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Steel has post-pandemic attractions

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Construction is making every effort as an industry to put the adverse impact of the pandemic-enforced lockdown behind it and to get back to as near normal as is safe. Industry bodies like the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) have produced plans outlining paths to recovery and messages about safe working practices are being spread by all trade and professional groups and larger employers.

Balfour Beatty has reported that 80% of its sites were back at work by the end of April and the focus of the recovery over the next few months is clearly going to be restarting operations safely while achieving acceptable productivity levels. Beyond that there will be a heightened focus on improving productivity and strengthening the supply chain, all issues which have been identified long before the pandemic started.

Longer term, after a year or so, the CLC in its Roadmap to Recovery asks the industry to reinvent itself to deliver better value and improve collaboration and partnership. The constructional steelwork sector stands ready to make a full contribution to achieving all of these goals and has in fact been stressing the need for improvements in these and related areas for some years.

Clients of steelwork contractors are generally highly pleased by their performance and take for granted their turning up on site when required to start speedy steel erection programmes with offsite fabricated sections arriving only as and when required. There are great health and safety advantages from using steel at any time, but they will be valued particularly in a world that is adjusting to a new normal.

The benefits of steel being a material that is manufactured offsite in controlled factory conditions is likely to become even more important to developers and designers. Few operatives are needed on site during a typically short steel erection programme so social distancing is not as much of an issue as when other materials are chosen for frames. Selecting a steel-framed building solution is generally a beneficial health and safety choice, as the steel sector’s track record consistently shows.

In this month’s issue we have a special focus on commercial buildings, a sector that some commentators suggest will be under more pressure than others in future. Some are even predicting the end of the office. Short term it looks like there might well be more working from home, and social distancing requirements will mean not everybody can be in some offices at the same time.

Medium to long term however it must be premature to call this the end for offices, which have been the centre of commercial activity worldwide for hundreds of years. We can expect adjustments will be made to developer’s requirements and to designs, but whatever the pattern of demand the world settles down to, steel will remain the cost-effective and safest way of providing the spaces a post-pandemic world needs.

Nick Barrett

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