Few construction accidents can appear as dramatic as a piling rig collapse, and the fines for such an accident can be substantial.
One incident which occurred in 2007 in Hull was prosecuted by the HSE last August, where Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering was fined £25,000 and ordered to pay £17,676 in costs, while Multibuild was fined £20,000 and ordered to pay £18,687 costs.
However, from this incident has come some good news. Balfour Beatty Ground Engineering health, safety and environment manager Eddie Keenan says: “As an active member of the Federation of Piling Specialists the company ensured that this incident was discussed at length at a FPS Safety and Training Committee meeting and some of the preventative measures highlighted in the investigation report have since been adopted industry wide. This included a revised platform certificate embraced by the FPS and a DVD which highlighted the risk of platform integrity among other piling risk areas.”
The working platform certificate is a crucial part of securing the stability of a rig, according to Keller UK managing director Jim de Waele. “We very much follow the standards set by the FPS in that we insist we have a working platform certificate before we commence work. We apply that for all our activities, be it for small rigs for applications such as grouting and minipiling, up to our driven piling operations where we might use a 120-tonne piling rig,” he says.
Keller HSEQ manager Bill Gill says that getting a certificate isn’t mandated by law but is industry best practice. “The WPC was drawn up by the HSE as part of a committee initiative, so it has their tacit approval even if it’s not mandatory.”
The FPS also offers technical guidance. Mr de Waele says that it has published a document in conjunction with Network Rail to provide safety advice on working near live railway lines, and a similar document covering work near live roads is due in Q1 211 from the FPS.
Because piling is often an activity that is subcontracted out, firms operating on a project must be very clear about who is taking responsibility for what activity on site. “Usually, we provide the principle contractor with the rig loading calculations, and it will analyse them and design the platform according. Sometimes though we will design the platform for them, and at other times we might be the principal contractor, so we would sign the platform certificate ourselves. However, in any circumstance, we always have the certificate signed off,” says Mr de Waele.
However, simply having a valid WPC isn’t the end of the piling contractor’s responsibility. Both the rig driver and the site foreman have a duty to monitor the site and the rig, and equal rights to call work to a halt if for any reason there is felt to be a safety risk from toppling. Mr Gill says observation is particularly important. “One problem you can have on a site is that the platform is put into position and the ground situation is altered from the original calculation. For instance, a main contractor may dig a drain through the platform and backfill it. It’s absolutely critical that the backfill meets the same standard and specification as the original installation,” he says. It is therefore vital to liaise with project managers and foremen on a daily basis so that there aren’t any dangerous surprises lurking on site.
This level of monitoring is essential as the consequences of failure are very high, warns Mr Gill. “The worst outcome is someone could be killed and depending on how the rig fell, it could be more than one person. There would also be considerable damage to any nearby equipment and buildings, as well as the rig. That would considerably delay the contract, and the HSE would investigate and may prosecute,” he says.