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Chairman of the Federation of Piling Specialists John Patch reviews the achievements of the last 35 years and looks forward to important future work.

T he Federation of Piling Specialists is 35 years old this year. In that time it has seen a multitude of changes within its own ranks of members, in the piling industry as well as in construction as a whole.

Members have come and gone, amalgamated, been taken over, formed joint ventures and become subsidiaries of major construction groups. Many eminent people have been chairman, and names such as Fleming and Merricks have become synonymous with the piling and diaphragm walling industry.

But while it is often the chairman who gets his name in lights, in no other group I have been involved with is there such a dedicated team of 'backroom boys'. Many of the initiatives that have blossomed over the last 35 years have succeeded through dogged determination and sheer hard work.

It is therefore vital that industry knows what makes FPS tick, what it has achieved, what it is achieving at present and what it intends to achieve in the future. Within construction the next 35 years may see changes beyond our wildest dreams.

One of its best known achievements is associated with the issue of retention. FPS, along with a growing groundswell in the industry believes retention, as a tool for ensuring snagging is dealt with, is outdated and quite simply does not work. Members are obliged to abide by a resolution relating to the non-acceptance of retentions.

Other, much sturdier, methods for ensuring compliance with contractual obligations are accepted by the federation and readily provided where necessary, such as retention bonds. The FPS contracts committee worked for many years to bring this particular benefit to members and a wider audience. In today's construction environment of openness, honesty and integrity, there is no place for such a draconian method as cash retention.

The contracts committee can be proud of many other achievements, benefiting not only members but also the industry at large. It has campaigned relentlessly for better, more compact and fairer contracts to enable business to be carried out on a more equitable basis. The more equitable a contract, the more honest people will be.

The technical committee has also excelled, with the publication of much learned information relating to the foundations industry. FPS's input to ICE Specification for piling and embedded retaining walls was immense, and the committee followed it up by producing an essential guide to the specification. A superlative achievement, considering all input was voluntary. The committee has always held a place in the higher echelons of foundation engineering knowhow and has provided information to all the latest ground engineering publications.

The work of the health and safety committee must also be highlighted. In recent years it has pioneered initiatives such as tool box talks - simple, easy-to-read and easy-to -present safety talks on a variety of topics. Constant monitoring of accidents industrywide is a hallmark of this group - sharing problems and, more importantly, solutions.

So what of the present? As well as its day-to-day agenda, the health and safety group is producing initiatives, including an obligation by every member to provide the best features of its safety procedures to other members in an open presentation.

A key factor is FPS's relationship with HSE. Active participation by HSE in dealing with matters such as auger cleaning and protection measures is encouraged by FPS.

The hazards associated with working platforms - in terms of design, construction and maintenance - also come high on the agendas of all these committees, as the implications transcend all boundaries.

The technical committee is looking at piling in chalk, procedures for pile testing and many other technical issues with a view to more publications in the future.

But the most exciting issues, of course, are those that will confront us in the future, and indeed are already confronting us now, such as customer satisfaction, partnering, non-adversarial working practices, single page contracts, understanding the true potential of specialist contractors, best practice and value engineering.

I fervently believe that the targets in the Latham and Egan reports can be achieved - but this will involve change. We will see more input from specialists and must encourage younger people. FPS will be actively encouraging young engineers in member companies to be part of the process.

While the next 35 years will see improvement in contractual, health and safety and technical matters, the issues that confront members of the federation for the future will largely be behavioural.

In the year 2034, 35 years from now, I would like to see zero accidents, absolute methods for determining value engineering techniques, contracts replaced with non-adversarial partnerships and of course, a slightly more profitable construction industry than we have today.

John Patch is a director of foundation contractor Roger Bullivant. He is also chairman of the NVQ occupational working group and chairman of the Reading Construction Forum Bonds, warranties and retentions task force.

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