Total UK Highways England and Tarmac launch bitumen trial
A new bitumen binder from Total which aims to increase the lifespan of roads and reduce the need for roadworks is being put to the test in a long-term study.
Total UK has partnered with Highways England and Tarmac to resurface a busy section of the A43 dual carriageway near Silverstone, in Northamptonshire, with Total Styrelf Long Life. Laboratory tests showed the new binder is more resistant to the elements and oxidises more slowly.
Three sections of the road have been surfaced, the first with a standard bitumen, the second with Total Styrelf eXtreme 100 and the third with the Long Life product. But the complexities in tackling the issue are reflected in the length of the trial - which could run up to 15 years.
Total UK’s experts will take samples from each section of the carriageway at regular intervals to measure the ageing performance and key characteristics of the bitumen, and to understand the degradation caused by oxidation and UV exposure.
More durable road surfaces that require fewer repairs lead to lower carbon emissions caused by maintenance work, less money needing to be spent on maintenance and less disruption for road users. Providing asphalt to resurface a mile of single lane carriageway, not including transport to site, can produce up to 26.5 tonnes of CO2, the company claims.
Rick Ashton, market development manager, said: “At Total UK our key focus is Sustainability through Durability. These long-life binders will contribute to achieving clients’ decarbonisation goals by reducing roadworks, saving manufacturing, transport and installation energy, and the associated emissions. This trial paves the way for enhanced highways asset management and predictive deterioration modelling for Highways England.”
England’s motorways and major A-roads are expected to be resurfaced every 10-12 years because water ingress, UV exposure and oxidation cause the surface to deteriorate and crack.
The new technology has previously been tested in the laboratories of Total, and on sections of road in Holland and Germany, but the A43 trial is the first time it has been used worldwide with such high traffic levels.
Mike Wilson, Highways England’s chief highways engineer, said: “We’re always looking for innovative ways to help us keep England’s motorways and major A-roads in good condition. The ultimate priority for us is safety so we invest in new technology and materials to keep those using the roads safe. Longer lasting roads means fewer roadworks, less disruption for motorists and a more sustainable network for everyone.”
Brian Kent, technical director at Tarmac, said it is always pushing to introduce any new technology or innovation that can further improve road durability.
“What we have in this case is essentially an anti-ageing cream for roads - just as these products are designed to reduce and prevent the signs of fine lines and overall ageing of the skin, the new bitumen being trialled on the A43 will protect the road surface," he said.
"It not only has the potential to offer improved value for money to the public purse, but it also contains properties to increase the overall lifespan of roads. Through preventing cracks to the surface of the road caused by elements such as air and water, the longer life bitumen has the ability to reduce disruption, deliver long-term carbon savings and importantly help network operators to better manage their assets."
Highways England has introduced new technology comprising high-intensity strobe lights, all-weather cameras and drive-over pressure instruments to monitor tyre pressures, tread depth and axle weight of HGVs (click here).
Last month the Special Fluids Business Unit of Total launched BioLife, a range of renewable, pure and biodegradable isoparaffins, in the UK (click here).
The construction industry: Facing a mental health crisis
Data collected by the Office for National Statistics has shown that more than 2,000 construction workers took their own lives in 2017. Other findings from a study conducted by the Glasgow Caledonian University show that the problem is getting worse. From 2017 to 2019, the number of suicides per 100,000 rose from 26 to 29, with people in the construction industry three times more likely to take their own lives in 2019 compared to other industries.
Why is the construction industry experiencing a rise in mental health conditions?
Bill Hill, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Lighthouse Club, says that one reason for the rise in mental health conditions is due to financial pressure. He said that it is a “huge factor” in construction, “causing stress, depression, and anxiety”. He added that several self-employed workers are “brilliant tradespeople but don’t have the education”, which may be helpful in running their business.
“They win a project, someone pays them a big invoice but they don’t put money aside for VAT [and then] the taxman asks for payment so they get finance. It tumbles from there. Sole trader-style business management should be taught at apprenticeship level”, Hill said.
According to Lighthouse Club, the industry is “hugely fragmented” and “difficult to reach over half of the 2.8mn self-employed construction workers. “Some larger companies have done a fantastic job on mental health”, Hill says. “But only apply their programmes and workshops to their own staff. Until you get to the huge mass of very capable tradespeople who are getting no input, one of the biggest problems is awareness”.
How can awareness of mental health be improved in the construction industry?
Chief Executive of the Construction Industry Council, Graham Watts, says that the industry has made positive steps forward on mental wellbeing but that “it is still not doing nearly enough” to support staff in this area.
Looking at how awareness of mental health can be improved in the industry today, Watts said: “Today, I would hope it is easier to be more open about mental health. I’m impressed by the leadership that is being shown by some companies – for example, Tideway, where Chief Executive Andy Mitchell has ‘mental health first aider’ immediately after his email sign-off – but it is still only being exhibited by the best of the best”.
Lighthouse club has also launched a campaign for construction workers to raise more awareness of mental health in the industry. Named “Help Inside the Hard Hat”, the campaign makes all workers aware of the services that Lighthouse Club offers, “regardless of employment status”, the charity says. Lighthouse Club is taking particular care to encourage contractors to put up posters on sites and ensure that they reach all workers, including the self-employed.
The charity also has a free app that allows workers to access mental health information and resources. Lighthouse Club is also improving the availability of information by working with partners such as the Safer Highways charity and Glasgow Caledonian University. But the charity is working on improving the understanding and destigmatisation of mental health in the industry one step at a time. Hill said: “The first thing is suicides,” says Hill. “That is the number one benchmark of all the work we are doing – are we reducing suicides in the industry?”.
If you are a construction worker - or someone you know is and you need support, you can call the Lighthouse Club helpline on 0345 605 1956.