End of the pier show

12 March 2010

A spectacular performance at the end of Weston-super-Mare’s pier is set to thrill holidaymakers when it opens this summer. Stephen Cousins reports. Photographs by Chris Abbot.

At around 6.30 in the morning on 28 July 2008, just as locals in the quiet Somerset seaside resort of Weston-super-Mare were stirring from their sleep, a fire broke out in the north tower of the town’s famous Grand Pier pavilion. By 7am, the fire had become an inferno, which ripped through the grade II-listed wood, iron and steel structure. By 8.30am, Weston’s most important tourist attraction was reduced to a charred, smouldering wreck.

Looking across Weston bay today, it’s hard to believe that such dramatic events could have taken place so recently. The charred black skeleton of the Edwardian structure is gone, replaced by a gleaming new pavilion with four cylindrical towers and a distinctive, wave-shaped roof.

Although most of the businesses along the sea front have closed for winter, the pier itself is a hive of activity as a 140-strong construction team works towards the reopening this August.

The £39m rebuild is first time a pier has been constructed in the UK for more than a century and presented a host of challenges to main contractor John Sisk. Not least has been the site’s location a quarter of a mile out to sea, bringing the problem of transporting thousands of tonnes of steel and other materials along the pier’s promenade, most of which escaped the fire, or on the type of landing craft normally used to carry tanks.

Crawler cranes, meanwhile, needed to lift heavy steel members for the frame, had to be supported on barges floating in the Bristol Channel’s notoriously dangerous currents. In fact, the logistical challenges were so complex that Sisk appointed a dedicated logistics team to co-ordinate the project.

Building a 21st century pier meant designing the structure to cope with heavy, variable loads created by new thrill rides, while steel fabricator and installer William Haley Engineering had to adapt beam designs to fit with the existing structure that had not been destroyed by the fire.

Despite its seaside location, it’s fair to say that Grand Pier has been no holiday for Sisk project manager Andy McGoldrick and his team. “You could just say we are just building a big steel shed with a fancy curved roof 300m out to sea, but all the other challenges have made it the toughest job I’ve worked on,” says McGoldrick. “It’s totally different from conventional building, there are hundreds of logistical problems and you have to allow for extreme weather and tides. You need about three different backup plans and when none of them work you just have to get on and build it. I’m losing my hair, but it’s been very interesting!”

Sisk’s flexible attitude to the challenges won it the contract, says Kerry Michael, who owns the pier with his wife Michelle. “Grand Pier posed challenges no one could foresee. Some contractors who tendered took a traditional hard line approach and wanted everything spelled out up front, which was impossible,” says Michael. “Sisk was more open minded and showed it was prepared to improvise solutions when necessary.”

Viewing detailed drawings for the new pavilion, you can’t help but smile. How often do you see “dodgems”, “crazy house” or “ghost train” referred to on plans? The new pavilion extends over three floors and includes 90,000m2 of public space, plus amusements, traditional family rides, a cinema and a go-kart track. One of the four corner towers also has a thrill ride.

“Primarily it’s a family entertainment centre, as it has been for over 60 years, but we’ve updated it by adding the very latest rides to create something akin to an internal theme park,” says Michael. Perhaps the most vertigo-inducing contraption will be the forthcoming gondola ride, which will rotate slowly up a 91m high tower at the head of the pier.

Despite the challenges, Sisk’s reconstruction was simplified by the fact that much of the pavilion’s substructure below deck level survived the fire, including many piles and iron and steel members. Once these were strengthened and levelled, a steel sandwich plate system (SPS) supplied by Intelligent Engineering was installed to create a robust new pavilion deck. This is structurally separate from the pavilion’s hot-rolled steel frame, which stands on strengthened, newly-driven piles that poke up through holes in the deck. Separation ensures that any movement in the frame, caused by dynamic loads from the rides or settlement in the piles, is not transferred into the deck.

Kingspan KS1000 micro rib and standard KS1000 insulated cladding panels are fixed to the frame’s exterior to create the pavilion’s art deco-inspired walls, while a SpeedDeck SpeedZip standing seam roofing system is being installed to realise architect Angus Meek’s vision of a curving roof inspired by dolphins and the bodies of vintage cars.

Work on the rebuild began in early 2009 when maritime contractor Commercial Marine & Piling carried out £9m of enabling works to clear debris, drive new support piles for the pavilion and improve the steel framework below deck. Conditions were harsh with temperatures dropping as low as 3oC.

A second firm, Tema Engineering, then installed additional steel floor beams under the main pavilion, bolted by simple connections to existing steelwork, to create a stable platform for the new SPS deck. This work was vital as in some places levels in the existing steels varied by as much as 8 inches.

John Sisk began work on the steel superstructure in October. The biggest challenge was moving 1,100 tonnes of steel, plus lifting equipment and other kit from the beach compound to the end of the pier – a distance of more than 300m.

The logistics team considered several options, including a floating bridge and positioning three cranes along the pier to pass loads along its length. “When the original pier was being built in 1903 the contractor first drove a series of screw piles along its axis, then built railway track on top to feed resources to the build as it progressed,” says McGoldrick. “But with the pier promenade already in place the best option for us was to use that in combination with deliveries by sea.”

Analysis showed that the deck could support a maximum axle load of 2 tonnes (the maximum load permitted on each axle of a motor vehicle), so the steel had to be broken down into small batches for transport in purpose-built trailers towed by lightweight fork lift trucks. Heavier equipment would be brought in by sea on the tank landing craft and a smaller delivery vessel.

The hot-rolled steel members for the frame, weighing up to 5.5 tonnes each, were lifted into position using three cranes positioned on barges: a 200-tonne capacity crawler crane positioned on a 1,500-tonne capacity floating spud leg barge (spuds secure the floating work platform to the seabed to prevent movement and drift), an 80-tonne crawler on a 500-tonne spud leg barge, and an 80-tonne mobile crane on a jack-up barge.

“The jack-up was a godsend because it can operate independently of tides so we weren’t restricted to using it when the tide was out, as we were with the floating barges,” says Matt Bryant, project manager at William Haley Engineering.

Grappling with changing tides, unpredictable weather and small but frequent loads of steel, Haley was hard pushed to meet the 11-week programme for the steel, as Bryant explains: “When work started we had one crane landing pile extensions, one landing decking panels, and one working on the main frame. Everything had to go up in the correct order and if there was a break in the bad weather we really had to take advantage of it. We always had a couple of spare loads of steel waiting in the beach compound ready to go up.”

Bad weather also endangered other areas of the project. A three-week cold snap in the weather caused ice to form in concrete being pumped down a pipe along the promenade. “You just can’t heat a pipe that long. Even using 350 bars of pressure the concrete mix started to segregate,” complains McGoldrick.

Steel connections for the pavilion frame were complicated. Before landing steel columns on the new piles, William Haley first had to cut flat tops for the piles, then weld on pile extensions to bring each pile up to the same height.

The extensions poke up through holes in the SPS deck and provide a surface, called a cap plate, for the columns to stand on. Once the new piles were in position, the engineer set out a grid showing exactly where to drill holes in the cap plate to fix columns into.

For the deck Sisk wanted something lightweight that could be laid quickly and provided a tough surface to work on as soon as it was put down. “The SPS deck fit this brief as it delivers a high stiffness-to-weight ratio and is an efficient alternative to both stiffened steel and reinforced concrete,” says McGoldrick. Each composite deck plate comprises two steel plates bonded with a polyurethane elastomer core, which transfers shear forces between each plate, eliminating the need for stiffeners. The deck comprises 200 2m x 10m SPS plates.

With work on the steel frame complete and most of the cladding up, the build is more than half way towards its scheduled completion in August. But the challenges posed by this extremely confined site remain. Sisk has just erected a huge scaffold ramp along the length of he pier, needed to carry 85m-long sections of top sheet up to the roof. Watching the long chain of operatives walking the roof sections up, one is reminded of lemmings filing towards a cliff edge.

Pier pressure seems to have affected everyone on this job, but the challenges haven’t dampened the team’s spirits. “Most of the lads are proud to be working on Grand Pier. There’s a sense that people are building something more than a building, there’s a historical connection that spurs us on,” McGoldrick concludes.


Pier timeline

SEPT 09A beach compound for materials is built

OCT Sisk starts to erect the frame; Jack-up barge and mobile crane in place

DEC The cladding evokes art deco style

JAN 85m roof sections go up the ramp


Beam gymnastics 

Blending old and new steel structures

Working alongside Tema Engineering, steel installer William Haley Engineering tried to preserve as much of the grade II-listed structure as possible by incorporating it into the new design. Sometimes this meant developing new designs for beams and connections.

The trickiest of these details occurred where five steel lift pits had to be sunk into the pavilion deck. The example shown is typical. A new cranked steel beam (a) was manufactured to support the lift pit (b), which was also prefabricated in Haley’s factory to speed erection.

A gap was first cut out in an existing steel beam (c), then the cranked beam was inserted and bolted to it with steel plates (d). Two of the existing piles provide additional support at these connections.


Why we specified

Hakitec 750 temporary roof

Bedford Chambers

Steve Huntley, temporary roofing sales manager, Harsco Infrastructure

Scaffolding contractor SGC wanted a totally safe solution that didn’t require its workers to climb over the roof of this grade II-listed building. The roof needed temporary weather protection while it was having a new permanent roof fitted as part of a £35m project to create a headquarters for an international technology company.

They approached us to hire the system after speaking to temporary roof manufacturer Haki. We have a successful partnership with Haki and have collaborated  on several temporary roof and shelter projects.

SGC had considered deploying a crane to lift in a temporary roof, but the restricted Covent Garden site didn’t allow room for this. Public safety was also paramount – thousands of people are walking through Covent Garden every day – so they wanted to avoid carrying loose scaffolding poles and beams where possible.

Remarkably, the entire Hakitec roof was rolled out from a single guardrail-enclosed scaffolding platform at the gable end of the building, with no roof access required to create a safe system of working at height.

The roof is erected progressively in sections, pushed out on rollers that run along scaffolding around the building perimeter. Each section comprises a roof truss and uPVC cover.

The “roll-out” method increases the speed of erection and the fully weather-proofed enclosure was completed in just three days, which would have taken a week or more using a crane. It also saved on labour.

The amount of equipment needed on site was also reduced because the Hakitec 750 is built in 3m-wide bays, while competing systems are only 2.5m wide. The roof canopy can also be opened up at any time to crane in materials.


Tips of the Trade

Safety tagging for scaffolding and access

01 Simplicity

Ensure your safety tagging system is simple and easy to use. The traditional holder and insert system remains one of the most effective: the plastic holder is attached to the structure at all times, with inspection information recorded on the rewriteable insert. If the insert is removed the holder will display a “Do Not Use” message.

02 Visibility

Tags must be clearly visible where minimal effort is required for workers to see them. For example, they should be attached to all legal access points on scaffolding, ie the ladders and stairways used to access the platforms. As far as possible, ensure tags are fixed at eye level.

03 Tag design

There is a wide variety of one-size-fits-all tags available to help employers meet legislation on equipment inspection, but tags should ideally be designed for the equipment they are managing. For work at height, visual tagging solutions are available for scaffolding, mobile towers, podiums, ladders and fall arrest equipment, all with unique holder and insert combinations.

04 Never “safe to use

A visual tag should never be labelled “safe to use” as it is only ever safe to use at the time of inspection. Should the equipment become faulty between inspections this message 
could jeopardise a worker’s safety. We recommend the label should read “safe 
to use at time of inspection”.

05 Electronic inspections

Use an electronic inspection system, such as Safetrak, to inspect scaffolding and access equipment. The inspection criteria can be entered into a handheld PDA device, then downloaded into the office computer.

Chris Nix, UK sales manager, Scafftag


Product news

Layher’s Allround modular Bridging Truss System can be used as a footbridge or as a support girder for heavy loads. With bay sizes available in either 2.07m or 2.57m lengths, various sizes of walkway can be built, reaching spans of up to 30m. It can also be used as a clear support girder over obstructions for the erection of scaffolding.

Several trusses can be assembled next to each other to increase foot traffic or create a temporary work platform. The system can be built either insitu or pre-assembled at ground level and craned into position.


Highland Colour Coaters has launched Colourgalv, a corrosion protection coating the company says combines the benefits of galvanized steel with durability and abrasion-resistance that paint-based systems cannot match.

Colourgalv is a hardwearing organic coating that can be used on a wide range of substrates from structural steel to street furniture. It is available in more than 250 RAL colours and a range of textures. Highland is accredited by the RIBA to deliver CPD material on the corrosion protection of architectural steelwork.


The newly launched Pop-Up+ is a taller version of the Pop-Up scissor lift developed for indoor, low-level access. Replacing the need for ladders and steps, the Pop-Up+ has 

a platform height of 2.5m and working height of 4.5m. The machine can fit through standard doorways and enter passenger lifts, while the battery allows it to carry out more than 150 lifts on one charge. A handset controls elevation and retraction. Once fully retracted, the lift will fit onto a small flat-back vehicle. The stabiliser system is also fast to deploy.



Innovation in riser safety

Managing safety around riser shafts is a notoriously time-consuming business which can divert valuable resources from a project. An innovative new product called RiserSafe aims to eradicate that problem by plugging floor slab penetrations from the start of frame construction to completion.

Suitable for any multi-storey development, each RiserSafe unit comprises a rectangular steel frame set into the floor slab and capped by a load-bearing metal plate that can be removed to allow operatives to enter the riser.

Later during the build, the plate is replaced with one that includes holes for service pipes and ducts, which are also capped to allow operatives to stand on them safely.

Since its launch by manufacturer Ambar Kelly in October, RiserSafe has generated considerable interest. Contractor Carillion is installing it on several projects in the healthcare sector, while Mace and Bovis Lend Lease are planning to use it on projects in London.

It has also been nominated in the product of the year category at Building magazine’s 2010 Building Awards.

Alex Bardett, managing director of Ambar Kelly, says: “I used to work as a construction manager for Laing O’Rourke and Bovis Lend Lease for over 15 years and was constantly amazed at how much time was spent managing riser safety.”

Riser management typically requires a permit system, which dictates that only one person can enter a riser at a time, explains Bardett. “So you might have someone wanting to get on with building a wall, but they can’t because an M&E contractor is already inside the riser.”

“RiserSafe eliminates that problem because there’s effectively no riser shaft, which means every floor slab is available to work on throughout the project.”

Bardett adds that RiserSafe costs about half the price of using scaffolding and temporary protection works, quoting about £500 a square metre compared with £1,000. Project managers on live projects should be interested to know that it is also available with a lead time of only two weeks.

However, Bardett acknowledges that it may be a while before the industry catches on. ‘Most construction managers still don’t appreciate the huge amounts of time and money a hole through a floor slab is costing them.”




Product news

Lift-truck specialist Samuk’s B Series heavy-duty counterbalance forklifts now come in diesel and LPG models with lifting capacities from 1.5 to 3.5 tonnes. Both offer a clear view mast and a high driving position. Oil changes are required at 500 and 1,000 hours. The vehicle’s long-life disc wheel and transmission brakes have a target working life of 8,000 hours.


Capital Safety’s ExoFit NEX full-body fall protection harness includes new features designed to improve safety and comfort. The Duo-Lok quick-connect buckles have an efficient locking mechanism that holds any adjustment to eliminate slippage, even when supporting heavy tool belts. A winding ratcheting torso adjuster spools the webbing to ensure the harness fits snugly, while padding and other protective elements prolong the harness’s service life.



News in brief

Firms fail to meet scaffolding standards

Almost 90% of scaffolding companies are failing to meet minimum industry standards set by the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation. In 2009, the NASC received applications from 65 companies, but just nine of those (11%) actually met the standards required. Most applicants were refused on the grounds of employing less than the NASC threshold of 75% directly employed labour. Others failed to meet the NASC expectation that more than 75% of scaffolding operatives are accredited to the Construction Industry Scaffolders Record Scheme. Despite these strict criteria, the NASC has 210 member companies, equating to almost 15,000 scaffolders in the UK.


Report highlights advantages of SFS

Steel framing systems can reduce construction costs by up to 39%, according to a recent report commissioned from Faithful & Gould. It analysed the construction cost differences between traditional block work and manufacturer Metsec’s framing system. The report was based on a four-storey residential building and compared the SFS against block work.

Other than cost-savings, the research highlights a number of advantages, including time savings and environmental issues. The Metsec report recommends that building users and clients consider the benefits of earlier building delivery and the resultant advantages when deciding whether to use block work or SFS.


New rules on high working sought

The British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF) has called for a new accreditation scheme for people working at height. “A lack of a single recognised training or accreditation scheme for people working at height is the most important cause of accidents,” said the BSIF in a statement. “There is still no means to test the competency of an individual.”

The BSIF also blamed accidents linked to working at height, which account for a quarter of all major injuries in the workplace, on the range and complexity of safety equipment in use, and its misuse. David Hall, BSIF chairman, commented: “Many lives are lost due to negligence, often due to ignorance and a lack of training.”


Training list for equipment inspectors

The Working at Height Safety Association has produced a list a member companies that can offer training courses for the inspection of harness and fall-protection systems. The list responds to concerns from the HSE that “competent persons” examining lifting equipment are also carrying out inspections of fall protection equipment without the necessary training.


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