Skip to content
Civil Engineer blog

Temporary works: the backstage of construction

27 April 2023

Angie Hunter, construction engineering services regional manager at Kiewit, discusses the ICE Civil Engineering journal’s latest special issue’s topic.

Temporary works: the backstage of construction
Tower cranes, formwork, falsework, and marine operations are shown during construction of a new 10-lane cable-stay bridge crossing the Fraser River, prior to demolition of the existing Port Mann Bridge. Image credit: Angie Hunter

Bold. Fast paced. Creative. Temporary works thrive on these themes.

Temporary works engineers are becoming more in-demand as the industry continues to push the limits of what’s possible in design and construction.

To most of the world, temporary works engineering is ‘99% invisible’, so much that even most engineers are not aware that this field exists.

The work performed by temporary works engineers is either completely behind-the-scenes, or the tangible outcome is installed for only a brief period, becoming no more than a moment in history.

And, hopefully, a collection of zeros - zero safety incidents and zero rework.

The latest special issue of the ICE Civil Engineering journal reveals the hidden contributions that temporary works engineers bring to the profession and to the safety and success of construction projects around the globe.

Did you know?

ICE Publishing has released its next special issue of the Civil Engineering journal, available to read now.

Civil Engineering is the ICE’s flagship member journal. Special issues are published twice a year and are devoted to a single engineering topic, project or geographic region.

ICE members can purchase access to Civil Engineering journal special issues at a discounted price which includes exclusive online video content.

Answering the ‘how’ of civil engineering

Have you ever looked at an iconic structure and wondered, ‘how did it get there?’

Answering ‘how’ is the life’s work of a temporary works engineer.

Want to build a new bridge over an existing one which is over 60m above grade, without impacting the travelling public? Temporary works engineers have done that.

Need to fabricate, transport, float-in, and install 4,000 tonne precast concrete monoliths for a nuclear submarine dry dock? Temporary works engineers designed a fabrication yard and custom barges to make this possible!

How do you keep a ferry terminal up and running, while replacing all the existing machinery and refurbishing the historic structure?

By developing a temporary operating system to support the ferry platform, along with integrated trolley beams, cableways, and scaffolds to allow the restoration work to take place without any heavy equipment.

You guessed it, a temporary works engineer designed it!

Getting specific

stadium inglewood
Construction of Sofi Stadium in Inglewood, California, home to the Los Angeles Chargers. Image credit: Angie Hunter

From structural analysis to geotechnical behaviour, barge stability to demolition, a temporary works engineer may master only one or two areas within the field’s vast breadth in a lifetime.

Some engineers may specialise in hoisting, jacking, and heavy haul, while others focus on the design of below grade retaining walls, falsework, or formwork systems.

There are firms that analyse the temporary condition of buildings or bridges during construction or dismantling. There are others that provide solutions for access, fall protection, rebar cage stability, or marine trestles.

No matter the task at hand, they all require construction-savvy engineers who combine years of technical expertise with an innate ability to develop economical solutions to open-ended challenges.

Temporary works risk management

What about the other 1% that is visible to the world? Unfortunately, this percentage is largely made up of catastrophic events that result from temporary works gone wrong:

  • The collapse of a bridge during accelerated bridge construction activities due to errors in the staged construction analysis;
  • a 600-tonne crane tipping due to improper operation in restricted winds and inadequate working surface design; or
  • failure of a launching gantry due to the construction team’s failure to carefully follow engineered procedures.

These are just a few of the events that resulted in multiple fatalities within and outside the construction community.

Incident investigations reveal that the majority of - if not all - temporary works failures could’ve been prevented.

As such, risk management for temporary works is now gradually attracting much needed attention.

Widespread education on standards is needed

The British Standard BS 5975 addresses this topic directly, but most agencies throughout the world don’t require formal risk management practises.

The temporary works risk management programmes (if present at all) are left up to each individual contractor.

Many temporary works designs are unique and sensitive to installation, procedures, or specific loading conditions. The failure of such items results in disastrous consequences.

Therefore, it’s imperative that widespread education for temporary works engineering and its risk management be a primary focus throughout the next decade.

Raising awareness

This first ever issue on temporary works serves to support the goal of raising awareness for this topic.

Everyone can play a part.

Academics can encourage the next generation of engineers to explore the exciting and rewarding field of temporary works.

Those working within a public agency could learn about and specify appropriate risk management processes.

Contractors can implement best-in-class solutions to improve safety and further knowledge within the profession.

Many of the articles in this special edition are the result of ongoing collaboration between temporary works engineers across continents.

It’s extraordinary to see organisations such as the UK Temporary Works forum (TWf) and the US ASCE Construction Institute Temporary Works Committee creating and sharing technical bulletins, attending one another’s quarterly meetings, and providing advice through community discussion boards.

Collaboration is paving the way for a dramatic improvement in knowledge sharing.

This will expedite the development of engineering methods and best practice guidance for challenges that the construction industry has yet to solve.

We look forward to what this next chapter will bring.

Access the special issue

  • Angie Hunter, construction engineering services regional manager at Kiewit Engineering Group, USA