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talking point

The Federation of Piling Specialists is implementing the results of a recent strategic review. Incoming chairman Mike Putnam reveals how the federation aims to help improve the sector for clients and contractors alike.

I have become chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS) at an exciting time.The industry is in the grip of change, and while the agenda has a long way to go, it is being helped by the UK Government and some of the leading representative bodies, all of whom are determined to force through the much needed improvements.

I believe passionately in the modern agenda and have worked very hard with my company, Cementation, to lead from the front.

We need to create more value for our clients, ensuring they receive consistent, professional, quality services from our fragmented industry.We also have to improve our performance and the way we work together in the supply chain, so that margins properly reflect the work and risks involved.

As a federation, we are still young, and represent a small sector of the construction industry.However, we have always been dynamic in developing the lot of a specialist contractor.Recent examples include the abolition of retention (which others have followed), a new registration scheme launched in October 2000 and measurable improvements in safety performance.

This year we have embarked on a strategic review which is in the throes of being adopted within the FPS and establishes a clear direction for the federation to focus on.

In the short to medium term, the FPS's strategic aims will be to promote the registration scheme, increase membership and to concentrate on working platforms, safety, effective risk management, benchmarking, the integrated supply chain and standard warranties resolution.

In the medium to long term, the FPS aims to improve the registration scheme, consider health and safety from an environmental and quality (HSEQ) approach and to look at 'people issues'including the skills shortage, the working time directive and training.

At the moment, the two most important issues are working platforms and the registration scheme.

One of the federation's strengths has been its open consultation on all safety matters.As a result of the high focus at individual company and FPS levels, we have been able to achieve a significant reduction in the number of reportable accidents.

There is no doubt that working platforms have been the root cause of most dangerous occurrences in recent years and as such represents a major issue.Our aim is to create an industry-wide process that ensures a consistent standard of safety through properly designed, installed and maintained working platforms with clear responsibilities for each element or activity.

Working with the Health & Safety Executive, we are looking to start a trial over the coming months, while gaining the support of the major bodies representing the construction industry.This should lead to full implementation later this year.Beyond this we intend to develop a simplified standard design method and to strive for a common procedure for all working platforms.

Supply chain integration, best value and simplified prequalification are all common industry themes.The FPS launched a registration scheme on 5 October 2000, which can be used as a powerful, effective way to aid selection of suitably qualified piling specialists.The scheme sets robust standards for safety, quality, technical ability, training and environmental issues.Its phasing in is due for completion by July 2002.

Statements made or opinions expressed in GROUND ENGINEERING do not necessarily reflect the views of the BGA.

Encouragingly, during the development stage members voted for a rigorous audit process with pass thresholds set at 5% below the average results achieved by the existing membership.As a result, some members had improve in some of the categories before becoming fully accredited.In the future, one of our aims is to enhance this scheme but in the meantime we want to get it recognised and adopted among principal contractors and clients.I believe this system is one of the best available for selecting the right specialist according to recognised industry standards and matching their suitability against the requirements of an individual project or client.

The other initiatives the federation will focus on include expanding membership, continuing to support the industry agenda and addressing some of the people issues including skills shortages.

We are fortunate that the UK foundations industry is enjoying a sustained period of consistent workload.This has been buoyed in recent years by several major projects including the Channel Tunnel Rail Link.The momentum of change is gathering pace and the FPS is looking forward to leading the sector in improving the working environment of all parties across the geotechnical profession.

lMike Putnam has a wide background in geotechnics and specialist contracting spanning 20 years.He is managing director of Skanska UK Specialist Businesses, which includes foundation contractor Cementation Foundations, where he is deputy chairman.

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