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April 2007 – Worldwide admiration for UK steel

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The UK’s constructional steelwork sector is the marvel of the world. Well you knew you were good, go on admit it, but to hear it at the BCSA National Dinner from no less a personage than John Spanswick CBE, the Chairman of the Major Contractors Group, who is also Chairman of such a well respected household construction name as the Australian owned Bovis Lend Lease, still must create a certain frisson (see News).

His feeling is obviously also held by clients in the UK market as the latest Market Share Survey shows steel achieving a record level, but it is good to hear that the UK constructional steelwork sector’s reputation is so internationally acclaimed.

It was also encouraging to hear a major contracting chief predict such healthy opportunities for the construction industry over the coming years. Education and healthcare were among the bright spots with the Olympics providing a welcome boost – all areas in which steel expects to do well.

It was also good to hear that Bovis Lend Lease recognises that getting labour intensive operations away from site is a way to improve industry performance, which also bodes well for steel. Health and safety has been a major focus of Mr Spanswick’s throughout his career, and it was good to hear recognition from him of steel’s creditable performance on health and safety.

Not that there is any justification for complacency on that front even in the steel sector. One fact that he mentioned is seldom heard, namely that the construction industry’s fatal accident rate, which regularly captures the headlines, is dwarfed by the 3,000 or so occupational health related deaths each year.

Clearly much remains to be done and Mr Spanswick concluded that problems would only be tackled properly and improvements made in health and safety if individuals stand up and be counted. By individuals he means all of you.

Eurocodes transition may be lengthened

There is another opportunity to stand up and be counted; any readers who think it would be a good idea to increase the transition period allowed for the introduction of Eurocodes to replace British Standards are being invited to register their opinion with the government (see News). Eurocodes are definitely coming, but there is still a strong feeling within the design community in particular that the originally proposed two year transition period is too short.

Corus, BCSA and the SCI have joined others like the Association for Consultancy and Engineering in calling for an increase in the period of overlap. The steel sector is asking for an increase to at least five years.

Government has conceded that two years may not be enough time to retrain some 100,000 design engineers and Building Control officers, but will only extend the period if there is widespread industry support.

Introducing Eurocodes is the biggest change to design rules ever faced by structural engineers so anyone supporting the idea of running the old and new regimes side by side for an extended period should act. Say nothing and you can’t complain if you don’t like the transition period that is eventually allowed.

Nick Barrett

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