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Fatigue focus to improve UK tunnelling safety

The importance of understanding the impact of fatigue on safety during tunnelling has been highlighted by both Transport for London and Tideway.

Speaking at GE’s sister title New Civil Engineer’s Tunnelling Summit, TfL major projects director Stuart Harvey and Tideway asset management director Roger Bailey said both organisations were looking at working patterns to reduce fatigue.

“The UK tunnelling industry has improved safety standards significantly but, based on statistics, over the course of Tideway we would kill two people and injure many more,” said Bailey. “Good is just not good enough when it comes to safety.”

Harvey said that safety was a core value within TfL. “The tunnelling industry is getting safer but there has been a blip in the last few years which means we cannot become complacent,” he said.

“We have started looking at the fatigue induced by 12 hour shifts and have decided that it is not the best way and we’re trialling using three, eight hour shifts on the Bank Station Upgrade.”

According to Harvey, TfL believes that 12 hour shifts doubles the exposure to accidents. “We are seeing a 25% improvement in productivity on Bank with the new shift pattern,” he said.

Tideway has specified that shifts should be no longer than 10 hours as part of its work to drive up safety standards during the life of the project. Part of the initiative includes a mandatory multi-day “on-boarding” induction process which includes an immersive experience with actors dealing with a death on site for everyone working on the project.

Delegates who had undergone the process described it as “fab” and “unique” and felt Tideway had achieved its aim of making a personal connection through a memorable induction process.

During a question and answer session, delegates called for clients to set fixed lengths for shifts so that pricing was comparable but HS2 chief engineer Tim Smart said that it was up to the contractor to set the shift pattern. Bailey added: “We have set shifts at a maximum of 10 hours but it is up to the contractor to develop a fatigue management plan. More data is needed to understand the implications and we don’t want to tell contractors how to do their jobs.”


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