A North East developer is championing an excavation technique that reduces risks to workers and prevents underground pipes and cables from disruption.

So impressed was Galliford Try Partnerships North East with vacuum excavation, that it held a special safety demonstration and training event for staff, industry partners and those studying towards careers in construction. 

Relatively new to the North East, the process involves disrupting the ground with concentrated pulses of compressed air, before it is sucked up by a hose – not dissimilar to those on a household vacuum cleaner.

Doing this rather than disturbing the ground with heavy machinery, such as excavators, means that the services underneath remain undamaged.  On brownfield sites, where many old pipes and cables are unmapped, this technique is not only less disruptive but much safer for workers.

The method was employed on such a site in Saltwell, where Galliford Try Partnerships and Regeneration North East was undertaking groundworks for the Gateshead Regeneration Partnership.  A staggering 360 uncharted services were discovered but not one was disrupted.  In addition, the machinery meant that the earth around these services did not need to be excavated by hand – removing risks to workers and significantly reducing timescales.

The construction specialist wanted to demonstrate these benefits to industry partners and invited over 70 people – including employees from Wyn Construction, Lumsden and Carroll, Groundwork Services, Gateshead Council, H. Malone and Sons Ltd and T. Balfe Construction – to visit a new site in Birtley to see the equipment in action.  There was also the opportunity to explore and discuss the advantages of the equipment – from both a logistical and health, safety and environment (HSE) standpoint.  As much HSE training is classroom based, it offered attendees a refreshing alternative.

The event, organised by the company’s regional Health, Safety and Sustainability Advisor, Chris Donnelly, was also attended by TV and film students from Gateshead College, who captured the day in order to create an HSE training film for both construction students and those looking to use this technology on future developments.

David Housley, Galliford Try Group Health Safety and Sustainability Manager, explained:  “The construction industry experiences too many incidents of services being struck and people being injured as a result of poor planning, poor behaviours and a lack of training and awareness.  Our key focus is to continually improve our performance, to ensure that people go home safely to their families.

“Technology is improving all the time and vacuum excavation is one of the safest means of exposing underground services.  The aim of the event was to show our key supply chain partners the techniques which are available to scan, locate and expose services and protect the workers involved.”

Stephen McCoy, Managing Director with Galliford Try Partnerships North East, added:  “As we regenerate more brownfield land in the region, we are exploring the use of new technology to help overcome the problems and dangers posed by uncharted cabling and pipework. 

“As a leading developer, sharing our knowledge and experience with business partners helps us to raise standards – not just within our own business – but across the entire construction sector.  In turn, this reduces risks, eliminates interruptions and keeps build programmes on track.”

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