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Talking Point

Rock falls can pose significant threats to the safety of people and the infrastructure, so selecting barriers that conform with EU guidelines is essential, says Dr Corinna Wendeler

Recent events in the UK, such as the Falls of Cruachan derailment in 2010, the Mareno railway fatal accident in Italy also in 2010 and others around the world, some possibly caused by climate change, have highlighted the potential risks to people and our infrastructures from rock fall.

Managing the risk of these falls is crucial and one way to do that is by installing rock fall barriers.

Barriers have been installed for protection in various places around the UK in recent years, where it is deemed uneconomical to stabilise the slopes themselves.

The purpose of rock fall barriers is to catch individual boulders with certain assessed and defined kinetic energies It is important that they can do this reliably.

Modern flexible rock fall barriers are now available that meet either Swiss BAFU or European ETAG 27 guidelines.

ETAG 27 is the official Guideline for European Technical Approval of Falling Rock Protection Kits.

The European Organisation for Technical Approvals (EOTA) issued ETAG 27 to ensure a consistent high level of certified safety.

“There are some barriers offered in the UK market which claim to exceed the requirements of ETAG 27, but in fact these only carry university test certificates”

These guidelines and the consequential official and valid European Technical Approvals (ETAs) not only formally confirm satisfactory levels of performance, but also provide proof of the production processes and the quality of the manufactured materials required to guarantee the design lifetime.

To check whether a rock fall barrier has an official ETA, you should visit www.eota.eu and search the “valid ETAs list”, select “Number guideline (xyz)” and type in ETAG 027 next to “Number guideline (xyz)”.

There are now a number of barriers available that fully comply with the European standard and they cover a wide range from 100 to 5,000kJ.

Those that have official ETAs can also carry official CE marking.

However, there are some barriers offered in the UK market which claim to exceed the requirements of ETAG 27, but in fact these only carry university test certificates, which are not official ETAs issued in accordance with ETAG 27.

Therefore these barriers are not in compliance with ETAG 27 and cannot have CE marking.

ETAG 27 was drafted by a variety of European experts and formally approved by European Union authorities to define the EU view on current best practice.

As a member of the EU, the UK should use these guidelines in full.

ETAG 27’s requirements, including the issue of formal ETAs, were developed for a purpose.

Therefore clients, consultants, specifiers and installers should ensure this best practice by only using rock fall protection kits that have official European Technical

Approvals and ideally valid CE markings.

Dr Corinna Wendeler is head of the technical department at Geobrugg

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