Trolley-mounted welfare units are designed to improve productivity. By Nicola Anderson
The last ten years have seen significant investment in railway infrastructure in the UK, and this shows no signs of slowing down in the future. From the commissioning of HS1 in the mid-2000s to the planned multi-billion-pound investments in HS2 and HS3, which are scheduled for completion in 2030, the UK government has committed vast amounts of money to long-term plans to modernise Britain’s railway.
For large infrastructure programmes such as these, railway construction companies face a constant challenge to improve operational efficiency in order to bring them to completion on time and on budget. At the same time, they must ensure compliance with stringent health and safety legislation at every stage.
For example, in order to comply with modern health and safety regulations, virtually all outdoor work sites must provide personnel with temporary accommodation and other welfare provisions, such as a kitchen and sanitary facilities.
Traditionally, these facilities have been provided by so-called ‘welfare units’ – usually steel containers requiring specialist lifting machinery to position them onsite. For this reason, these units are generally deployed in a single location where they remain for the duration of the project.
However, unlike traditional building sites, rail work sites can typically span significant distances, as work is undertaken along the track. As works progress, workers must travel ever-increasing distances to use the kitchen or sanitary facilities provided, which can lead to a reduction in productivity.
AJC Retail Solutions Limited has recently been granted a UK Patent for a solution to this particular problem. Inventor, Jav Samsa’s, solution involves providing a trolley-mountable welfare unit, 1m by 2m in dimension, which can be easily transported around a railway work site.
The modified welfare unit contains all of the usual provisions found in conventional designs, such as a water tank (3), a water boiler (4), cup dispensers (10), a generator (5), a fridge and a light fitting, thereby providing workers with all the required commodities which may be needed during a shift.
However, since the welfare unit is also mountable on a rail trolley, this innovative design can be moved between various track-side locations quickly and easily, as the works progress down the line. This helps to reduce the distances that workers must travel in order to access the facilities, improving worker productivity.
AJC’s modified welfare unit is also made up of lightweight materials and features a number of holes (13), allowing the unit to be carried around easily and moved on and off of the rail trolley.
By obtaining patent protection for this invention, the inventors – and their business – will be able to market it on an exclusive basis and will have the right to prevent competitors from copying it. Further down the line, depending on industry take-up, the inventors may also choose to license their patented invention to third parties, allowing them to benefit from royalty payments.
Needless to say, AJC’s simple, yet effective concept, combined with robust IP protection, looks to have provided their business with a very promising springboard for future investment and industry adoption of their design.
Nicola Anderson is a patent attorney at European intellectual property firm, Withers & Rogers. She advises innovators in the rail sector about how to protect their inventions.