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Putting the clamps on falls

By IAN ROSS Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the old entrepreneurial adage.


Necessity is the mother of invention, goes the old entrepreneurial adage.

As an 18-year iron-worker veteran in Sudbury and then project superintendent, Denis Paquette bore witness to the myriad of ways his colleagues were seriously hurt or killed while working at height.

Only a decade ago iron workers on structural steel erection projects could be seen wing-walking their way to work stations with no tie-offs. Margins of safety were measured only by the width of a steel beam.

“For the nature of the job we do...tying off is very important,” says Paquette, president of Versa-Grip Fall Protection System, a small Sudbury company specializing in an innovative safety device.

Fatalities due to falls are now recognized in the construction industry as one of the biggest killers. Therefore, new fall protection regulations are sweeping North America.

“It’s definitely a growing market,” says Paquette, who’s designed a light-weight and reusable anchoring system geared primarily for steel erection jobs.

The order book for his patent-pending Versa-Grip Versatile Anchoring System is gradually filling up as the word filters out through trade union halls, his web site, mail-outs and a recent appearance at a local construction trade show.

As a safety conscious supervisor, Paquette was always frustrated with the shortcomings of conventional stanchion post assemblies. They were heavy, cumbersome, awkward to use and time consuming with half-hour setups.

Over 12 years, Paquette scribbled a notebook full of sketches for a more practical and versatile clamping mechanism that could be used in a variety of scenarios for all kinds of structural configurations. Now, his concept has evolved into a business.

The seven-month-old company operates out of Peter McTusch’s workshop, his business partner and former boss at Copper Cliff Mechanical in a Lively industrial park, near Sudbury. Paquette is also in negotiations with two large international safety distributors and is very optimistic good things are about to happen.

“In the years while I was developing this," "I was always on job sites looking at where can I use this system, and it was virtually anywhere and everywhere.” says Paquette.

The system’s core product is the clamp-like anchoring system with its multiple attachments. With other fall protection systems, two vertical stanchions posts are attached to a horizontal beam with a cable lifeline attached. His pre-engineered clamp easily attaches to any beam in the six to sixteen-inch range.

From the anchor, a hand reel attachment is lockpinned into place holding 30 feet of three-eights inch cable that serves as a horizontal lifeline. Paquette says one man with no tools can install the system in a matter of minutes. Other attachments include an expandable handrail that stretches between eight and 20 feet.

Practically indestructible, the cable reel can accommodate two workers of more than 300 pounds and has a breaking strength of 14,000 pounds.

For roof-top and bridge work applications where’s there are no vertical beams, he’s designed a stanchion post component. So far, Paquette says feedback has been positive.

He’s already sold units to Xstrata Nickel which is using his system as an anchoring device for their retrieval systems in confined spaces at their smelter.

Sudbury’s Test Contracting and Comstock have bought units with further interest shown by Detroit’s Midwest Steel, Bruce Power and Weyerhaeuser.

He also has a small distributor in Western Canada promoting the product with the big refineries.

Although there’s currently no certification program for this type of fall protection equipment,  Paquette has built and field tested his system according to requirements under the Occupational Health and Safety Act and Canadian Standards Association.

“My ultimate goal is for this to become an industry standard.”
Paquette hopes to expand the line and has ideas for a number of ot

her accessories including temporary wall and roof panels, and suspended work platforms. “The possibilities are endless.” ,