens has gone up noticeably in the last three years, while the last 12 months alone has been especially positive. The company estimates that, if it wins just half the jobs it has priced this year, turnover will be up, with many of the current crop of enquiries coming from new customers.
But perhaps the most important role that the increased use of screens has – away from the boost it has been for RMD to build its business – is in helping construction shed some of its more negative stereotypes.
“When someone not from the industry walks down the street and sees a project with a screen it just looks much neater,” says Fryer. “It looks enclosed, it looks safe. And that’s not just visual; it is safer. When you are behind the screen it feels very still, even when the wind is bowing. So it’s definitely a lot safer.”
For those contractors and clients using screens, the impression of being safe is almost as important as safety itself. And as screens become commonplace, anyone failing to fall into line is likely to stand out.
Reduced accident risk
“Things can happen in the construction industry; things can fall to the ground and with screens up, that won’t cause a threat to the public.”
With public safety in mind, complex screen systems have become even more popular on sites near railway lines or busy road intersections. But soon, no high-rise site will seem complete without one.
Innovation is also moving screen technology forward, with perforation introduced to some RMD products. While this perforation – available at 20% and 40% – doesn’t take away from structural capacity, it allows more light into a site, than solid sheeting.
It is something that is being adopted more often, says Fryer, with different levels of perforation currently being used on RMD’s three ongoing city centre jobs.
On top of everything, clients can – and indeed have – used the sheeting for advertising their brand, with the exterior design of the screens entirely adaptable. As Fryer puts it: “It’s 30 weeks of free advertising. Most developers aren’t going to say no to that!”
So, with a product that can increase safety, keep lost days down to a minimum, and provide an extra bit of marketing, it’s unlikely we’ll be seeing the back of protective screens any time soon.
In association with RMD