The proliferation of steel framing systems (SFS) has shown no signs of abating during the difficult economic conditions for the sector, so the time has come to effect the next stage in the evolution of these modern building systems. Steve Halcrow, FPDC’s technical consultant, considers how SFS is spreading and what contractors need to be aware of when carrying out SFS packages.

Light Gauge Steel Framing is now a common sight on many construction sites, and with good reason: they are fast, clean, cost effective and their continuing evolution is seeing them being put to an ever greater and more diverse range of applications.

At the present time there is no stipulated British Standard for the design and installation of these systems. This can lead, on occasions,to problems arising from disputes over tolerances, misunderstandings over what has been designed and by whom, and how we police the installation of these vital, partially structural, elements.

There are some excellent publications available from the Steel Construction Institute (SCI) which cover aspects of the work surrounding SFS systems, and the manufacturers produce their own guidelines in their literature, which up to now has sufficed but still doesn’t cover every base. There are also some overlaps with standards originally written for other similar work such as light gauge purlins in portal frame buildings. There is a lot of scope for mistakes and misunderstandings if designers use these without fully appreciating the differences.

Clients and specifiers use the performance values and technical information that manufacturers and suppliers provide about their products and they must have confidence in this information. The implementation of British and European standards would give further assurance that the performance values quoted by manufacturers have been derived correctly and in accordance with the latest relevant standards.

FPDC has been working with key stakeholders to develop a new standard which covers SFS. The objective is  to create an accepted industry standard and then establish a new formal British and/or European standard.

SCI has also been working on a standard related to pre-fabricated panels but with significant relevance to the stick-built in-situ methods which will be familiar to many members.

FPDC is collaborating with SCI so that the information can either be included in one document, or if more than one eventually exists that they will be coherent in their style and content. We feel it is vital that our members are represented in the production of such a document, as our experience as installers will add to the expertise already being utilised by SCI and will have an important bearing on the final content.

We hope it may be possible to “dual-badge” such documents so that they have the endorsement of both bodies and hence carry considerable weight as they are adopted as the industry standard.

Another initiative that has taken place simultaneously has been the piloting of apprenticeship courses in SFS. Ealing, Hammersmith & West London College has run a pilot course, designed and delivered with the co-operation and support of ConstructionSkills. The result was positive and, with small amendments to the content and delivery method, the course will continue to run and hopefully spread further throughout the country.

This work is now beginning to gather pace. For those members and associate members who previously offered their help, thank you, and even if you haven’t been taken up on the offer yet you will be soon! Should any other members like to participate in the process of assembling Standards for SFS or indeed for internal drywall systems, please contact me through the FPDC and we will gladly accept any input.