October 22, 2020

Introducing the innovations and machinery that will keep Britain’s construction workers safe

As concern increases for workforces across construction sectors and their vulnerability to infection if they can’t work in a socially distanced fashion, Harry Pearl, CEO of Sheffield-based Roadmender Asphalt, provides insight into the machinery that is available to contractors to ensure that construction workers are kept safe during these difficult times, helping to ensure that essential works continue.

With the spread of Covid-19 causing a major rethink in the way we keep our essential key workers safe; companies are now exploring options that enable key workers to continue with their jobs whilst at the same time maintaining a social distance from each other. In the recent days and weeks, light has been shone upon the conditions experienced by construction workers and maintenance crews alike – particularly by trade unions such as Unite – who continue to work on essential repairs bursts, leaks and potholes across the British road network.  

With the safety and success of emergency repair workers imperative to the continuation of services such as broadband, water, gas and electricity, we as suppliers echo the same concerns shared by workers and union leaders at Unite. We have joined others upon calling for sensible approaches to essential works, looking to implement a strategy entitled #OneManPerVan. This is a campaign to protect the safety of emergency construction workers by socially distancing skilled workers, enabling them to carry out works, complicit with the government advice, but also protecting their safety on the job by utilising technological solutions while on the tools.

One technology that we have brought over to the UK that has enjoyed significant popularity in the US are mini asphalt Hotbox Reclaimers that can be operated as part of a single man operation, allowing the workforce to carry out road repairs on site without needing to visit a busy plant during this crisis.

Hotbox Reclaimers are lightweight machines that can be mounted on either trucks or trailers and are designed to reclaim supplies of leftover or stockpiled asphalt wherever and whenever it’s needed. With multiple asphalt plants being forced to shut down to protect the safety of their workers, Hotbox Reclaimers not only provide contractors with a simple way to make their own asphalt, but they can also be used as part of a single man operation ensuring smaller emergency repairs are still dealt with in a timely manner. 

While normally it’s always safer for workers to go out in at least groups of two, in the current environment it just doesn’t make sense for multiple workers to all pile into the same van together no matter how willing to carry out their work they are. With small Hotbox Reclaimers, workers can make their own asphalt and carry out smaller emergency repairs in effective isolation where if larger quantities of material are needed, two vehicles can go out while still maintaining the one man per van mantra.

Other such technologies that we can rely upon are Infrared repairs. When used for road defects such as potholes, Infrared or thermal repairs provide a great way to maximise efficiency. For example, by reclaiming the aggregate and bitumen surrounding a defect, rather than cutting it out and carrying it away, repair teams using infrared heaters require roughly 70-80% less virgin material per repair. They also have zero waste to carry away. As a result, an infrared team with 1.5 tonnes of material can carry out some 4-5 times more repairs than a traditional repair team. Should it come to the eventuality that asphalt ends up in short supply, infrared heaters can provide contractors a sensible way to do more with less.

Much like with every sector at the moment, Covid-19 is confronting our industry with multiple issues. However, I’m confident that these are issues we can combat. The closure of asphalt plants is more common during the winter months in the US, hence why the popularity of Hotbox Reclaimers across the pond is more prevalent. As closures become an unfortunate consequence of the Coronavirus outbreak, we shall start seeing an increased need for such technology in the UK.