Heriot-Watt to research safer construction approaches at the Palace of Westminster

Published:
Palace of Westminster

The Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Programme has partnered with experts at Heriot-Watt University to help protect those working on the essential and complex restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster. 

The Palace is currently at risk of damage from fire or flood that could be caused by a failure in the complex network of outdated heating, drainage, gas and electric systems.  

While the essential work to replace these systems is carried out the risks will remain so the Restoration and Renewal Programme has awarded the University £75,000 funding to develop industry-leading construction approaches to safeguard those working on the project as well as the building itself. 

We want to create an environment where the most natural behaviour is also the safest and most efficient

Professor Guy Walker

Large construction programmes involve thousands of contractors working together in busy and noisy building sites, bringing additional challenges to those involved. These challenges, and risks,  will be amplified when complex works are being carried out in a congested heritage site like the Palace of Westminster. In order to help manage these challenges, experts will advise on how construction workers, designers, and building users could work together in a safe and efficient way while on-site.  

The work will include looking at the full construction project from design stage, through construction and to future operation, and will use technology to rehearse difficult construction challenges to make sure they are not dangerous for workers or damaging to the building.  

Professor Guy Walker, from Heriot-Watt’s School of Energy, Geoscience, Infrastructure and Society, is leading the project and said:   

“The Palace of Westminster couldn’t be further from a new-build project where everything can be tightly controlled and specified, including the people working on site. Instead, there will be a high reliance on skill and the ability of construction teams to adapt to changing circumstances.    

“We want to create an environment where the most natural behaviour is also the safest and most efficient. With technology we can rehearse construction activities in safety. Designers, engineers and construction workers can sit together in a room and use a digital platform to run scenario tests. We can rehearse ways to work better as construction teams and deal with inevitable unexpected problems.”  

Heriot-Watt University is a global leader in construction teaching and training and in key areas of research around smart construction and robotics including health and safety, productivity, digital twinning and autonomous systems.  

The project team is now looking to work with partners in the construction industry on existing projects to further develop their methods before they are finalised for the restoration and renewal of the Palace of Westminster.   

Over the first six months, Professor Guy Walker and team have been working with R&R to prioritise areas and projects where Heriot-Watt’s expertise in the sociotechnical approach and enabling technologies can help design safer work. In the next few months, Professor Walker and colleagues will focus on delivering initial work packages. This effort will be complemented by Heriot-Watt colleagues who will look to increase further collaborations with construction companies.  

Dr Gillian Murray, Deputy Principal (Enterprise and Business), said: “This exciting project will allow us to upscale our frontier research in smart construction, to open up new collaboration opportunities with industry and contribute to a learning legacy including new digital skills, CPD and best practice.   

“The partnership is grounded on the university’s Strategy 2025 values and our mission to create and exchange knowledge that benefits society and will deliver impact in two of our strategic themes, Pioneering in Education and Excellence in Research and Enterprise.”  

David Goldstone, CEO, Houses of Parliament Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority said:  

“As we get on with the job of developing the plan to restore and renew Parliament, it is critical that we create the safest environment for future construction work by working with experts across the UK as part of our commitment to support thousands of jobs.”  

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