“Zero harm” and “safety first” are the war cries of many South African companies, as the cost of accidents and fatalities continues to take its toll on business reputation, profitability and sustainability. Industrial and mining accidents dominate the media headlines and both public and private sector organisations are adamant that immediate preventative action needs to be taken.
Vital Engineering develops and manufactures a range of high-quality handrails, grating, flooring and stair treads which are guaranteed to increase safety levels in a number of industries, including hazardous environments.
Dodds Pringle, managing director of Vital Engineering, says the company has patented a new, improved angle hand-railing system after the market had experienced a number of problems with cheap and under-sized tubular handrail products. “We are constantly faced with a barrage of sub-standard competitive products that are synonymous with corrosion issues and resultant failures,” Pringle maintains.
He says Vital Engineering was the first manufacturer and supplier of tubular and solid forged stanchions in South Africa in 1939. “It has over time, however, become apparent that sub-standard products were proliferating at the risk of worker safety and client reputation,” he adds.
The company immediately embarked on a countrywide survey of client issues. “We determined how we could meet the industry’s needs and at the same time overcome their specification and cost-cutting concerns,” says Pringle. “Issues such as thinner wall tubing, thinner base plates, poor welding standards and poor coatings were amongst the concerns raised in the tubular hand-railing market. Sadly, many clients were unable to tell the difference between products, resulting in all suppliers being labelled as incompetent in the event of product failure,” says Pringle.
Vital Engineering and its sister company, Angus McLeod, immediately branded all their tubular handrail stanchion products to give clients the peace of mind that they were receiving a high quality performance product and not a cheap substitute. “While this resolved some of the issues that were raised, a number of clients approached us for alternative systems such as angle hand-railing and the re-introduction of solid forged hand-railing,” Pringle says.
He adds that the solid forged product was easily re-introduced into their product range, as they have vast experience in this field. “The angle hand-railing solution, however, proved to be more challenging,” Pringle says. “Typically, angle hand-railing was welded on site and was preferred to tubular types in highly corrosive or gaseous areas because corrosion needs to be monitored to avoid gaseous entrapment resulting in an explosion. The cheaper tubular units were not being properly sealed with end caps and corroded from the inside outwards as well as entrapping gases,” he says.
Pringle explains that a point which they needed to address was that these units offered the free hand passage and uninterrupted grip that angle stanchions were not able to offer. “Angle stanchions also had to be welded together on site, causing a hot area and thus forcing the shutting down of that section of the plant at a resultant downtime cost to the client,” he adds. “Apart from these issues, the system was very expensive as it involved extensive site work.”
He further mentioned that the challenge was to supply the client with a system that allowed free hand passage that is in line with safety standards. “The product also had to be easy to install and should consist of a knock-down system for easy maintenance while at the same time meet the corrosion and gaseous entrapment requirements,” says Pringle.
After a number of trials, the company developed and patented a ball-type angle handrail system which meets all the criteria required by clients. “This innovative Maclock-branded product is very competitive, is as quick to install as a tubular ball system and is easy to maintain,” he says.
He concluded that solid round hand- and knee-rail or tubular railing can be used. “A combination of both can also be catered for, together with standard fittings, bends and closures, dependent on clients’ requirements. To date, the product has been widely tested in a number of projects and we have had an extremely positive response to this new product.”
Angle stanchions pic: A new handrail system on the market which was developed by Vital Engineering.