• Drew Wilson

ECO ENG SERVICES: Professional, reliable consulting on temporary works design and approval

Temporary works is often overlooked or underestimated in the construction industry, but there's no doubt it’s absolutely vital. The consequences of incorrect structural support are catastrophic: fatalities, serious delays and unforeseen costs. Drew Wilson of Eco Eng offers a professional, yet practical, engineer’s perspective when it’s needed most...

What is temporary works?

In layman terms, temporary works provides much-needed support while the rest of the building is compromised and remaining sections are built. Essentially, they’re the structural load-bearing parts of a project that contractors need to enable the permanent works to be built.

When you consider the weight of a single concrete paving block, you can start to understand the immense weight of a building, reservoir or bridge during construction, and why temporary works is so important.

When you consider the weight of a single concrete paving block, you can start to understand the immense weight of a building, reservoir or bridge during construction. Thick slabs of concrete, tons of steel reinforcement and timber shuttering, all tentatively held in place while pouring concrete and waiting for the materials to gain self-sufficient strength. It’s hard to imagine that a building in this initial phase of construction will not be entirely safe for up to 28 days, which is the accepted time it takes for concrete to reach its design strength.

After years of experience in the temporary works environment, I'm still amazed at the negligence of many contractors and builders in designing this important aspect of their project. This, in comparison, to the lengths taken by structural engineers in completing the permanent design for a structure. The risks inherent during the temporary construction phase are as much, if not more, than those related to the long-term safety of the structure.

Who is responsible for temporary works?

The project’s main contractor is wholly responsible for the design, cost and management of all temporary works, as regulated in the most recent Occupational Health and Safety Act.

However, many contractors do not have the necessary skills and competence within their organisations to fulfil this role effectively. Most contractors turn to formwork subcontractors who specialise in supply, design and erection of these structures to provide professional and safe temporary works designs. Given the potentially fatal and devastating impact of a collapsed project, the Occupational Health and Safety Act also insists that a ‘competent person' inspects and approves any temporary works structure before construction. This is where things become less straightforward and more grey.

The definition of ‘competent person’ is not clearly defined, however it is widely acknowledged that competence entails a combination of necessary training and experience in the related field. Like main contractors, many formwork suppliers and / or subcontractors also don't have the personnel or capacity to provide competent staff.

What are the benefits of using a professional engineer for temporary works design, inspections and approvals?

As with most things in construction, there is a desire to be both safe and economical. Injury, time delays and spiraling costs are all high risks of substandard design but an overly-cautious structure can sometimes be totally unnecessary too, leading to similar pitfalls.

Formwork suppliers may have a handful of professional engineers to approve drawings and carry out site inspections, but this isn't the norm. Generally speaking, there’s a short supply of professional engineers willing to go to site to offer a fresh perspective. An engineer with the combination of site experience, structural design skills and civil engineering acumen can easily streamline any designs to ensure an economical adaptation without fuss.

By using a professional engineer, there is often the opportunity for responsive, immediate design tweaks with a few quick onsite calculations, saving time and money in the long run.

Formwork suppliers who are risk-averse - and rightly so - may also be understaffed, ruling out the likelihood of in-person inspections and approval. But based on the realities of the site, like the ground or equipment conditions, there is often the opportunity for responsive, immediate design tweaks with a few quick onsite calculations.

The peace of mind of knowing that your temporary works has been assessed and approved by a professional and is safe and fit for purpose, far outweighs the minimal costs associated.

What differentiates Eco Eng from other temporary works providers?

Eco Eng plugs a gap in the market. Professional, reliable engineering consulting with decades of site and construction experience. A ‘competent person' doesn’t have to be a professional engineer, but competency certainly requires the right mix of training and experience. Eco Eng can make suggestions at the design stage that save time and money, conduct onsite inspections, issue approvals and liaise between the project's different stakeholders.

What improvements can be made in the temporary works sector?

There are serious risks associated with temporary works, as seen in several high-profile collapses gaining infamous renown in recent years. More emphasis should be placed on accountability for proper design, erection and approval with greater construction principles applied. Considering the positive outcomes for the client, main contractor, subcontractor and formwork suppliers, it seems a win-win to get a professional engineer onboard.


Interested to find out more for your next project? Contact Drew on drew@ecoeng.co.za or leave your details in the comment section below for a callback.

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