A safe framework on which to build?

The local scaffolding sector is facing tough times as some contractors turn to rogue traders in a bid shave project costs. But with site safety and falls from height high on the agenda of this week’s issue, Zoe Naylor explores how suppliers are reacting to changes in the market and the ever increasing cost of steel.

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By  Zoe Naylor Published  September 9, 2006

|~|136prod200.gif|~|Despite steel price hikes affecting the end user of scaffolding, demand for pipes is, like many other products, outstripping supply across the region.|~|It’s a busy time for the region’s scaffolding sector. A vast range of mega-scale construction projects is underway, which is pushing scaffolding technology and production capacity to the limits.

One Dubai-based scaffolding firm to have been involved in many of the region’s high-profile projects is Westminster Gulf. “We have worked on Emirates Towers, the Kempinski Hotel at Mall of the Emirates, Ibn Battuta shopping mall, the Madinat Jumeirah, the Mina A Salam Hotel and many of the expansions at Dubal,” says Charlie Edwards, contracts manager, Westminster Gulf Scaffolding and Access.

“We are currently involved with, on behalf of ALEC, the Burj Dubai complex, where two hotels are being constructed for Emaar.”

The Atlantis Project on the Palm Jumeirah is another project that Westminster Gulf is working on. This involved a slightly more unusual approach, in that scaffolding was used to link the shore with a cruise liner that is moored in the water, which has been converted into a camp for the labourers working on the Atlantis job.

“There we built a scaffold linking the ship to the shore, with a staircase and walkway spanning 12m,” explains Edwards. “The difficulty here was having a fixed rigid scaffold on shore and a ship moving about with the tides. Our in-house design department enabled us to find a safe and efficient system to overcome these problems. Scaffolds in general are designed not to move, apart from a mobile tower scaffold on wheels.”

One of the buzzwords within the construction industry is safety, and rightly so. According to Dubai Municipality, last year there were 39 fatal accidents reported on building sites in the city – with 22 of these fatalities involving falls from height. And in June this year, DM revealed that from January to May 2006 there was a total of 107 construction site accidents recorded, almost half of which were attributed to falls from height or dropped equipment.

“Safety standards have improved here in Dubai over the years, however you only have to look at the statistics of accidents to see that there is a problem, and it’s mainly people falling from heights,” says Edwards.

“Just take a drive around Dubai’s many building sites and you can still see some companies who allow men to work off a single scaffold board up at 50m, and open floors with no edge protection.

“Things like having handrails on open floor edges, workers being issued and wearing all their personal protective equipment, scaffolders being clipped on and working to SG4:05 [preventing falls in scaffolding and falsework]. It’s these things and others that make for safer sites.”

Edwards says that as Westminster Gulf is a British-run company, it works to British standards: “Our clients are looking for that level of quality and safety and as a result we have expanded our operations and now have branches in Abu Dhabi and Bahrain, as well as Dubai.”

Another Dubai-based scaffolding firm that is busying itself with some of the region’s mega scaffolding projects is Al Futtaim Scaffolding. In addition to providing scaffolding for the Raffles Hotel at Wafi City and the Burj Old Town development, Al Futtaim Scaffolding is supplying its systems to one of the biggest construction jobs in the region: the Dubai International Airport expansion.

According to a spokesperson from Al Futtaim Scaffolding, one of the main challenges of supplying to the Middle East market is the shortage of scaffolding materials in this region.

Feisal Hammude, director of international sales and marketing at Adpico (Abu Dhabi Metal Pipes and Profiles Industries Complex), agrees: “We are constantly trying to keep up with the demand of producing scaffold pipe by hiring more staff, adding more lines and more material,” says Hammude.

“But it doesn’t matter what we do – it’s difficult to stay ahead of the game as our growth rate is outpacing our monthly supply rate.”

With an annual production of 1.2 million tonnes, Adpico is one of the largest scaffolding pipe manufacturers in the region. Like many firms working within the construction sector, Adpico is finding a ready market for its products.

“There is so much pressure on our clients to deliver due to the amount of construction projects being announced,” explains Hammude. “This is the Middle East market and everyone wants things done fast. From ordering to manufacturing, delivery and erecting – everything is a challenge in this business.

“And if any one factor is not available then your whole supply chain can come to a standstill: material, trucking, equipment, manpower, customers and timing all have to work seamlessly together to get a job done.”

One change that Hammude says he is beginning to notice within the region’s scaffolding industry is a demand for better quality brought on by the scale of today’s projects.

“As projects rise higher, there’s more of a load on the pipe and therefore customers are looking more closely at the manufacturer’s quality of steel for safety standards.

“Whereas once buildings were a few storeys high, now they are averaging 50 storeys and no one wants to take any chances with people’s lives.”

While the region’s construction sector is enjoying a boom it must also contend with rising steel prices that have hit the entire industry hard – including the scaffolding sector.

“There’s no doubt that the increase in steel prices have and will affect the end user – an increase of US $100 per tonne [AED367] over the last six months has put pressure on consultants, contractors and developers regarding their bottom line profit margins,” says Hammude.

This has pushed the industry to look further afield for cheaper sources of steel, which could have serious knock-on effects. “Many scaffolding manufacturers and developers have even decided to buy their steel from China and other countries where prices are more competitive. The only draw back is delivery times and possible issues with quality.”

Steel price hikes aside, Hammude is confident that Adpico’s growth shows no sign of slowing down: “Our sales are currently increasing at 25% per month with no letting up in sight, as we are trying to keep up with the appetite for the large scale projects announced weekly throughout the GCC region.”

As the construction industry gets to grips with ever bigger and bolder projects, the region’s scaffolding sector faces continued challenges in terms of price, production capacity, delivery times and erection of materials. But overshadowing all of this is the pressing need for improved safety conditions when working at heights.

While Dubai and the rest of the region may be forging ahead with construction at a rapid rate, its safety at height record is still a sight for sore eyes. “Safety does cost money,” concludes Edwards from Westminster Gulf, “but you can’t put a price on the life of a person.”||**||

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