10 years of the Temporary Works Forum
Published 6th October, 2020
History does not repeat itself, but it often rhymes: an inspiration for the Temporary Works Forum 10 years on by Bill Hewlett, Consultant at Bill Hewlett Associates Ltd, TWf Chair 2009-2017, & John Carpenter, Consultant, TWf Secretary 2009-2014.
In 2019 the Temporary Works Forum (TWf), www.twforum.org.uk, celebrated its 10th anniversary with a prestige seminar and reception for its 182 member companies and their guests at the Institution of Civil Engineers (ICE) in London.
At its beginnings, TWf had just 15 founder members and met in borrowed offices. At the 10-year point, it was filling arguably the most prestigious engineering venue in the UK, with a 12-fold growth in membership. This presence and broad engagement positions TWf well to serve as a huge force to enable construction safety.
In the context of TWf, ‘temporary works’ has quite a specific meaning: they are the temporary structural supports and other provisions needed during the building, modification and demolition of assets in the building, civil engineering and construction sectors; BS5975 refers (BSI, 2019). Things such as falseworks to support bridges during construction, formwork into which concrete is poured, and sheet piling for temporary excavation support are all ‘temporary works’. The subject hit the headlines in the 1970s due to a spate of collapses during motorway construction works, leading to the Bragg Report (HSE, 1976) and the first edition of BS5975 (BSI, 1982).
“The need for a body of some kind to give a lead and focal point for all those involved in temporary works was spotted independently by the two of us”, John recalls. At the time, he was Secretary of SCOSS, the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (www.structural-safety.org). The Committee had seen a rise in the number of temporary works incidents and was keen to see the industry react positively. Bill’s motivation was a growing frustration that our engineering institutions seemed not to give much attention to temporary works, even though the structural engineering is every bit as significant as for permanent works; for instance as a temporary works engineer you could not qualify for IStructE, there were no dedicated industry prizes, there was little if any research and no formal university teaching.
More significantly, both saw that engineers and managers coming into the industry did not seem to think that structural failure was a real possibility, so they gave temporary works less attention than those with longer memories. Bill recalls specifically: “I had started my career in the early 1980s and the collapses of the 1970s were in the active memory of my older colleagues. Although I had not witnessed any failures personally, their experiences were clearly harrowing, and their accounts were vivid. One of my foremen was at Birling Road on the day it collapsed”.
The learning from these experiences led to the Bragg Report in 1975 and the innovative British Standard BS 5975. The BS set out design rules and importantly a management regime for temporary works. The change to the industry at the time was dramatic and has proved lastingly beneficial. But over the 30 years to 2009, with very few failures occurring, the recognition of the level of hazard that temporary works represents was being lost; while management regimes were kept up, the awareness of why, and the consequent attention and care, was waning. What we were seeing was a case study of generational forgetfulness. Sibley and Walker (1977) had alluded to this effect; Petroski (2012) and Brady (2013) have since taken up the theme.
What became evident as they explored the subject was just how institutionalised the forgetfulness had become. Not only were those with personal memories retiring, but factors of safety in codes were reducing, the level of technical training was reducing and those that had sought to implement Bragg’s recommendations (where not enshrined into BS5975) had fallen silent.
Their response was to found the TWf with, at first, little more ambition than getting a dozen or more like-minded senior engineers together to share their learning and provide at least some kind of collective voice. Once again lessons from the past came to our aid: the Institution of Civil Engineers, 200 years earlier, had been founded on just this basis.
The guiding principles were:
- Be mindful of history especially what was written at the time when temporary works emerged as a profession;
- Encourage narrative and storytelling; promote peer learning;
- Maintain high professional standards and act in the public interest; avoid commercialism.
On this basis the TWf has been hugely successful. As an organisation it has grown (in October 2019) from 15 founding to 182 member firms; it meets for open and frank discussion every quarter with a packed house; it has branches across the UK and sister organisations have sprung up in Hong Kong and the Middle East; authoritative guidance (free to all at www.twforum.org.uk) has been published on a dozen and more subject, and two guides have been developed by BSI as PAS documents; TWf has been able to sponsor a dedicated Centre of Excellence for Temporary Works and Construction Method at City, University of London, where a dedicated MSc is now taught; research has been sponsored at both City and other universities; TWf enjoys the unstinting support of the HSE.
Out on the construction sites the industry is not without its temporary works incidents. A spate of reinforcement cage collapses in 2011-2016 has been significant, with 4 killed in a single incident in Great Yarmouth in 2011, and two men very seriously injured in a wall collapse near Manchester in 2015. However, TWf was able to coordinate industry action, quickly raising awareness and issuing guidance to get this back under control, acting in the public interest notwithstanding the cases being sub judice.
Bill reflects, “What can be said is that the scale of the collapses of temporary works in the 1970s has not returned. While the absence of something is no proof of the presence of something else, it does seem fair to say that TWf has been successful in pushing back against generational forgetfulness, that the pattern of history has not rhymed in this case.” Long may it continue. As at Hazards Forum there is good evidence that open, fair and honest debate remains a vital ingredient of our safety culture.
Brady S (2013) The 30 year failure cycle. The Structural Engineer May 2013 pp14-15
BSI (1982) BS 5975: 1982. Code of practice for falsework. BSI. London, UK
BSI (2019) BS 5975: 2019. Code of practice for temporary works procedures and the permissible stress design of falsework. BSI. London, UK
Hewlett B, Jones A, Marchand S, Bell B (2014) Re-visiting Bragg to keep UK’s temporary works safe under EuroNorms. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers Forensic Engineering Volume 167 Issue FE2 pp58-68
HSE (Health and Safety Executive) (1976) Final report of the Advisory Committee on Falsework. HMSO, London, UK. ‘The Bragg Report’.
Petroski H. (2012) To forgive design, understanding failure. Belknap Harvard
Sibley PG and Walker AC (1977) Structural accidents and their causes. Proceedings of the Institution of Civil Engineers, 62, Part 1, pp191-208 & consequent correspondence