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Risk reducers: Digital engineering meets health and safety

Digital engineering is changing the face of engineering. Leading the charge is MGF.

For a demonstration of how 3D modelling and visualisation is changing the face of construction, check out what’s going on behind the scenes at GE Award winner MGF. The trench and groundworks support specialist picked up this year’s GE Health & Safety Award for its Safe Systems of Work Guidance – a suite of safety tools including 3D animations of safe working practice.

This has come about as the meeting of two parallel streams of effort. As a company of around 300, specialising in a relatively high risk part of a hazardous industry, MGF has been doing a lot to promote safe working practices.


MGF has developed computer simulations to help eliminate accident risks in excavations

The firm is represented on a number of Health & Safety Executive (HSE) technical committees and had a hand in producing much of the current best practice documentation available on excavation support.

Simultaneously, MGF has been busily embracing the “brave new world” of digital technology, says the company’s engineering director, chartered structural engineer Steve Hesketh.

“We’re an SME heavily interested in promoting best practice. We take our responsibilities very seriously. What the GE Award represents is recognition of what we’ve been doing for a number of years,” Hesketh says.

Back in 2008, MGF produced a technical file on excavation support techniques. Combined with 3D visualisation of excavation risks, this subsequently developed into a Construction Plant Association (CPA) and HSE good practice guide, authored by Hesketh and issued by the Shoring Technology Interest Group (STIG), which Hesketh chairs.

“Once visualised, it can be seen why it is so difficult to dig a safe excavation. There are so many risks with men and machines working in sequence and in close proximity,” he says. “With 3D visualisation, we can show all of the risks and demonstrate what we’re talking about.”

“Our first offering to industry as a safety guide was a laminated cartoon strip for use on site. We then realised we could animate the whole sequence, which is really useful because it can be shown in a three minute video what can take years of experience on site to learn.”

Management of excavations has traditionally been a bit of a black art with nothing formally written down, Hesketh says. Specialist groundworks gangs have learnt and handed down their knowledge by experience. “What we’re trying to do is introduce a safer, more formalised system of training,” he says.

What MGF has ended up with, earning the firm this year’s GE Health and Safety Award, is a library of safe practice guides in pdf form and a series of associated videos. The whole lot is actually not behind the scenes at all, as the videos are available on YouTube and the pdfs can be downloaded from MGF’s website.

The guides cover trench and manhole boxes and larger waler and strut systems of support. MGF manufactures and supplies shoring equipment for relatively small utilities work up to larger excavations for utilities and deep basements and cofferdams for big infrastructure projects, often working with tier one and two principal contractors.

However, it is mainly the many smaller local subcontractors that the MGF and industry health and safety campaigns are targeting.

“The larger companies invariably have very good health and safety procedures and systems of training,” Hesketh says.

According to the CPA and HSE good practice guide on shoring excavations, typically two people die each year due to excavation collapses and a great deal more suffer serious injuries.

“The risks apply to all contractors but it is on the smaller projects where death and injury occur most frequently,” Hesketh says.

MGF’s contribution to industry health and safety initiatives extends to working with construction training body CITB and training colleges, supplying systems for teaching construction qualifications, Hesketh adds.

“We’re now working on developing a series of site safety plans for teaching purposes. A number of industry initiatives are looking at ways of producing new qualifications. At present there is no formal qualification focused on excavation support, but there is certainly a lot of recognition for the need for one,” he says.


MGF’s guides cover large strutted excavations and smaller trench works

As industry training progresses, it is likely it will do so using visualisation technology. MGF is now trying to build behavioural safety into its 3D animations, for demonstrating risks such as danger zones around machines working close to excavations.

“Excavators, while not designed for lifting, are often used for dropping trenching equipment into place,” Hesketh says.

“There are common hazards of standing too close to these operations. We can demonstrate the sequencing of how these risks occur and safe practice and good behaviour of getting clear of the danger zone. We’re building more of this into animations now.”

MGF has two full time animators working in its design office, “giving us a lot of benefit internally and externally when working with clients to develop bespoke systems and devising safe procedures for installing them”, Hesketh says.

The firm has fully embraced use of building information modelling (BIM), he adds. MGF has employed its own in-house BIM expertise and is now commonly interfacing with the modellers of main contractors. MGF’s team is building the design of its excavation support into client’s BIM models. The company also sponsors a postgraduate BIM course run by the University of Salford.

“We’ve become a very digitally orientated company. The whole idea of embracing digital engineering makes sense for business, efficiency and for designing better. One of the biggest benefits of BIM is to health and safety because it allows modelling of construction phases and the interfacing of excavation work with other operations on site,” says Hesketh.

“We can now animate all handling, stacking and installation processes, so are therefore able to trial systems fully before they’re used on site, which is good for safety and cuts a lot of time out of the construction process.”

MGF is also using 3D printing to produce scale models of its shoring equipment – for demonstrating its systems to customers and for undergraduate training.

“We do quite a bit of work with the Institution of Civil Engineers, STEM and contractors to help programmes for encouraging young people into engineering,” says Hesketh.




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