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Seperation Anxiety, why segregation in business isn’t always a bad thing

In most areas of life, segregation is considered to be a bad thing. That’s not exactly news, though, because it’s such a negative concept. Segregation divides and obstructs, confines and isolates. As a rule, it fosters an unhealthy ‘us and them’ culture and promotes disharmony, disunity and inequality.

In life, integration is much more inclusive and sociable. Everyone is — to coin an awkward phrase from last summer — better together. (Although that still doesn’t explain why the creator of unisex toilets thought they were a good idea.)

But there is an environment where segregation isn’t negative — it’s a downright essential positive.

Welcome to the world of industrial workplaces, where vehicles and pedestrians share the same space and have the potential to ‘integrate’ with horrific results. Take warehouses and loading bays, for example. If Health & Safety rules are ignored in these kinds of locations, heavy-duty forklifts, vans and trucks may unexpectedly meet fragile human beings, head-on.

When they do, the results almost always make for gruesome reading. For instance, in July, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) noted that an Aberdeen firm had been fined for safety failings when a forklift truck injured a worker by running over his leg and foot. An investigation found that one of the company’s failures was not providing sufficient segregation between pedestrians and vehicles in the restricted zone.

And in September, a major construction company was found guilty of safety failings after a worker was critically injured when he was run over by a dumper truck. The man sustained facial fractures, serious injuries to his right arm, fractured ribs, a fractured pelvis, leg fractures and foot injuries on his right side, spent two weeks in intensive care, a month in a high dependency unit and was finally discharged home from a brain injury rehabilitation unit in April 2011 – more than six months after the accident. The company in question was fined £100,000 and ordered to pay full costs of around £100,000.
Part of the problem? The HSE established that there was no segregated, defined area provided for people on foot — and that the principal contractor had not produced or put in place a suitable traffic management plan to ensure the separation of vehicles and pedestrians where the accident occurred.

If only these two terrible examples were isolated cases. But they’re not. In 2012/2013, statistics show that 15 workers suffered a fatal workplace vehicle injury — around a tenth of the total number of fatal injuries to workers. Transportation and storage was the sector with the highest number of vehicle injuries, as well as the second highest vehicle injury rate — one death, 121 major injuries and 379 over seven day injuries. “An injury involving being struck by a vehicle is likely to be serious,” notes the HSE, with an obviousness bordering on the startling.

By law, companies are obliged to segregate vehicles from their workforces. They do this in various ways: namely with white lines, raised kerbs, steel guardrails and traditional steel ‘Armco’ barriers. That doesn’t mean to say that these features work well. Or at all.

Take white lines on the floor, for instance. These delineate ‘vehicle’ and ‘people’ zones, but they also presume that all pedestrians are, unfailingly, traffic-observant robots. In fact, pedestrians are human, and humans are fleshy, fallible and easily distracted. Most workplace accidents occur when people wander from defined areas into the path of on-coming vehicles, rather than vice versa; and, as such, they need to be physically prevented from doing so. White Lines? Don’t Do It. And if you do, make sure they’re part of a fully-integrated site plan involving gates, barriers and other protective items.

Raised kerbs sound like a good idea; but big vehicles have a habit of mounting them and pedestrians have a habit of stepping off them, unthinkingly. Again, a physical barrier makes for better segregation.

It therefore stands to reason that steel guardrails should do the trick. They are a barrier, after all — one that physically prevents workers from straying into restricted zones. Yet steel crumples on impact so needs to be replaced after a vehicle smashes into it; plus it causes damage to flooring as the force of impact travels downwards.

Which brings us onto the steel ‘Armco’ barrier (the generic term for any corrugated metal barrier) that many companies presume, wrongly, is the best way to segregate staff and vehicles.

The fact is that if segregation of workers and vehicles was a company’s only aim, then Armco would be a winner. But, frankly, it’s not, and it isn’t, because segregation alone isn’t enough. A company operating a busy manufacturing or warehouse location also needs to provide a high level of safety for the people within its employ and, unfortunately, there are real issues with steel barriers in this regard. Apart from the crumpling of the barrier and wear and tear to the floor, drivers and vehicles colliding with a metal barrier will usually experience a violent impact. Plus, the reverse of a metal barrier is usually studded with bolts — and steel rusts over time so needs constant repairing.

Thankfully, Yorkshire-based company A-SAFE is helping businesses segregate staff and vehicles in a more innovative way with a range of pedestrian guardrails and vehicle check systems, including handrails, bollards and barriers, made from a unique material called Memaplex which it has developed itself. This is a robust, flexible polyolefin blend of eight materials and rubber additives that flexes on impact and before absorbing and dissipating the impact force. Cleverly, that means it will protect the floor from damage, because just 20 percent of the force of impact travels downwards; so whereas a steel barrier might be torn up from the concrete after a collision, an A-SAFE barrier is likely to remain where it’s supposed to be.

A-SAFE’s systems are produced in eye-catching, high-visibility yellow and black, so there’s no missing them. They’re also modular, so there are no screws and bolts and no sharp-edges, and even the baseplates come with countersunk screws in case a vehicle gets too close to a barrier for comfort. And unlike steel, Memaplex doesn’t need repainting because scuffs and scratches don’t show and — naturally — it doesn’t rust. It’s also wipe-clean.

Segregation? If you’re a company that operates machinery and employs humans, you should be all for it. In this situation, people and vehicles really are better apart.

A-SAFE are the inventors and manufacturers of fixed polymer safety barriers; used around the world to offer unbeatable, money-saving protection for buildings, personnel and equipment – www.asafe.com

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