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Survival forces safety innovation

SOME may call it crazy, others may call it entrepreneurial, but for an Armadale family more than three years of pain-staking and expensive research and development work has been a matter of survival.

For the past three years, Terpstra Enterprises, run since 1991 by Steven Terpstra and his sons Steve and Henk, have been developing a safer saw for their wall chasing business.

Wall chasing relates to the cutting of grooves into masonry walls for the installation of electrical cables and plumbing.

Steve Terpstra jnr has been the driving force behind the $400,000 invention.

Improved safety features include an exhaust system that directs the harmful carbon monoxide gases released by the petrol-driven saws, and the slurry from the wall cutting, away from the operator.

Trials undertaken by Terpstra Enterprises, and now used by Worksafe, found that its workers were being exposed to levels of carbon monoxide far above those recommended by the World Health Organisation.

Once it found the problems faced by some of its more than 30 workers, the company was left with a choice – find a solution or face closure.

Armed with the technology and the knowledge of the harmful effects from the saws, Terpstra Enterprises has been working closely with Worksafe to ensure that conditions were improved on building sites.

Since July 1, Worksafe has banned the use of traditional petrol driven saws on site.

This clamp-down has provided a window of opportunity for the adoption of the Terpstra saws, which are expected to retail for around $5,000 each.

With the research and development now behind it, the company is knocking on doors in the eastern States, the US and Eur-ope in search of a manufacturer.

If successful in their bid, Terpstras could be sitting on a multi-million windfall.

Mr Terpstra said manufacturing was not what his company was good at – it just needed the saws to do its job.

“We are talking with someone who has the economies of scale to take the saw further,” he said

While international manufacturer Stihl has refused the project, the company remains confident that international manufacturing and distribution firm Partner-Dimas, will take it on.

For the moment the Terpstra family is refocussing its efforts on adopting the new technology in-house.

The company currently works on about 60 new houses a day around the metropolitan region and south to Bunbury – equating for around 70 per cent of the potential market.

Wall chasing, just one facet of the company’s business, brought in around 50 per cent of its $3.5 million turnover last financial year.

However, that turnover has more than halved from the days of the pre-GST housing boom.

Ventures into new technology have been a feature of the business since its inception.

When new laws were introduced in 1999 banning the use of portable generators on worksites, the company invested around $500,000 to develop temporary power boxes, which are used prior to the completion of the house.

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