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September 2007 – Sustainably safe steel

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One of the greatest success stories in the constructional steelwork sector has been the consistently improving safety performance over the past ten years, which means that steel construction is now demonstrably one of the safest of construction processes. As you will read in News, concerted efforts to improve safety across the sector have eliminated steelwork’s high risk reputation and there were no fatalities at work during 2006.

Constructional steelwork has exceeded the safety performance demanded by the Health and Safety Executive. How has it been done? Changes in working practices have certainly helped, with erectors working mostly from the relative security of mobile access platforms, and fall arrest systems and other safety innovations widely deployed. The BCSA has produced several new health and safety guides with advice that has been taken up across the membership. A full time health and safety specialist has been appointed to advise members.

Members themselves have obviously taken on board the safety message. Several have made significant investments in developing safety equipment and procedures that have been publicised in NSC and elsewhere, and made available to all. Driving the safety message home to operatives has been a priority and regular safety related training has also had an impact on inducing a changed on site attitude to ensuring safety of operatives themselves and of others.

Time and money spent on safety improvements are fully justified in terms of preserving the welfare of people at work, and that will always remain the priority target. There are other benefits to be factored into the equation however. Pre engineering and fabrication off site means that
pre planning of on site operations is easier and less likely to cause site hazards. Steelwork is standardised which leads to repetition of site tasks and greater certainty of safe practice. Trial erection is being favoured by clients for some structures, which has knock on safety benefits by establishing best methods of erection.

The safety benefits of steel are available to clients throughout a building’s life; for example it is easier to safely modify steelwork during maintenance or refurbishment. When a building has to be demolished a steel frame can easily be demounted, and can be designed with that in mind. These messages will further strengthen steel’s appeal to clients as they increasingly scrutinise the sustainability and safety consequences of choosing alternative construction processes. Steel will increasingly be seen as the sustainable safety solution.

Sustainability goes forward to school
As well as supporting industry wide efforts via the BCSA, several steelwork contractors have been more than ordinarily proactive in spreading the message that steel is the best construction framing material to meet the world’s growing sustainability challenges. Cairnhill Structures for example is to be congratulated for its initiative (see News) in carrying sustainability messages generally into schools.

Fittingly, Cairnhill, the only Scotland based steelwork contractor yet to achieve the BCSA Sustainability Award, is bringing its specially prepared modules to schools in Coatbridge, the centre of the historic Scottish steel industry. Steel production has ceased there, but the former steelworks is to be the centre of a massive regeneration project that will revive the old industrial sites and provide employment and housing to the area.

As well as having developed these training modules for schools Cairnhill, in common with a growing number of other steelwork contractors, has started to measure its own carbon footprint with a view to reducing emissions. Those that have enthusiastically backed the industry’s campaign to raise sustainability awareness are to be congratulated. Their efforts will no doubt be noted by environmentally aware clients, which will soon be, if it isn’t already, all of them.

Nick Barrett

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