A gap in safety standards when prefabricated concrete elements are used in civil construction has driven a national call to see the gap closed, and change is imminent.
According to National Precast’s Chief Executive Officer, Sarah Bachmann, the gap became evident several years ago when a worker was tragically killed on a civil construction site in Western Australia. Since then, National Precast has been in discussions with the Coroner’s Court of Western Australia about the possible benefits of extending one of the industry’s standards to cover civil construction and subsequently close the gap.
In more recent times, the conversation has been extended and a project proposal has been approved by Standards Australia to create a new Part 3 of AS 3850 Prefabricated Concrete Elements, which will apply to civil construction. Through Standards Australia, National Precast has also brought other industry bodies into the discussion, including the Civil Contractors Federation (CCF).
“Extending the standard was an obvious plan of action,” Ms. Bachmann says.
“One of the things we do here at National Precast is to work to improve safety standards in the industry. We frequently work with both state and national safety authorities in that regard, and this was an opportunity to take a big leap forward.”
Traditionally, AS 3850 has only covered the use of prefabricated concrete elements in building construction. The standard currently comprises two parts – Part 1 covers general requirements and Part 2 covers the construction of buildings.
National Precast actively involved
“The new Part 3 will be developed by BD-066 – the Standards Australia committee that is responsible for review of AS 3850. We have representation on that committee,” Ms. Bachmann explains.
National Precast’s President, Kevin Crompton – also Director of Operations at one of the organisation’s member companies, Ultrafloor – is representing the precast industry on the committee. Another of National Precast’s Board members – Michael Waeger from Waeger Precast – also sits on the committee, representing the CCF. They are joined by representatives from allied industry bodies, such as the CCF, the Construction, Forestry, Mining and Energy Union (CFMEU) and workers’ compensation authorities.
The committee is proceeding with the project and has created four working groups to address various issues in the proposed Part 3. National Precast will have representation on all four working groups.
“The benefit of having active industry representatives on these committees and groups is enormous,” Ms. Bachmann says.
“It’s essential to have people involved who work with the product every day and who are aware of the risks. The new Part 3 will set some standards about what the minimum requirements are when using prefabricated concrete elements in civil construction.”
Civil guidance material to follow
As well as having representation on BD-066, Ms. Bachmann says that once Part 3 has been developed, National Precast will also work with Safe Work Australia on the development of guidance material that will sit alongside the new Part.
“We’ve encouraged Safe Work Australia to be involved in the BD-066 working groups so that once Part 3 has been established, guidance material on how to do things safely using prefabricated concrete on civil sites can be developed,” she explains.
“Currently in that space there only exists an outdated National Code of Practice for Precast, Tilt-up and Concrete Elements in Building Construction – but that only applies to the construction of buildings.”
Published in February 2008, the National Code of Practice was initially designed to work alongside the previous version of AS 3850, AS 3850-2003.
Just as the 2015 version of AS 3850 only applies to the construction of buildings, the now archived code also only applies to the construction of buildings, leaving a comparable gap relating to safety guidance material in the civil space.
“Ultimately, we will end up with one standard, with Part 1 covering general requirements, Part 2 covering building construction and Part 3 covering civil construction,” Ms. Bachmann explains.
“Separately, we’ll have Safe Work Australia-developed guidance material on using prefabricated concrete elements in both building construction and civil construction.”
In the meantime, Ms. Bachmann encourages all civil engineers, precast manufacturers and civil contractors to familiarise themselves with AS 3850 Part 2 and apply it, where relevant, to their civil work.
“While work on Part 3 is underway, the relevant areas of the current AS 3850 Part 2 can be applied on civil construction sites,” she says.
The revised Standard, including the new Part 3, is expected to be drafted by the committee by the end of 2018, followed by public comment, which is likely to close in February.