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Talking Point

David Sherwood assesses the progress of the European Federation of Foundation Contractors in its 10th year.

This month the European Federation of Foundation Contractors (EFFC) celebrates its 10th birthday. So what has it achieved and where is it going?

EFFC was born out of desperation over the way in which EC7 was developing. Peter Thornton, the then chairman of the UK Federation of Piling Specialists came up with the suggestion that we needed a European body that would be accepted by Brussels as an interlocutor of European standing. As always with such suggestions, when EFFC was founded the following year, Peter was asked to assume the role of founding president.

The next key decision was the choice of Dianne Jennings as secretary. She had years of experience as secretary of the FPS and, more recently, of the AGS. Her knowledge of how a federation can be kept together, made to function and give value to its members, was indispensable. As EFFC is a federation of national federations from each of the European countries, getting the EFFC up and running was a formidable task.

Very early on, it became clear that there was much more that united European foundation contractors than separated them.

Nobody trusted Brussels and all its works. Genuine practitioners were almost completely absent throughout the panoply of European and CEN committees and the emerging Eurocodes were to become a nightmare. Nobody was happy with the balance of power with main contractors. We felt clobbered and exploited at every turn.

Everyone considered that the industry was very much on the downhill slope. The smaller contractors felt that the 'big boys' wanted to squeeze them out of the market and the large contractors considered that it was the smaller contractors dragging prices down. Safety and the relative accident rates in different countries were of interest to all.

After initial attempts to improve EC7, it was accepted that there was little that we could do. On the other hand, if good execution codes could be written to standardise European practice in construction, it would be a major achievement and would allay some of the worst fears associated with EC7. Manfred Stocker was packed off to CEN to get support for a suite of execution codes for foundations and geotechnical processes. Manfred got the support but CEN had no funds, so EFFC offered to pay.

In the last eight years it has funded, largely by subscription from its members, the following:

EN 1536: Bored piles

EN 1537: Anchors

EN 1538: Diaphragm walls

EN 12063: Sheet piles

EN 12699: Displacement piles

EN 12715: Grouting

EN 12716: Jet grouting

EN Micro piles

EN Reinforced soil

EN 1536, 1537 and 1538 have now reached the stage of National Introduction and the other numbered codes should achieve that status by the end of 1999. Work has also started this year on a suite of codes covering ground improvement.

This code work is of enormous importance in developing a European market in our sector. Directly and through co-ordination of its member national federations, EFFC has also contributed to other Eurocodes dealing with concrete and construction machinery.

On the contractual front, EFFC is an associate member of FIEC, the European construction contractors federation. Here, it is contributing to discussions on competition and abnormally low tenders, ground risks and conditions of subcontract.

By its very nature, safety has been one of the most difficult tasks to tackle. Every country has its own procedures for reporting and rules for statistics.

Nevertheless, some order has started to emerge from the chaos. We now know how and where accidents happen across Europe and trends are beginning to emerge. This information is being recycled back through the principal plant manufacturers, which are constantly improving design, and to the national federations, to educate their individual company members and to help them to develop accident control measures.

Maintaining a 'Europe Watch' is an essential element of EFFC business. Last year, the European Groundwater Directive was found sliding under the door. In the fine print, among many other things, was a clause that would outlaw injection of any suspension into the groundwater. EFFC reacted and mobilised the construction press and industry. Through FIEC, we managed to get a last minute amendment that allows national governments to make exceptions for construction works. Not an ideal solution but certainly disaster successfully averted. In fact, the whole construction industry will benefit from the results of EFFC's initiative.

Smaller companies may be tempted from time to time to believe that Europe is of little importance to their daily business. In fact, we are all coming to accept that Europe intrudes in our lives to a considerable extent.

Within EFFC, it is generallwy individuals from major contractors who contribute to the work because their companies identify more easily with the European dream. However everyone, large and small, throughout the European Union and beyond, benefits from EFFC's efforts.

David Sherwood is senior vice president of the EFFC and chairman and managing director of Bachy Soletanche in the UK.

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