working at height
Innovating work at height, in conversation with Sure Clip designer Matthew Whitby
Matthew Whitby, a designer with Futurama Ltd and an Industrial Design graduate from Brunel University London, talks to John Kersey about his innovative design project Sure Clip, which is a means of alerting management if people are working ‘unclipped’ on construction and other developments.
What attracted you to a career in design?
Matthew Whitby (MW): “I find that design is a great way to focus my creativity in a constructive way. Throughout school I always enjoyed the more hands-on classes like design and technology, which naturally led on to studying industrial design at University.
“I also enjoy how much you learn about the world as a designer. I have found that as projects are developed, you naturally have to research other areas of life like psychology, politics and economics, as they influence your decision making.”
You studied at Brunel University London – what was your experience of the design course there?
(MW): “I thought that design at Brunel was great! I have developed into a designer with a well-rounded set of skills, thanks to the range of modules taught on my Industrial Design course. Modules span from graphic communication to sustainable design, all of which have a focus on teaching and applying the design process.
“Brunel also gives the opportunity to spend a year working in the design industry before starting the final year. I found this to be extremely valuable as it provides a great insight into the professional work environment before graduating.”
I noted Sure Clip spotlighted in the Made In Brunel student project yearbook. Can you describe how it works?
(MW): “Sure Clip is a system that passively monitors whether construction workers are clipped onto fall arrest systems when working at height. It uses Bluetooth beacons with an RFID switch installed on the worker’s harness to broadcast signals depending on whether the worker is clipped on or not. The clip-on point on the fall arrest system has an RFID sticker, causing the signal to be changed when the beacon is in proximity.
“Presence detectors (installed on the fall arrest system) detect signals coming from the beacons and relay it to an application via a MQTT broker. Push notifications are triggered on management’s smartphones when a worker is unclipped in a restricted area.”
What inspired you to come up with the original concept of Sure Clip?
(MW): “I started thinking about this project when I learned of a specific incident that happened on a construction site resulting in a fatal accident in a harness restricted area. A worker was standing on temporary flooring when it gave way from underneath them. As they were not clipped on to a fall arrest system, they fell several stories before landing at ground level.
“I undertook some initial research, evaluating the use of fall arrest systems as well as conducting interviews with key stakeholders to get some better context of the problem. This then allowed me to form the project brief – ‘To address the issue of workers not clipping on to fall arrest systems’.”
How do you feel it will benefit building operators and people doing work at height?
(MW): “The main beneficiary of Sure Clip are the project management companies working in the construction field. It allows them to monitor the use of fall arrest systems on their construction sites at all times. Current monitoring methods involve visual safety checks carried out at certain times of the day. Sure Clip fills the large voids in time where workers are left unmonitored.
“Sure Clip also can use the information gathered to list workers in order of how safe they are. This ensures that the safest workers are acknowledged and rewarded, while also giving them the best opportunity to win new work thanks to their great safety record.”
As a designer, how are you looking to bring it to market?
(MW): “I have been exploring a few ways to bring Sure Clip to market, either through a collaboration with an established company in the health and safety sector or by forming an independent start-up and gaining funding that way.
“In terms of Sure Clip’s development, further testing with stakeholders is needed to ensure the system is effective in various scenarios, as well as assessing the cost of manufacture and distribution. As a safety system, it is essential that I focus on making Sure Clip as reliable as possible before bringing it to market.”
You attended Safety and Health Expo last month – do you perceive the safety sector as an arena for innovation?
(MW): “Very much so! As a profession that is always striving to make the world a safer place, there will always be the need to improve. I believe the safety profession now has the perfect environment for innovation to thrive, thanks to the abundance of research data available, technology that is much more accessible and now the adoption of design-led thinking to drive change (as was mentioned in the ‘Robot Safety Rocks’ talk).
“It was definitely evident at the show this year, with so many different areas of safety now adopting new technologies to make life not only safer but also easier for their stakeholders.”
What technologies and tools will you look to incorporate in your future work?
(MW): “Usually for me, the tools and technologies I end up using for projects are heavily dependent on the project brief and research.
“However, augmented reality is a technology I would like to work with at some point. I think the opportunity to create a seamless experience with virtual information and the real world could be extremely useful, especially in the safety profession.
“For Sure Clip, I am exploring how to use sound as a tool to help communicate danger in different contexts. While a loud, abrasive sound may work well when alerting management of an issue on their phone, if a worker is unclipped, that same sound may make them jump and possibly cause an accident.”