How to prevent formwork failures and keep your worksite safe

Written by Managing Director, Joe Caprara

I admit that this may seem weird to some but ever since I can ever remember concrete has played an integral part of my life. At the age of eight years old I recall visiting large construction sites like Loy Yang Power Stations, bridge constructions, dams (like Thompson River Dam, Blue Rock Dam etc.), civil constructions projects and many, many multi story construction site all around Victoria with my father. From this very young age my passion for construction and seeing things being created was born which is why I decided to become an engineer and specialise in construction and construction management.

As I now celebrate my 8th year anniversary of commencing Cassaform and after 36 years’ in construction I now reflect on the wise word of my father “Do what you love, and you will never have to work another day in your life” – wow how true was that.

Why was Cassaform created? At the time (and it is still applicable today) I felt that the formwork industry either heavily relied on conventional systems or had become stale, and very controlled by the international players offering formwork as a commodity product. I felt that the industry was screaming for a partner with formwork experience to supply and support them throughout all phases of a project. This philosophy still to today contributes to the Cassaform’s success.

My mission was simple, I wanted to source market-leading products from around the globe and shake up the industry. Through our products and services, I wanted to make construction more efficient, faster, and importantly, much safer.

Anyone who knows me, understands the importance I place on safety. Throughout my career in the various roles of project manager, construction manager, construction engineer, construction consultant, and company director, I have seen it all – good and bad. As an industry we have grown and developed, with safety standards and procedures to keep workers safer than when I initially started back in the 1980’s.

However, despite having these heightened safety standards and more protective practices in place than ever before, formwork failures are still occurring. Why is this? Well today, in my opinion there are two primary reasons

  1. Too many formworkers in the industry and the lack of control in what they do. I believe we need to introduce a formwork contractor registration process in Victoria like that of becoming a registered builder. Unfortunately, over recent years there seems to be a trend where someone with formworkers experience starts up their own company. Unfortunately, just because someone gains formwork experience from working in the industry does not give them the skill set to successfully manage people, systems, safety, and finances to run their own formwork company. This inevitably gets them into trouble because in the name of efficiency and cost savings, safety standards are dropped, people are injured, and the inexperienced companies go into liquidation leaving huge debts behind.
  2. The second major issue causing formwork failures today is a combination of ignorance and general acceptance of poor-quality products used within the industry. Despite the huge emphasis on the administration processes behind safety on construction sites and because formwork is only recognised as temporary works, the quality of products used often does not come into question. For some reason they are simply overlooked and not considered which frankly scares the living day lights out of me.

Back in the 1980’s this was not so much of a problem because formwork was manufactured here in Australia and its quality was never really in doubt or questioned. But today formwork products are imported from around the globe. Manufactures, particularly in Europe and Australia produce products to specific standards, but unfortunately the same cannot be said about the mass producers of the world like China where even the raw products used within their production cannot be guaranteed. That is not to say that China cannot meet the high standards, however their manufacturing standards need to be well defined and controlled.

Over the past twelve months for instance there have been multiple formwork incidents around Australia where formwork has failed during or after concrete pours due to poor quality products being used which put workers at severe risk of life-threatening injuries.

The most common failures we generally see are listed below.

Common Issues

  • formwork not being designed by a competent person
  • formwork not constructed in accordance with the formwork design or specifications
  • onsite modifications to formwork due to site conditions not addressed in the design
  • damaged or sub-standard formwork components being used
  • inadequate knowledge of stripping and back propping technique and sequences
  • overloading of the formwork during concrete pouring operations.

Establishing safe work methods are extremely important when it comes to high-risk construction work that forms any part of formwork erection, concrete pouring, and formwork stripping processes. I recommend reading of Work Safe Victoria’s article “Preventing formwork failures” (link in references) – with the key formwork control measures to follow from the article listed below.

My key take outs from the article together with my experience in the industry is that “incompetent people” and “equipment not being used correctly or by manufacturer recommendations” clearly being the biggest issues at the foundation of the problem.

To help achieve my safety goals outlined when setting up Cassaform, sourcing market-leading products was not enough. To achieve the mission I defined and established the minimum service standards within the culture of the organisation which ensured that when products were hired or sold, customers had the support they needed to avoid putting themselves or anyone else at risk.

At Cassaform we have our own in-house engineering team with industry experience that can work closely with clients and other stakeholders throughout all phases of the project process. i.e. from concept and design phase right through to commissioning and handover. With our customer service team being available around the clock to answer any questions or queries our partners have.

Eight years on, I am exceptionally proud of the safety record Cassaform has been able to establish in the industry, and what we have been able to achieve as a company. I am still as passionate as ever about safety and look forward to continuing to shake up the industry with our approach to construction.

Please feel free to contact me directly if you have any questions, thoughts or would like to discuss any upcoming work Cassaform could assist with.

Warm regards,

Joe Caprara 

Managing Director

E: joe@cassaform.com.au | W: www.cassaform.com.au

 

Formwork Control measures

Erecting formwork

  • Ensure a competent person produces a formwork design capable of supporting the expected dynamic and static loads.
  • Where proprietary formwork systems are used, ensure they are erected in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations.
  • Where a custom design is used, including when combining different formwork systems or using proprietary systems outside the manufacturer’s recommendations, ensure the design is completed by an engineer experienced in formwork design
  • Inspect formwork components before use, remove defective components from service and tag them out for disposal or repair.AS 3610 – 1995: Formwork for concrete provides component inspection criteria.
  • Before other trades access the formwork or the concrete is poured, ensure the erected formwork is inspected by a competent person to ensure it has been erected in accordance with the formwork design. The competent person should document the inspection and sign-off the formwork as ready for use.
  • If the erected formwork does not comply with the formwork design: alter the formwork so it does comply with the design, or ensure the designer inspects the formwork and verifies the changes don’t compromise the structural integrity of the formwork.

Pouring concrete

  • Ensure the structural integrity of the formwork has been verified before starting the concrete pour.
  • Establish an appropriate exclusion zone to prevent people accessing the area under the formwork during the concrete pour and maintain the zone until the concrete reaches’ adequate strength.
  • Monitor the formwork during the concrete pour to identify any early signs of failure. The monitors should not access areas under the formwork unless a risk assessment has been undertaken to determine it is safe to do so.
  • Ensure the formwork is not overloaded during the concrete pouring operation.

Stripping formwork

  • Ensure the concrete has achieved minimum strength before formwork removal. This may be achieved by ensuring the minimum curing time specified in the formwork design has been achieved, or receiving appropriate certification following concrete specimen testing.
  • With multi-story construction ensure that back propping is designed and installed to sufficiently distribute construction loads through the lower floors of the structure.

Resources

  1. https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/safety-alerts/preventing-formwork-failures
  2. https://www.safework.nsw.gov.au/hazards-a-z/formwork
  3. https://www.worksafe.vic.gov.au/resources/construction-safety-focus-formwork