Assure 360

“It’s only an asbestos enclosure” – why temporary works are a problem

Written by Nick Garland on 15/09/2021

What on earth are Temporary Works? According to the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) they’re ‘the parts of a construction project that are needed to enable the permanent works to be built’. But this definition is a little misleading, and leads us to think only about major construction items, holding up partly built structures.

This over-simplified definition reflects a wider problem with how temporary works are perceived, and how the asbestos industry in particular deals with them. For the most part, we tend to ignore the whole issue as not applicable to us.

On the HSE’s side, there’s some problematic guidance in which the definition is subtly different. Essentially, here temporary works are anything that ‘might or might not remain in place at the completion of the works’. And if you’re thinking that could apply to anything, you’d probably be right.

Let’s step back from this confusion and explore the founding principles for temporary works (TW). TWs are assigned design categories, which reflect the complexity and innovation of their design. They also have a risk classification, which reflects the consequences should they fail.

The design categories are officially 1-3, but there’s an unofficial extra one – ‘0’:

0 – Standard solutions. Essentially off-the-shelf systems that have been previously judged or tested as safe.

1 – Simple designs. Some thought has been put into creating the solution. Examples might include simple formwork and propping.

2 – More complex designs. These would usually include piling and excavations.

3 – Complex, innovative designs. These are departures from the usual to solve novel problems or achieve an innovative result.

Depending on the category, the design requires a greater or lesser degree of extra checks.

Once we’ve established the appropriate design category, we determine the classification of risk by asking, ‘What are the consequences of failure?’ This often changes how temporary works are regarded. For example, temporary (i.e. Heras) fencing might be design category 0 – tried and tested. Put it next to a busy dual carriageway and it remains design category 0, but it becomes high risk. This raised level of risk means we undertake more stringent site checks to make sure the solution has been built as designed.

We’re actually very familiar with this kind of concept, as an asbestos enclosure is a great example. Enclosures are typically built to a very standard design, making them design category 0. But the consequences of failure will vary. In an open field there may be minor, manageable consequences. In a busy school they’d be very serious. Consequently, you may include additional checks for the latter.

Understanding risk categories

The obvious examples of TWs that we all think about are trenches, concrete formwork, and the propping up of partially constructed structures. But with the above definition in mind (anything that ‘might or might not remain in place at the end of the project’), they also include scaffolding, towers, hoarding, fencing and asbestos enclosures.

Essentially all the things we build in the asbestos industry are temporary works. So what do we need to understand about the rules?

Nearly everything that we do has a standard solution, and will have a design category of 0. Speedframe Airlocks, internal timber enclosures, Heras fencing, simple scaffolding, towers: it’s all off the shelf, so no specific design is required. However, there are times when we do something a little extra, and that changes things dramatically.

If instead of the standard Heras fencing we put up timber hoarding, the support and foundations for these are firmly in the category 1 arena. Adding logo sheeting to Heras fencing would also move it into category 1, with the associated changes in how it needs to be managed.

Many other common adaptations will modify category 0 structures in this way. If the existing site scaffolding is a standard design covered under the National Access & Scaffolding Federation’s TG20:21 guidance, great. But when we construct a full enclosure on this we’re adding a huge sail to a multi-ton structure. That’s very definitely no longer a TG20 scaffold!

If a temporary works fails, the consequences could be serious – and the HSE will certainly be investigating. Say for example that high winds topple the soffit enclosure scaffold, the scaffold company could well be in the clear – the reason it fell was because we added the sail. If we have specified category 1, 2 or 3 temporary works, but then not had them properly designed, it’s us in the dock.

Managing risk, avoiding disaster

So if everything we build is a TW, and mostly it’s category 0, but occasionally it’s not, what should we be doing? It’s unfortunate that there’s no official guidance. Instead, everything is effectively governed by the British Standard BS:5975. This document outlines the best practice you should be following. And in our industry we know that while we don’t have to follow guidance, we can’t ignore it, and we must do something equivalent or better.

BS:5975 states that you must have a procedure for TWs. This could simply be an extension to your existing standard procedures, essentially laying out what standard designs you use and what you will not do. You must also appoint certain roles. These include a designated individual: a senior person in the organisation responsible for establishing and maintaining the TW procedure. The designated individual must also appoint the temporary works coordinator: a competent person to manage the temporary works.

All temporary works must be designed by a competent person, or be to a standard (i.e. off the peg) design. And there may be a need to double-check aspects of the designs depending how complex they are. Anyone who designs a TW is a TW designer. They have exactly the same duties as any designer under the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007.

All temporary works must be checked on site to ensure they have been installed or built as per the design. As we mentioned before, the degree of checks required depends on the risk.

How might this work in practice? The appointed roles might be shared out as follows:

  1. Health and safety lead takes on the designated individual role, as they have existing responsibility for the standard procedures.
  2. The contracts managers are appointed as temporary works designers. They design the job, and ideally they only select standard solutions.
  3. Supervisors are your eyes on the ground, ensuring that whatever you design is implemented correctly. After all, that’s their normal day job.

The first and second of these have to be formally appointed, and accept the position.

There’s excellent training available for temporary works coordinators – you can find much of it through Easybook – but it’s not compulsory. In the low-risk category 0 world we inhabit, you might choose to send one person, then have them cascade the information to all of the TWCs.

Practical steps

In any event, make sure your contract managers know what constitutes a standard solution – give examples in your procedures. Few licensed asbestos removal contractors (LARCs) have anyone in-house competent at designing scaffolding. If you’re using scaffold as the basis for a soffit enclosure, make sure the scaffolder knows it is unlikely to come under TG20, and that it will need a design. Similarly, don’t embellish Heras fencing with branded sheeting. If necessary, use the (expensive) netting designed for this purpose.

The supervisors, as usual, are the checkers. They need to confirm that the operative built, installed or erected the item correctly. Recording these checks can be time consuming, but it’s something we’re all used to. That’s exactly why we designed the Assure360 Paperless solution, which slashes supervisor administration time by up to 80%.

So in summary, the things that LARCs build or erect are always temporary works, and you ignore that fact at your peril. By following some simple steps we can repurpose the activities we routinely do anyway, ensuring that the job gets done properly, checked appropriately, and that we’re observing the proper guidance throughout.

Want to see first-hand how Assure360 Paperless streamlines routine safety checks, and makes the data available for insight and analysis? Get in touch now for your free demo!

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"It's saving me hours and hours and hours of going through paperwork. It's a lot quicker, and everything's visible, so we can see everything as the project is ongoing."
Johnathon Teague, Project Support Manager, Armac Group