Piling is an essential element of construction and, without solid foundations, our buildings and structures would not last. Despite how crucial piling is, the skill and knowledge of piling contractors is often underestimated, however, becoming a piling operative is an extremely reputable career within the construction industry. To become an expert, you’ll not only need an in-depth understanding of construction, but you’ll also have to apply mathematics, practical skill and geological knowledge.
If you’re considering a career in piling, we’ve put together this helpful guide which tells you everything you need to know about becoming an expert piling contractor. We’ll start by taking a look at the qualifications and training required, followed by a detailed list of the main responsibilities of a piling expert, so that you can gain an understanding of what the day to day job entails.
What qualifications and training does a piling contractor need?
Much like other construction jobs, becoming a piling contractor requires learning specialist skills through training or apprenticeship programmes. Firstly, here in the UK, you must be at least 18 years old to train as a piling contractor, however, you can learn on the job through a Piling Operative Specialist Apprenticeship Programme.
Instead of an apprenticeship, the other option is to complete an NVQ Level 2 Piling Operations qualification- a two-year training programme which includes units such as General Workplace Safety, Piling Operations and Slinging and Signalling the Movement of Loads.
Once you’ve completed your Level 2 training and you are looking to take on a leadership role within the piling industry, you can complete your NVQ Level 3 Piling Supervisors qualification. This is a year-long course which will build upon previous knowledge and experience, whilst also teaching you more about the managerial aspect of piling operations.
If you’ve got as far as your Level 3, but you wish to learn even more, your next step would be an undergraduate or masters degree in either structural engineering, civil engineering or geotechnical engineering. This will enable you to have an in-depth understanding of the design and engineering side of piling and will set you up for a successful career in the construction industry.
At a higher level, where you could be in a managerial role either as a junior engineer, supervisor, foreman or charge hand, you’ll need to complete a Piling Safety Supervisors Training Scheme (PSSTS) or an equivalent programme. On this two-day training course, you’ll gain an in-depth understanding of health, safety, welfare and environmental issues, as well as the legal responsibilities relevant to working on a piling site or construction project. If you’re operating heavy machinery – which all piling contractors will do at some stage – you may also be required to obtain a Certification for all Plant Operators, as well as an official UK driving licence and a CSCS card.
What are the responsibilities of a piling contractor on a construction site?
Once an aspiring piling contractor has earned the relevant qualifications, they’ll be ready to complete piling projects on site. A lot of skill and knowledge must be applied throughout the working day when working on a piling project; after all, holding up a building is a big task, so it must be done right!
The day to day responsibilities of a piling contractor can vary depending on the type of job that’s being completed. However, generally, daily jobs fall into three main areas. Below, we take a look at the three stages of a piling project and the types of tasks required.
Pile foundation design
Whilst junior piling contractors may only be responsible for the actual construction and installation of piling, the more advanced contractors are expected to design the piling foundations, ensuring they’re engineered and perfectly placed. Pilings must be spread evenly beneath a building or structure to ensure that the weight is balanced and the building remains intact. If piling designs aren’t installed properly, this can cause severe damage to the building above, which can, in turn, lead to insurance problems and legal issues for the piling company responsible. In order to avoid this, a piling designer should adhere to the highest Building Control standards, and use their specialist knowledge of piling structures, soil and its bearing capacity, as well as a geotechnical understanding too.
As a piling expert, you’ll be expected to be able to work out which type of foundation or piling system is necessary for your client’s building or structure and create a design accordingly. For a building taller than one storey, or where the ground and soil conditions are poor, deep piling is required. On the other hand, for smaller projects such as home extensions and conservatories, or where space is limited, mini piling is the best option. Grundomat piling is the final type of piling and is used in and around existing buildings where there’s limited access.
One of the most complex aspects of pile foundation design is working out the structural calculations. This is where a structural engineering or geotechnical university degree comes in useful. In order to complete the necessary structural calculations, an engineer will use advanced mathematics, mechanics and materials science. Recently, the process has become more efficient thanks to specialist software on which engineers can design, draw and analyse structures with precision.
Carry out groundwork
The next step is to complete any necessary groundwork to prepare the area for the piling process. Much like groundwork contractors, piling experts will begin with a ground investigation in order to determine any previous uses for the land, the existing soil conditions and any potential problems, such as soil instability, contaminated ground or nearby abandoned mines which could affect where the foundations are laid.
Once the piling team have checked that the ground is safe, they’ll next have to prepare the area. This involves clearing the topsoil from the site and level it out if necessary. If the land is sloped, a retaining wall will have to be installed in order to create an even surface to build upon. In some instances, piling contractors will also need to stabilise the ground. This can be done in various ways, however, soil nailing and ground screws are the most common procedures- both methods will hold any sloping ground in place.
Groundwork may also involve reinstalling or rearranging utility connections and drainage to the property or area of land. The electricity cables, water pipes and other existing services may require various alterations based on the design of the construction site.
Constructing the building foundation
Now the ground is prepared, the next part of a piling contractors job is to construct the foundation. This is where practical skills will be applied, ensuring that the job is finished to a high standard and complying with Building Control regulations.
As we’ve already touched upon, there are various different types of piling and foundations, namely:
- Deep piling: this is the most stable type of piling and is used for new build projects and where there is plenty of space to work. Deep piling can be carried out in one of two ways, either as replacement (otherwise known as bored) or displacement (otherwise known as driven).
- Mini piling: this form of piling can be carried out using similar methods but uses small-diameter piles. As mentioned above, this is ideal for smaller projects or where an existing foundation needs to be reinforced.
- Grundomat piling: this reinforces the foundation of a building using steel tubular bottom driven piles that are welded together, installed into the ground and then infilled with a concrete foundation for extra stability. Again, this piling is best placed where access is limited.
- Ground beams: these are installed in order to support small-scale brick or block work, or placed around the edge of concrete floor slabs. They work much like ceiling beams but are installed into the ground to support the floor, rather than a ceiling above.
- Underpinning: this process stabilises and strengthens an existing foundation without having to demolish the existing structure. Generally, this is used when a foundation needs to be repaired or the use of the building is changing and requires stronger reinforcements.
Depending on the sites you work on, as a piling contractor, you’ll most probably manage projects which use all of these methods, making you an expert in your field. You’ll also be competent at working with a range of materials, including wood, concrete and steel. As a piling operative, you’ll be expected to use various different items of machinery, specifically:
- Rotary augering equipment: used for replacement (or bored) piling.
- Heavy-duty pile driver: used for displacement (or driven) piling.
- Percussion drivers: hammer-like machines designed to deliver an impact blow to the top of the pile. The type of hammer depends on the soil type of the land.
As a piling contractor, you’ll be expected to maintain the machinery throughout use, carrying out any relevant repairs where necessary. These are all skills you’ll pick up throughout your training, but that will be regularly checked and tested throughout your career as a piling contractor.
118 Foundations: Expert piling and foundation experts in Northern England
If you’re in need of the services of a piling contractor, you can rely on 118 Foundations. We’re a reputable, family-run business with a team of qualified and experienced piling experts who always produce quality work at an affordable price. Our team have the skills and knowledge required to design, install and maintain piling and foundation projects for all types of properties.
At 118 Foundations, we offer all of the piling types mentioned above, whilst working to the standards set out by Building Control. You can guarantee that every job will stand the test of time and ensure the absolute safety and stability of your building. To find out more, please don’t hesitate to get in touch with us today on 01706 853 169 or email us on firstname.lastname@example.org.