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New invention prevents scaffolding deaths

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Balancing ten storeys up without so much as a handrail has always been part of life – and death – for a scaffolder. An Australian construction worker is set to change all that with a lifesaving steel triangle that hooks onto scaffolds that recently featured on the ABC's New Inventors program.

Showing off his invention for the first time at the Queensland Safety Show in Brisbane today, Russell Hughes had the opportunity to gauge the response of safety professionals and the construction industry to the deceptively simple HeightGuard.   "Everyone is saying 'Why didn't I think of that?" he said.  

The warm reception of Queensland Safety Show visitors hinted at the possibility of a new life for Mr Hughes and his partners, Tracey Ryan and Myles Giess. Ahead of the show and tonight's screening of The New Inventors, the three built a website, printed stationery and simple brochures after-hours.  

"Tracey and I are moonlighting from our day jobs to be here and Myles, whose steel fabrication business here in Queensland will make the HeightGuard, is on secondment," Mr Hughes laughed.  

HeightGuard is an elegant solution to a long-standing problem. Falls from height are the construction industry's biggest killer and scaffolders are particularly vulnerable. As they put the frameworks in place that protect other construction workers, scaffolders have nothing in front of them to break a fall.  

The only solution had been to wear safety harnesses and lines but because they slowed work and were difficult to use, these were generally rejected by scaffolders. Not only that, dangling in a safety harness brings its own risks. Suspension trauma sets in when the body is suspended motionlessly, affecting blood circulation. Reduced oxygen to vital organs can cause the suspended worker to lapse into unconsciousness. If the worker is not rescued promptly, the outcome could be fatal.  

Instead, HeightGuard works to prevent the fall in the first place. Scaffolders simply hook the lowest point of the triangular frame onto the closest rail to provide a freestanding handrail on the new level above them.  

"There are no moving parts, you can build the scaffold in the traditional fashion and there's no need for a harness," Mr Hughes said.  

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