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A platform to better safety

Improved site working platforms will have a dramatic effect on the construction industry's safety record, says the Federation of Piling Specialists.

The Federation of Piling Specialists has a good track record of taking a stand and getting results. In terms of working for a fair deal for specialist contractors, the construction industry at large has much to thank it for. For example, the federation - and the pressure exerted by its membership - did a lot to change main contractors' attitudes to retention of payment.

FPS's strength and its ability to promote change in the industry stem from the fact that it represents the majority - currently estimated to be around 80% - of the UK's £350M/year foundation sector. If FPS members stand as one on an industry issue, its voice generally gets noticed.

Its latest 'campaign' is on site working platforms. As this is a safety issue, it is one with which main contractors are going to find it very difficult to take issue. The argument boils down to FPS identifying that a third of dangerous occurrences during foundation and ground engineering work are related to the stability of working platforms.

FPS believes it should generally be the responsibility of the main contractor to provide and maintain a working platform through the course of a project. To achieve this, it is proposing the introduction of a 'working platform certificate'.

Evidence that this will bring a tangible improvement to site safety comes from Japan. The provision of working platforms by main contractors is one of the main reasons for the gulf between Japan's enviable safety record in foundation contracting, compared to, say, that of Europe or the US.

FPS is still working through the implementation process and is hoping to have the clients on board before the scheme kicks in. But broadly, FPS is planning to pass a resolution - probably in October - so that none of its member companies will undertake work on a site without a proper working platform and certificate. It hopes the resolution will be implemented from 1 January.

FPS chairman Mike Putnam, who is chairman of Cementation Foundations, feels this time scale is sufficient for the industry to prepare for the change.

'We are looking to work with members and industry to gain acceptance of this approach, ' adds Putnam. 'We need 100% approval of members to ensure that once passed it will stick - we want to be in a position where our members will not start work on site without the working platform certificate.'

This is another example of the FPS 'pointing the way and taking a lead for the whole construction industry', says David Corke, of Bachy, who heads the working platforms campaign.

The Health & Safety Executive has been very supportive, says Putnam. 'We're now going back to industry bodies and construction clients and talking to them about the initiative in order to get their buy-in.'

Putnam took over the FPS chair in February and started his term with an open strategic review to give 'a more structured approach to our activities and help focus and galvanise the working groups'.

The organisation's other main initiative is developing its auditing and registration scheme launched two years ago. 'We're approaching the point where all existing members will be expected to have reached our benchmark standards - but we've always said the system should undergo continuous improvement, ' Putnam explains.

The registration scheme is also proving to be the FPS's biggest membership driver, he adds, and at present, it has four companies applying for membership.

Putnam believes there is a wider need for technical assessment within geotechnical contracting and believes the FPS audit scheme could be adapted for other areas - and perhaps in time this might be a way for the FPS to broaden its membership beyond that of foundation contracting. After all, many of its members are also industry leaders in geotechnical process contracting.

INFOPLUS www. fps. org. uk

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