Temporary Works Safety Focus Crucial in Olympic Year, By Ian Fryer, Engineering Director RMD Kwikform
With the Olympics shining the spotlight on the UK and focusing the need for a much higher number of temporary structures to be designed and erected in 2012, the industry needs to ensure lessons are learnt from the recent spate of international collapses.
Unlike the construction sector where temporary works such as access, formwork, falsework and ground shoring have been governed by stiff design guidelines and where design, installation, inspection and use are controlled by temporary works co-ordinators, the temporary structures sector has to date not been regulated as closely.
Following the collapse of stages at the Indiana State Fair, in the United States and a music festival in Belgium, where a total of 16 people were killed, the risks involved and current approach taken by the market, which primarily services the public events sector, should be perhaps be reconsidered.
Engineering safety into design is a process that all providers are aware of, but this is only half of the equation as highlighted by the safety warning issued in January by the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (SCOSS). SCOSS highlighted the need for extra vigilance, especially where temporary structures can be exposed to high wind loading.
Factoring into the design process all environmental conditions that could reasonably be expected to occur is imperative and when it comes to erection and checking, practical onsite skills and experience are required. This in-turn is where clear industry guidelines need to be clarified and adhered to with the responsibility clearly falling on an experienced competent individual.
For example, rather than the control of inspection falling to building control surveyors, the construction sector role of temporary works co-ordinator could perhaps be mirrored in the public events sector by identification in each County Council of a suitably qualified ‘event temporary structures co-ordinator’. They would be responsible for ensuring that correct protocol was followed for each public event where temporary structures were to be deployed throughout the supply process.
By being divorced from the supply chain and the huge time pressures that exist within it, these chartered engineers would be able to make rational considered judgements in the best interest of the general public. In the event of the required safety criteria not having been satisfied they would have the ultimate power to revoke the event licence.
What should not be underestimated when it comes to an event like the Olympics is the sheer number and diversity of the temporary structures that will be required, from sound/lighting rigs to stages, cabling support to seating and access bridges, all of which require differing approaches and engineering skill sets.
Whilst we in the UK have fortunately been free of major public events safety incidents for some time, what should not be overlooked is the skills drain that an event the size and scope of the Olympics will produce in the sector. By this I mean the focus of skills and engineering time needed on Olympic activity when there will be a great deal of temporary events structures in use across the UK for a whole range of events.
Clearly with so much going on, there is a need to focus resources on the sector to ensure high standards are maintained. But fundamentally, regulation of the sector should be brought in-line with best practice principles already adopted in the wider construction sector if we are to show global leadership and maintain safety for all.