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Protecting the partition

Julian Sargent, Managing Director of partitioning experts Style, looks at the benefits of regularly maintaining and servicing your operable wall system and the relevant health & safety legislation

Today’s moveable partitioning walls come in all shapes and sizes, some towering high to divide an enormous sports hall, others twisting and turning around bends and curves, or even descending from a cavity in the ceiling at the press of a button. Whether you have a manual sliding moveable partition, a semi-automatic system or a fully automatic wall they all have a capital value associated with them and this needs to be protected.

As with any product, a moveable wall has a lifespan, yet this can be dramatically extended with routine service and timely repairs. An unattended wall is likely to develop problems over a period of years resulting in the need for a significant and costly overhaul or possibly even a complete replacement.

A bit like a car, if treated well and serviced on time, an operable wall will continue to give you trouble-free performance. So, what should you be looking for when considering a service and maintenance provider for your moveable wall system?

Firstly, you should be aware that you are not obliged to go with the aftercare service offered by the manufacturer or installer and are free to shop around to compare quotes.

However, particularly with technologically advanced systems with complex electronic and digital components, you need to ensure that the company you choose does have the authority and capability to maintain your particular partitioning wall. This may mean general certification that indicates an appropriate level of competence, with in-house training being CITB approved for example. As a minimum, the engineers should be CSCS approved and PASMA trained, as well as asbestos aware. They may also be required to have completed professional training from specific manufacturers.

Ideally, a professional aftercare service should have in-house trained engineers who are employed, rather than contract workers. This will help ensure you have continuity of care and can build a relationship and knowledge bank over a period of years.

You may also consider the geographic location of the engineers as this will obviously determine how quickly can you expect a response to a breakdown. Check too that the engineer will arrive in a well-stocked vehicle. Obviously, costs will be reduced if the engineer turns up with a good selection of spare parts and equipment, making a first-time-fix much more likely. A second visit means longer down-time not to mention additional expense.

Carefully inspect the small print to ensure any contract offers a full service rather than a ‘due diligence’ visual inspection which may not satisfy health and safety obligations.

A comprehensive examination should include checking all seals are intact and fully operational, cleaning and lubrication of track and fixings, alignment of panels and tracking system as well as a full check of the motor and key switches, panel contacts and push buttons.

For many locations, the partitioning wall is integral to smooth business operations. A broken moveable wall in a busy hotel conference facility, for example, may well lead to disrupted events and cancelled bookings.

If this is the case for you then an emergency call-out arrangement is essential. By entering into a service contract, the regular maintenance of the moveable wall system will significantly reduce the chance of a problem arising in the first place, but if something does go wrong then you have the reassurance of prompt and efficient back-up.

We recently attended a specialist care home that offers round the clock support to residents. The moveable wall is vital to the organisation of activities, but it became jammed when an untrained member of staff attempted to force a panel with the seals still fully engaged. A technician was quickly on site, promptly diagnosed the problem and were able to make a minor adjustment to the track and replace the broken motor, allowing the centre to proceed with the care programme.

Finally, consider the legal ramifications of a poorly maintained operable wall.

Power operated walls come under the Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations 1998 (PUWER) and regulation five clearly states that, “Every employer should ensure that work equipment is maintained in an efficient state and in efficient working order and in good repair.” The frequency and nature of maintenance should be determined through risk assessment, taking full account of:

  • Manufacturer recommendations
  • Intensity of use
  • Operating environment such as temperature, corrosion etc
  • User knowledge and experience
  • Risk to health and safety from any foreseeable failure or malfunction

Generally, the manufacturer’s recommendations should be followed unless there are justifiable reasons for not doing so, such as a partitioning wall that is being opened out and closed repeatedly, a number of times a day, which may constitute exceptionally heavy usage. To give you an idea, Style would generally recommend that a trained engineer visit the site bi-annually for a fully automated system.

Furthermore, the Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Management of Health & Safety Work Regulations 1999 place a legal obligation on you to ensure that all building equipment is regularly inspected and maintained.

There is no legal obligation to maintain a formal log book of service and repair but they can provide useful information with regards to future planning of maintenance and the potential costs likely to be incurred, as well as informing personnel of previous action taken.

Undoubtedly, a well-maintained partition can operate efficiently for many years into the future, significantly contributing to the long- term sustainability of any development and delivering an excellent return on investment.

About Sarah OBeirne

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