Breaking new ground


GROUNDFORCE Shorco recently sent a team, led by Scottish regional sales director Richard Cherrie, to a groundworks health and safety event in Aberdeen.

The one-day event was part of the Working Well Together (WWT) campaign, organised by the Health & Safety Executive, which raises awareness of health matters and safety issues in the construction sector and offers practical advice on how to avoid risks.

In addition to the various demonstrations on topics such as safe trench work and safe loading and unloading of vehicles, the day comprised of a mix of general health and wellbeing presentations including mental health issues in the work place.

Groundforce showed off a number of products designed to improve safety on construction projects, including pipe lifters, pipe pushers and SheetMaster.

Richard explained, “We were delighted to assist in what we feel are worthwhile events in supporting the industry in its desire to improve the health, safety and wellbeing of people within the industry. For us it was an excellent event in spite of the atrocious weather. It was snowing horizontally but the turnout was fantastic. The event was well supported by the local supply chain and featured a number of speakers.

“The presentations were not only very interesting but also beneficial to the audience. One particular topic, which captivated the absolute attention of everyone, concerned that old taboo of problems with the prostate, which we as males tend to find a bit more difficult to talk about. I’m sure that, as a consequence of the manner in which the subject was covered, more than just a handful of people on the day decided to go and get checked out.

“From Groundforce’s perspective, we had a significant presence both in the main hall and outside. In the main hall, our training business was set up providing information on a wide range of accredited training courses and outside we had set up a broad range of ground support and safety equipment associated with excavations, which is all part of our drive to provide complete same systems of work, and to assist contactors to have their people trained effectively to a recognised accredited standard.

Groundforce’s pipe lifters in action

“In order to maintain the health and safety innovation theme, we brought along a number of products which, for some people, were brand new.” Richard explained that an important focus for the equipment supplier is producing products that, wherever possible, removes or reduces the need for manual handling or intervention by site operatives.

“It’s about minimising the risks which they are exposed to,” he added. “Part of that is how we can limit the amount of time people need to be down in an excavation. We’ve looked at all these operations and introduced a number of products to mitigate this including pipe lifters and pipe pushers, both operated by the excavator utilising a quick-hitch mechanism.”

The pipe lifters have been designed to lift and install concrete pipes. The process is controlled entirely by the excavator operator.

“The machine operator has full control to unload vehicles of pipes removing the need for people to access the vehicle. The same unit can be used to install the pipes within excavations,” Richard added. “The pipe lifter won’t solve all of the trench operations. It could be a very confined, restricted area within an excavation, in which case other products are available to assist.

“The other product Groundforce has introduced to secure the pipes, insuring they are fixed into the socket, is the pipe pusher. This is also part of our quick-hitch family of attachments where, within a few minutes, the bucket can be dropped off, either of the attachments is connected and the machine can safely push the pipe home without anyone having to be potentially at risk, holding a timber as a buffer, onto the pipe.

“These products gained a lot of interest, however the one that really got the attention was SheetMaster.

“We’re always interested in what issues sites are having, particularly if it is of a health and safety nature. One such issue related to the “pitching of trench sheets” particularly in street works operations. When contractors are involved with excavations, in or adjacent to live carriageways, with traffic in close proximity, the pitching of trench sheets can be high risk, due to the number of separate actions necessary to complete this operation, more so with long trench sheets (where) three or four separated pieces of equipment are required. Every time the component is changed, this exposes the operative to an element of risk, and the additional time it takes.

“It took us probably two years of development, producing three or four prototypes along the way, before we got to the final solution – SheetMaster.”

SheetMaster is a three-in-one attachment that pitches, drives and extracts trench sheets. Previously, these tasks would have required three or four separate pieces of equipment.

Richard said, “It gives the machine operator full control at all times of that operation. The innovative bit of the development was to combine three or four operations into the one piece of kit and also take people out of the equation where possible.”

Richard described the product as a game-changer for the industry.

“We are a commercial business, with SheetMaster being priced appropriately. To encourage contractors to pick up on something new, you can’t overprice it (just) because you’ve got the next all-singing, all-dancing item. It’s about trying to change behaviours and discourage some of the old practices. If there’s a huge cost involved with the new practice, you’re going to dampen any enthusiasm that might be created. It’s in everyone’s interest to get to that common goal of reducing incidents and accidents on construction sites.”

Richard said contractors are “heavily reliant” on Groundforce providing and designing cost effective and safe temporary works equipment. For that reason, they always seek early engagement and collaboration on projects to help develop the most viable solutions.

Groundforce has been involved in a number of high-profile projects including the Aberdeen bypass and the new Aberdeen Exhibition and Conference Centre. Richard’s prediction is that, with many of the major infrastructure projects in Scotland either already completed or due to end shortly, industry output generally, will be down this year.

He believes the diversity of the Groundforce business will help the company weather any potential dips in particular sectors.

“The industry this year, in comparison to last year, I believe will be down in terms of industry output. There aren’t many of the big roads or building projects kicking around. The Groundforce model is significantly diverse, which means if there’s a downturn in a particular sector, we’re not significantly affected,” he explained. “Our activities are spread across many different sectors which is a feature of the Vp Group. With our background being very much health and safety orientated, there are always new opportunities out there.”

Groundforce has also just completed a project on Skye for a fish-processing factory, which involved the design and supply of heavy-duty hydraulic propping equipment. And the firm remains heavily committed to supporting Scottish Water’s SR15 objectives, engaging with their contractor supply chain across the country.

Richard said one of the firm’s most challenging projects currently involves a scheme in Edinburgh around the Haymarket area. “Traffic is a major problem,” he commented. “The effective planning and execution of temporary works had to ensure that efficient flow of the traffic in and around the area was maintained and any disruption mitigated. We had the logistics issue of ensuring that deliveries took place at the precise time the contractor requires them, as they have limited windows of opportunity.

“For me, it’s not always the biggest civil engineering projects but often the smaller projects that provide the challenges that put the fun into the job and the satisfaction we get from it, when all the planning falls into place.

“To support our customers in the field we have a team of highly skilled personnel who have many years of experience and knowledge of the groundworks sector who are keenly focused  to become involved in these types of projects, to fully understand what the project requirements are. It’s not about going in and selling a product; it’s about understanding how the solution provided delivers the result the contractor anticipates.

“At the same time, we consider alternatives which can take cost out of a project, or identify other operations which may affect the sequence of construction and flag these at an early stage. It’s about sitting down and having those well thought-out discussions and coming up with a common solution that fits the overriding objectives of the project.”