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Bright ideas from Jim Creak of Jalite.

Today photoluminescent technology is used throughout the world to save lives and whether you’re on an aeroplane, standing at the top of a New York skyscraper or sitting on a train, the chances are the technology will be there to guide you to safety should anything go wrong.

In most cases photoluminescent paint, signs or strips that form ‘Safety Way Guidance Systems’ (SWGS) are fitted as a result of legislation that’s been introduced following a disaster. However, when Jalite which is the company that pioneered the technology, first launched its photoluminescent paint, it was used to save energy in Swiss bomb shelters by providing an alternative source of light.

Jim Creak, Managing Director of Jalite, explains: “Photoluminescent technology has an endless number of uses but it wasn’t until the 1980s that it was first used as a safety product. This followed several disasters including the Piper Alpha oil platform explosion in the North Sea, Bradford City’s football stadium fire, the major fire at London’s Kings Cross and several plane crashes, which meant that before long SWGS were added to ships, oil exploration platforms, trains and aircraft to aid evacuation in emergency situations.”

“Plus the emergency staircases in New York’s World Trade Centre were painted with photoluminescent paint which was credited for saving hundreds of lives. In most cases it’s not until a disaster occurs that legislation is introduced to try to prevent something similar happening again but with 9/11, the precautions were already in place, so the Twin Towers have left a legacy because the technology is now found in all the city’s skyscrapers. It’s actually the perfect product to use in buildings as it’s graffiti proof and doesn’t require any energy because it charges itself using ambient light making it very cost-effective.”

Mr Creak joined Jalite in 1983 when it relocated from Switzerland to the UK and 30 years on, the firm now produces a full range of photoluminescent safety products in addition to SWGS, including paint and safety tapes, as well as an extensive range of fire safety signs, and health and safety signs that sell via distributors such as Slingsby throughout the world.

He explains: “Today, signs are a major part of our business and there’s a lot happening in the industry with new legislation on the horizon such as EN ISO 7010, which will see the graphical symbols on safety signs standardised throughout Europe. Every sign in our range, which includes more than 600 different graphical symbols, already complies with the new legislation so we’re ahead of the game.”

“There are also new signs coming out all the time so there’s a lot to keep up with. On average we probably see a new one being introduced every week, with recent additions including everything from warnings about falling icicles through to skiing safety.”

“Launching a new safety sign is a big job as it can take many years for countries to agree on the graphical symbols and supplementary text that goes on each sign. Every safety sign should locate and identify hazards before informing, instructing and educating people about what to do to stay safe. In most cases it’s impossible for a graphical symbol to do all this on its own so some text is nearly always essential because you can’t play Pictionary with lives.”

To help keep on top of the extensive legislation Mr Creak is Chairman of the Health & Safety Sign Association (HSSA) which is the trade association that represents the majority of the UK’s safety sign manufacturers. Working in conjunction with Slingsby and others, the HSSA’s main objectives include ensuring that buyers of signs are kept up to date with the industry’s latest news; given a collective voice; and that industry standards are maintained; ultimately improving safety by promoting the importance of using relevant safety and statutory signs.

Mr Creak continues: “The HSSA also places a lot of emphasis on educating children early about graphical symbols on signs so they understand basic safety issues such as potential hazards and how to find emergency exits. To do this we have online tests at http://www.hssa.co.uk that children across all age groups can participate in.”

“There’s also a lot of concern about liability, from both individual firms and the industry as a whole, so when it comes to making recommendations to customers we work hard to promote collective protection. Key issues currently facing the HSSA include a huge amount of incorrect products in the market that don’t conform to standards or that have questionable credentials and this is something that we’re now working hard to tackle – it’s surprising how many emergency exit signs you see that point the wrong way!”

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