‘Raising the Bar’ with Concrete Canvas®: Health & Safety Compliance in the Road Sector

The construction industry is the second most dangerous industry for workers within the United Kingdom, according to the UK’s Health and Safety Executive’s 2018/2019 figures.

Overall, the government agency’s figures showed that in the year 2019/20, 40 construction workers died at work.

In a separate document the agency estimates an annual average of 61,000 non-fatal injuries to workers each year.  This includes injuries from manual handling; falls from a height; slips, trips or falls; and been struck by moving or falling objects.

Highways England’s ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative is outlined across 29 comprehensive documents published between 2013-2019. These documents provide “guidance on current best practices and minimum requirements for health and safety on major projects”.

In this feature, we’ll look at how Concrete Canvas® GCCMs (Geosynthetic Cementitious Composite Mats) can provide an innovative and compliant alternative solution to traditional concreting methods for road sector projects.

Plant and equipment

The plant and equipment guidance document published in April 2019 states that “personnel being struck by vehicles and plant attribute to on average ten fatal injuries and approximately 150 major injuries in the construction industry each year.”

Similarly the Plant Person Interface document, published the year prior states, “an injury involving being struck by plant is likely to be serious. 15 workers suffered a fatal workplace vehicle injury, in 2012/13 with the highest proportion being in the construction industry. This amounted to around a tenth of the total number of fatal injuries to workers reported to the HSE.”

With Highways projects being undertaken in all weathers and often in restricted access areas including lane possessions or worksites located on the hard shoulder, visibility can be reduced and the number of vehicle movements and people working on site can pose serious hazards.

As a result, Highways England’s guidelines include proper and efficient planning for vehicle movements on site, the use of proper PPE and undertaking and adapting to the findings of risk assessments. Both documents aim to control plant-associated risks in order to protect workers and ensure sites of this nature are as safe as possible.

Plant Equipment Road

The specification of Concrete Canvas® (CC) on roadside projects for common erosion control applications such as channel lining, slope protection and remediation of existing assets means:

  • CC is available in bulk or batched rolls, which can be transported and deployed on site using a single vehicle, such as an excavator.
  • One bulk roll or 13 batched rolls can be supplied of a single pallet, while a single bulk roll can replace two 6m3 concrete trucks, significantly reducing the number of material deliveries to site.
  • Pre-batched rolls of CC can be manually transported on site by two to three people; on sites where access is limited or where having a large plant on site would be too dangerous for the work team, batched rolls can therefore be specified instead.
  • Overall, the requirement for plant and other vehicles on site is greatly reduced. In turn, fewer plant and vehicle movements mean significantly lower risks of plant-person incidents.
  • Where batched rolls are used, the risks of person-plant interaction and incidents can be eliminated almost entirely, and the risks of, and associated with tipping of plant can also be reduced or eliminated.
  • Overall, the use of CC assists in reducing contractor burden, often providing cost savings for clients.
Man Portable

Manual handling

More than a third of all accidents reported by Highways England each year are associated with manual handling. The most common injuries are to hands and fingers, closely followed by backs.  Many manual handling injuries resulting time off work and potentially even project delays.

As previously mentioned, CC batched rolls can be a fantastic solution for projects where a concrete solution is required for erosion control or weed suppression applications but site conditions mean bulk rolls are impractical.

Provided that proper lifting techniques and manual handling requirements are observed, CC batched rolls, which weigh up to 70kg and are supplied with lifting handles so they can be safely lifted and transported on site by two to three people.

However, as stated in the document, manual handling should be considered as the last resort. As such, we do encourage and consider use of bulk rolls as standard, unless site restrictions make this too complex or impossible. Bulk Rolls can also be batched to site specific lengths on site and then rolled back up for transporting by wheel barrow or a vehicle used by the installer.

Control of dust

While many construction workers are exposed to and work with concrete daily without any problems, through mixing, installation and removal of the material, both wet and dry concrete can pose hazards to workers.

Highways England’s control of dust document notes:

“Some of the most common construction jobs create high dust levels. These jobs often involve the use of power tools like cut-off saws, grinders, breakers and sanders or large equipment, for example batching plants or crushers/screener.”

Whether installing poured or sprayed concrete, dust can be produced in the mixing and installation stages. Where the water:cement ratio isn’t quite right, a fine layer of dust can also form on the surface of the concrete when set.

If a worker is exposed to the irritant repeatedly over a long time period, they can be at risk of illnesses such as occupational asthma or even chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), an airflow obstruction that’s not fully reversible. In extreme cases, repeated inhalation of cement dust can cause lung cancer.

Common methods for controlling the amount of dust produced includes ensuring appropriate and effective PPE is worn, such as face masks to prevent inhalation, and gloves and eye protection to avoid contact with the skin and eyes.

On many sites, where concrete is being removed or cut, additional equipment such as dust suppression systems are used. These systems disperse fine water droplets to capture airborne dust and dampen the surface of the concrete before and during cutting to reduce the risk of inhalation and creation of ‘nuisance dust’.

So called nuisance dust can be an issue in itself as it can cause damage to properties or disturbance to nearby communities. There is also a risk that the dust can settle on local watercourses and potentially have a negative impact on the ecology.

While some dust can be expected through normal handling and installation of Concrete Canvas®, it has a number of significant advantages over traditional concrete solutions in terms of dust control:

  • CC arrives on site ready to install; there is no need for mixing or measuring, eliminating the dust production associated with this process with traditional concrete.
  • CC is available in 5mm, 8mm and 13mm thick variants which typically replace 100-150mm of poured, sprayed or precast concrete. As a result, GCCMs are considerably lower in mass and cement content.
  • CC can be installed using standard hand tools and can be installed up to ten-times faster than poured or sprayed concrete, meaning less time on site, less exposure for contractors and less risk of producing nuisance dust.
  • Unlike traditional solutions, the cement used in CC has a limited alkaline reserve (below the US Environmental Protection Agency limits) and can therefore be installed directly into live watercourses with no adverse effect on the local ecology.
  • As a lower mass solution, CC can also be removed more quickly and will produce less dust in the process.

CC does not meet the criteria for classification in any hazard class and is not classified as an irritant. As a result, it is safer to install than alternatives and the risks associated with long term exposure are lower.

However, Concrete Canvas Ltd does always recommend the use of general PPE when handling and installing the material to reduce contact with the skin or eyes, and prevent inhalation. As such, face masks, protective clothing and gloves should be worn.

For further information on safe use of Concrete Canvas® see our MSDS document.

Working at height

The working at height guidance states that falls are the biggest cause of fatal injury in Britain’s workplaces, while also causing “over 2,200 major injuries such as broken bones or fractured skulls” each year in the construction industry.

On civil engineering projects where a solution is required for protection of a slope, for example, CC has numerous benefits of traditional alternatives.

Works on roadside slopes are often required to prevent erosion. Working on projects like this pose a number of risks and complications, including access to the slope itself, as well as the proximity of the road to the work site.

Installation teams are often required to use equipment like hydraulic cranes to reach the crest of a slope. The length of time required to carry out installations with traditional materials means prolonged periods of working at a height.

CC is often specified for roadside slope protection projects to provide a durable and effective erosion control solution as it’s quicker and cleaner to install, can conform to steep, rocky and uneven surfaces and can be installed on large slopes without compromising the safety of the work team.

Slope Protection Rail

For example, in 2019 CC was installed at a roadside site in Al Bahah, Saudi Arabia. The surface of the slope was experiencing weathering erosion, with rainfall loosening the slope substrate and risking rockfall damaging the road and endangering road users. The slope section in question measured up to 22m in height.

Shotcrete had been considered but would have required closure of the road to prevent back spray and rebound, as well as specialist labour and heavy plant.

While work from a height was still required for use of CC in order to fix and join the material, the speed of install means considerably less time at a height.

The bulk rolls of CC specified for the project were deployed from the crest of the slope using a spreader beam and excavator. Accessibility of the slope was increased by the ability to use climbing equipment, enabling the installation team to work on higher sections of the slope without the need for prolonged use of a hydraulic crane or ladders, making the process considerably safer for all involved.

Over 3000m² of CC GCCM were installed on this project, with works completed in just 12 days. In comparison, the shotcrete alternative would have taken in excess of 3 months to install on the same area.

See the Al Bahah installation in action – watch this video (left).

On-site training – Toolbox Talks

In the UK, prior to the commencement of any project, one of our Technical Sales team will attend the site to meet the installation team and provide a ‘Toolbox Talk’. These essentially provide the construction team with verbal step-by-step guidance from unwrapping the product right through to each stage of the installation itself. Toolbox Talks even cover vehicle movements (where relevant) and how to properly handle the product.

Health and Safety is at the forefront of our Toolbox Talks and we aim to provide the construction team with all the information they need to carry out a successful and safe installation.

For more information on our installation processes, see our Installation Guidance videos.

Socially Distant Toolbox Talk

How does Concrete Canvas® comply with Highways England’s ‘Raising the Bar’ initiative for Health & Safety?

Overall, CC has been proven to be a safer alternative to traditional concrete solutions in all of the areas discussed here.

The reduction in logistical and plant requirements to and on site respectively means significantly lower risk of person-plant interaction and therefore, significantly lower risk of serious or fatal injuries caused by plant or vehicles.

Bulk rolls require little to no manual handling and are generally deployed using a spreader beam and excavator, for example, while batched rolls can be safely transported on site by two to three people.

The lower mass and faster installation rates of CC compared to alternatives, along with several other factors, mean the risks of and associated with exposure of any dust created are considerably lower for workers, while the production of nuisance dust is also reduced.

The ways in which CC can be installed on slope protection projects, for example, along with the speed of installation mean time spent working at height is greatly reduced for workers, creating a much safer working environment.

Toolbox talks and support from Concrete Canvas Representatives also mean contractor teams are trained and prepared for any manual handling and health and safety requirements in advance of project commencements.

For further general information about our products, please contact Concrete Canvas Ltd. To book a CPD with a member of our Technical Sales team, please email us.

To see more Concrete Canvas® installation videos, see our YouTube channel.