Compared with the last few years, 2022 looked set to be a return to normality; following the many hurdles relating to the COVID pandemic, which left the construction sector facing more typical day-to-day challenges. Then came the tragic war in Ukraine which, aside from the humanitarian and security crisis, has led to inflationary pressures, escalating energy prices and the ‘cost-of-living-crisis” that we are all currently facing. In addition, part of the post-Brexit world for the UK, is a critical shortage of skilled labour and a shrinking skills pool. These challenges, together with the confusing and turbulent political landscape of recent months, have left us warily looking forward to what we hope will be a more stable and less challenging 2023!
Despite the many challenges, from the perspective of the Federation of Piling Specialists (FPS), things have been quite positive, with this year seeing considerable throughput of activity with its many committees and working groups being particularly busy.
One of the main projects of the commercial committee has been its work to produce a document on ‘What the Construction Playbook means for Piling’. The Construction Playbook, published in September 2022, is hugely important because it provides UK Government Guidance on sourcing and contracting public works projects and programmes. It sets out the requirements of the construction sector, and in particular, how it must reform, building on Infrastructure and Projects Agencies recently published flagship change programme ‘Roadmap to 2030’. With its emphasis on “…getting projects and programmes right from the start”, it also includes elements such as creating “sustainable, win-win contracting arrangements that incentivise better social, economic and environmental outcomes…” – critical if the sector is to meet its goal of achieving net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050.
Due early 2023, the document will identify key areas and policies within the Playbook and offer guidance on how these will impact the piling sector, with advice about what the sector can do to adapt and thrive with its involvement in public work.
The FPS technical committee has been reviewing sonic logging as a method of testing the integrity of piles constructed under support fluid. In addition to serious safety issues inherent in the method, the FPS has also been further investigating the continued efficacy of the method as a valid first choice test for large diameter piles in comparison with alternative methods now commonly available across the industry. The first stage output from the FPS working group will be a report and guidance on when sonic logging really not applicable and when it could still be considered. In 2023 it is intended to undertake TIP testing of artificially introduced defects to piles in order to add to the body of knowledge surrounding correlation between results from different testing methods.
The broad topic of “Sustainability by Design” has also been examined by the technical committee and during 2022 it has looked at the many aspects that this encompasses, such as, whether more sustainable designs can be produced within the bounds of the existing design codes. This is a complex topic requiring a shift in mindset from many parties., Whilst progress has been made, work will continue through 2023 with a view to publishing guidance. A common platform for sharing data will also be wrapped into “Sustainability by Design”, tying in with work being undertaken by the European Federation of Foundation Contractors (EFFC) and its call for standardising and sharing data. The FPS is looking to establish a working group, together with the AGS, to progress this quickly.
The FPS technical committee has also been working with the FPS operations committee with the energetic input of our associate member reinforcement suppliers, to progress the standardisation of reinforcement cages. The FPS is working on the establishment of a common standard to cover the manufacture and supply of reinforced cages, which if adopted would allow an audit to be easily developed and conducted by the FPS, rather than by individual piling companies. The results of the audit would be shared among FPS members, reducing the number of audits that suppliers would have to submit, as well as reducing the number of audits that FPS members have to conduct. It will also facilitate a way of ensuring continuing improvement in standards. Of course, FPS members would always be free to use any cage supplier but having established standards would encourage members to use suppliers that meet these standards. Expect an update on this soon.
The FPS’ Sustainability Charter will always be a work in progress, as it adopts and evolves to meet changes to legislation and the piling sector’s drive to further reduce its carbon emissions. Some areas being examined are low carbon concretes and what future role they may have in piling works. Whilst there are many groups looking at this and other innovations, the FPS will be looking to pull all information and research available together and to work with those that actually put concrete in the ground, to explore any issues relating to its use and application.
Looking forward to 2023, is it clear that some of the challenges will remain, including continually raising awareness of piling and geotechnical engineering in schools and colleges so the great work being undertaken by the FPS Early Careers Group (ECG) will continue. This year has seen the ECG present to many educational institutions, as well as providing support and mentoring to those early in their careers. The immediate shortage of labour and skills, however, can only be addressed through government intervention and the FPS will continue to support initiatives, such as those of Build UK, in its lobbying of government to widen criteria of those able to enter the sector from overseas.
From an FPS perspective, 2023 will get off to a good start and it will be great to see the many initiatives of 2022 being delivered and collectively making the sector ever more professional and safer.