The latest kit from a number of global brands was on show at equipment distributor Fletcher Stewart’s recent brand engagement event, which took place at the 3M Customer Innovation Centre in Bracknell, near London.

SCIENCE-based technology company 3M’s Customer Innovation Centre (CIC) in Bracknell, some 30 miles from London, recently played host to B2B equipment distributor Fletcher Stewart’s Brand Engagement Day.

Just shy of 50 delegates, representing 25 retailers in Fletcher’s network, came together at the impressive site for a series of informative sessions aimed at enabling them to better advise their customer base on the kit they require. Attendees varied from major online arb suppliers such as F. R. Jones, Sorbus International and Honey Brothers to independent local retailers like Stuart Brown, Briants of Risborough and ATS Machinery. Staff from Gustharts travelled 300 miles to attend, while Donegan’s made the trip over from Ireland.

Forestry Journal: Director Ian Fletcher welcomes delegates to the Brand Engagement Day.Director Ian Fletcher welcomes delegates to the Brand Engagement Day.

Throughout the day, delegates were given an overview of the impacts of PPE regulations on product compatibility, with a particular focus on helmet kits, and an introduction to and opportunity to trial new level-dependent communication systems from 3M. Other brands showing off equipment on the day included tool manufacturer Jameson, climbing kit specialists ISC Wales, torch maker Ledlenser, and work gear supplier Ergodyne.

Forestry Journal: Some of ICS’ climbing kit.Some of ICS’ climbing kit.

“It’s important to us that we don’t stop at just supplying products into the industry; we want to be at the forefront of driving good practice and to do that we need to arm our retailers with correct and current product and industry guidance to help keep their customers safe,” explained Fletcher Stewart director Nigel Fletcher.

Forestry Journal: Chris Cooper-Abbs of Arb Matters speaks on the issue of two-rope working.Chris Cooper-Abbs of Arb Matters speaks on the issue of two-rope working.

Chris Cooper-Abbs of forestry and arboricultural consultancy Arb Matters also gave a presentation on the imminent changes to climbing on a multiple-rope system. In his presentation, Chris noted that retailers are essentially on the frontline when it comes to fielding questions from their clients and the whole issue of multiple-rope usage in the tree canopy has led to a huge amount of confusion.

In early 2020, the arb industry met with organisations including IRATA (Industrial Rope Access Trade Association) and the Fire and Rescue Service to gain an understanding of how other work-at-height disciplines had dealt with two-rope working, Chris explained. “There were some very clear messages that came out from that meeting,” he explained. “The first thing that we were told was the general accepted practice across many other work-at-height industries is that systems comprise of a backup; if you have a catastrophic failure in your primary system, there should be something there to stop you hitting the deck.

“The other thing that the discussion alluded to was the fact that arboriculture is very different from all other work-at-height industries, whether it is wind turbine mast climbing or industrial rope access, the structures we work in, the equipment we use, the anchor points we use, are all very, very different; and that led us to the third point, which is we need to write our own story.”

Chris went on to explain that the industry is looking to move towards the use of a backup system being the norm, but that backup needn’t necessarily be a second rope. “We’re also working with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) on agreed omissions – certain circumstances where it would be acceptable to be on one system. Also, we’re looking to agree times when it would be acceptable to remove the backup, based on it being not practical,” he said.

Until a new code or practice or technical guidance are published, however, Chris advised retailers to encourage clients to follow the Arboricultural Association’s Guide to Good Climbing Practice, the HSE’s AFAG401 tree-climbing operations guidance, and the training and certification that they have already received and achieved.

Forestry Journal: 3M Peltor helmets on show, alobngside protective eyewear.3M Peltor helmets on show, alobngside protective eyewear.

The event also served as the relaunch of Belgian forestry and arb outfitter SIP Protection under Fletcher Stewart’s distribution, with the brand showcasing its new chainsaw range, designed for the UK market.

Forestry Journal: Paul Verhelst, business development manager for SIP Protection, shows off the company’s range of protective trousers.Paul Verhelst, business development manager for SIP Protection, shows off the company’s range of protective trousers.

Paul Verhelst, business development manager for SIP Protection, told the delegates during his presentation: “In every country we are present in, we want to be top three. What we need is a partner who can help us promote in this country, and that is why we have now started working with Fletcher Stewart.”

One of the highlights of Paul’s presentation was Blue Rhino, described as the first 100 per cent sustainable and recyclable chainsaw trouser, which is currently in development.

Nigel said: “One key objective for the event was to relaunch SIP Protection as a brand with their accompanying new UK product range. SIP Protection has always been a great product, but it needed rejuvenating and a fresh marketing approach to re-engage with UK customers. We’re confident that the event achieved that with retailers able to see the new products and discuss what they think is needed for their customers.”

Another main objective of the event was to increase understanding of the obligations that retailers have to consumers under the PPE Regulation 2016/425, with particular regard to product compatibility.

Forestry Journal: Communication headsets demonstrated in 3M’s sound booth.Communication headsets demonstrated in 3M’s sound booth.

Nigel explained: “The 3M workshops highlighted why the 3M fully compatible helmet kits offer end users the best level of protection without the performance of any one component being compromised when configured as a helmet kit.

“The attendees experienced a demo of 3M’s E-A-R Fit System, which measures the exact attenuation protection someone is getting from their hearing protection. Retro-fitting ear defenders to incompatible helmets, safety glasses and even facial hair can play a part in considerably reducing the level of hearing protection achieved. This again backed up the importance of compatibility and why only approved systems should be configured, marketed and sold into the industry.”

3M’s E-A-R Fit System measures across seven standard frequencies in under five seconds, providing a detailed report on the noise attenuation performance of earplugs or earmuffs and gives a pass or fail rating for each individual person based on their personal attenuation rating.

Forestry Journal: Delegates were given a tour of the 3M Customer Innovation Centre, showcased the company’s vast range of products.Delegates were given a tour of the 3M Customer Innovation Centre, showcased the company’s vast range of products.

Reflecting on the organisation of the event, Nigel acknowledged that while it initially seemed daunting, 3M’s HQ proved to be the perfect venue, which took a lot of the pressure off, and seeing it all come together on the day was a great feeling.

“We’d all worked hard to make sure it was a success and as all the attendees arrived, toured the workshop sessions and networked, everyone’s efforts and hard work came to fruition!

“We also had invaluable support from the brands we distribute,” he added.

Beyond the arb-specific workshops on the day, the delegates were also given a tour of the 3M CIC, which proved to be a particular highlight. The CIC showcases the vast and varied array of products produced by 3M – everything from Post-it notes and Scotch tape to communication headsets, hearing protection and density-reducing glass bubbles, to name but a few – with the aim of helping people understand the innovation behind them. Nigel commented: “3M provide products into so many industries – aerospace, health, mining, safety, etc. – and the CIC showcases how some of those key products came to be in a hands-on theatrical setting.  It’s an interactive, grown-up science museum and a fun interlude to the more academic workshops of the day.”

Forestry Journal:

Aggie Wheater, marketing manager for Peasmarsh-based arb kit retailer Honey Brothers was in attendance. She commented: “Honey Brothers has a longstanding relationship with Ian and the team. It’s important for us to keep up with what’s going on and it’s always nice to do these kinds of events and find out more about the products from SIP and 3M. It’s always nice to meet other dealers and chat with them as well.”

Nigel added: “We’ve had amazing feedback from the event. It was a lot for everyone to take in during the day, so we’ll continue our efforts with further educational material being circulated.  As the new products arrive into stock over the next few months, we believe we’ve helped all the attendees gain the information they need to ensure they’re giving their customers the best level of service. We will definitely be looking to run a similar event again in the future and we’d urge all of our retailers to take up the opportunity to attend!”