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Managing Risk with H&S Best Practice

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A spate of well-publicised incidents in the last 12 months have reiterated once again the importance of health and safety due diligence when planning and carrying out groundworks projects, specifically relating to working in and around deep excavations.

As a company with an enviable safety record, best practice in health and safety is something Shanco has embedded in its culture from day one. The company has a legal duty of care to all those working for it and to any person who may be affected by its acts, be they another contractor or a member of the public.

This year has been particularly challenging for those in the groundworks sector, mostly due to the very poor climate conditions the UK had in its first four months. This has had an impact on the ability to carry out excavation works safely on site because of the effect the adverse weather had on ground conditions. Many areas saw heavy snow fall and freeze-thaw conditions and sites did not have time to recover before heavy and prolonged rainfall took over, drenching the already sodden soil. When carrying out excavation work, the reduction in stability of the ground cannot be underestimated in these conditions.

Consequently, we always ensure that we survey the actual conditions on site prior to starting a project, rather than relying on existing information. We also continue to assess the ground conditions throughout the works, particularly during periods of inclement weather or weather extremes. Inspection should be carried out by competent and experienced persons to determine whether an excavation remains safe or whether additional measures need to be implemented.

And ground conditions are one of the elements we consider when specifying the temporary works for an excavation project. Where the site layout allows (e.g. where there is sufficient space), the excavation should be stepped back by approximately 1m for every 1m in depth. This reduces the likelihood of excavation collapse (a smaller unsupported excavation face) and also reduces the severity of the consequences, as a much smaller quantity of material will be involved should any movement of the spoil occur under exceptional circumstances (e.g. torrential rainfall). Even in the summer months, stepping back is still necessary because adverse weather can quickly render the ground liable to collapse and just 1m3 of soil shifting could result in a load of more than two tonnes falling into the trench.

Where it’s not possible to step back the excavation, we install temporary works measures such as sheet piles, with corresponding frames, or trench boxes to retain the sides of the excavation and reduce the risk of collapse.

There will always be risk involved in groundworks and it’s important for both contractors and all upstream delivery partners to be mindful of that, so that it can be engineered out of the project through planning, best practice and good safety behaviours.

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