Demand for Composites Increases – Safer Alternative to Conventional Covers

Demand for Composites Increases as Industries Look for Safer Material Alternative to Conventional Access Covers

Composite materials are in huge demand as industries across the globe are experiencing hazards and injuries when using traditional steel and other metal products. Reports of crushed and amputated fingers and toes along with burns, back injuries and other dangers have given industries ranging from data centers centres to water treatment plants a reason to seek safer alternatives. According to the 2014/15 US Bureau of Labor Statistics, there were 3,675 incidences of reported injuries within the manufacturing industry alone. 32% of these incidences were reported as back injuries which have led to a total of 125,880 missed working days.

This has caused major problems for decision makers as legislation continues to restrict acceptable manual weights. Composites are an ideal solution to these problems due to their lightweight yet durable properties. By using lighter materials such as composites, operational injuries are prevented, work sites are made safer and ease of installation and maintenance is made available to utility workers and contractors.

Hazards and Injuries

One particular area where we are seeing a major shift is in the manhole covers and trench covers industry where chances of injury during installation and removal are traditionally extremely high.

For example, conventional steel manhole and trench covers typically weigh more than three times that of a composite cover making them too heavy to be lifted manually and require the use of large machinery adding to the safety risks already in place.

These steel covers also lack temperature control which can make the surface extremely hot resulting in severe burns when stepped on without proper attire. This presents a hazard in public spaces such as university campuses, shopping centers, centres, and municipalities where heavy foot traffic is commonplace. According to a study published by the League of Minnesota Cities entitled “Muscling Manhole Covers and Other Ergonomic Information”, workers are frequently injured while attempting to remove heavy cast iron manhole covers and the average cost of these injuries is reported as $100,000 per incident.

Composites and Covers

Using composite materials eliminates the use of heavy lifting equipment and allows for safer manual handling and avoids the high risks of injuries. Fibrelite, a leading manufacturer of composite covers and trench panels, has taken note and responded by using fibre glass reinforced plastic composite (FRP) (GRP), a type of composite material, in order to provide a safe and risk-free alternative. Fibrelite’s FRP GRP covers have been designed to eliminate the risk of burns by not exceeding high-temperatures on the surface regardless of the temperatures below the cover. As an added safety feature, they also designed an anti-slip/skid surface that reduce falls, slipping and sliding in order to eliminate as many health risks as possible.

By definition, the majority of access covers are lifted, sometimes frequently. And while traditional metal or concrete covers are heavy and may even require specialist equipment making lifting time-consuming and expensive; composites are different.

David Holmes, Fibrelite Technical Director, explained: “As well as being lightweight – typically a third of the weight of metal or concrete – our covers are designed for safe lifting, having up to two lifting points for ergonomic lifting handles which means that just one or two operatives can move them quickly and easily without risk of back injury or crushed fingers or toes, even at the heavier load ratings.”

Costs of Composite

Costs of Composites: while not every application currently requires the composite alternative, the costs of metal theft, manual handling injury claims and corrosion are causing many industries to rethink traditional materials and consider the use of modern composite products instead of conventional steel or other metal products. Because of this, other industries are following Fibrelite’s lead and are incorporating composites into their products as they react to changing regulations, strict health and safety policies and becoming more concerned with product maintenance costs. Although fiber glass reinforced plastic (FRP) (GRP) composite can be more expensive than traditional materials such as aluminium, steel and concrete, composites are becoming more favourable where corrosion resistance, safety, thermal conductivity and other performance essentials are critical to a specific application.

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