Conference 2021: Safe People, Safe Planet breakout session

16 Dec

Chaired by Tom Lambert, National Streetworks Manager at Morrison Water Services

Street Works UK was pleased to welcome Street Works UK Safety Working Group Chair Tom Lambert to chair our breakout session ‘Safe People, Safe Planet’? The session provided an opportunity for Street Works UK members to explore views and ideas on where climate change is taking the industry and what the safety implications of those changes are, whether large or small.

Held on both days, the session allowed members to delve into and discuss a range of issues. Primary amongst these was the new technologies used to decarbonise street works, and in particular the fire risk that the increased use of batteries brings. While it was acknowledged that the issue had received some press coverage, citing high profile examples, it was felt that the industry hasn’t yet properly got considered what training should be put in place to deal with this. Some participants felt companies had brought in these new technologies quickly, and are only retrospectively bringing in internal policies on safety and training programmes due to a lack of awareness on the issues. Hydrogen was also discussed, but its use in street works was felt to be further down the line due to the technology needing further development

The use of technological innovations was raised in the discussion of how the industry can improve its knowledge of what is in the ground and exactly where everything is. The key point was raised that digging holes in the ground is still fundamentally one of the biggest risks in the industry, and that not knowing what is in the ground only makes this more difficult. While it was acknowledged this is somewhat unavoidable, the need to innovate to mitigate this risk as best as possible was repeated.

Another issue discussed was a change in the use of reinstatement materials. While it has been difficult for the industry to move away from carbon, the use of recycled plastics was highlighted as a way that the plastic footprint of the industry can be reduced. It was acknowledged this could bring significant benefits, but that manufacturers need to do more to develop potential alternatives. In particular, it was felt they need to consider how to make sure these comply with safety standards and SROH, given there is a lot of work that needs to be done for materials to be approved.

Both sessions allowed for significant discussion and engagement, and gave attendees the opportunity to raise key concerns. Other subjects raised included the introduction of district heating, due to workers not being used to digging into an area with pressurised steam, and the ways best practice can be encouraged amongst the street works workforce, who are facing contradictory pressures on time, quality and safety from different stakeholders. The need for simplicity wherever possible was emphasises, and the need to take pressure off a workforce who need to be able to focus on doing things safely.