Keeping it green, safe and healthy

WHERE concrete panels are used in multi-floor construction projects – especially high-rise apartment blocks – environmental and safety factors are assuming more significant dimensions than ever. “They’re two sides of the same coin,” says Melinda Louw, marketing director of Echo Prestress, South Africa’s largest manufacturer of pre-stressed hollow-core concrete flooring panels.

An untidy workplace is not only environmentally unacceptable – it’s also potentially unsafe, she says.

The “no-mess” speed and simplicity of installing concrete flooring panels compared with traditional in-situ concrete methods has also become an attractive economical – as well as environmentally beneficial – attraction. Ready-made for fast installation, the intrinsic nature of the concrete floor panel ensures that good housekeeping conditions are met, and that the building site remains relatively tidy.

Analysing the on-site environmental factors involved, Ms Louw says: “Because there is no mixing of wet concrete on site, there’s no dust nuisance. It’s a much cleaner, and therefore a healthier working environment. On some sites you see contractors mixing concrete on bare ground, with the result that you get slurry seeping into the soil. This cannot happen on a site where concrete flooring panels are being installed.”

The green factor

The earth-friendly “green” factor also rules at Echo’s ISO9001-listed manufacturing points. Echo is a huge consumer of cement, and its plants’ storage silos are filtered to prevent dust escaping. Waste concrete is crushed and recycled and used in other concrete products, while unused waste is sold for use in the manufacture of retaining wall blocks. Another beneficial spin-off: no rubble-dumping. The environment wins again.

Slabs are manufactured in a controlled environment, where zero-emission gas boilers instead of coal-fired boilers heat water to steam-cure concrete panels. And because Echo Floors’ plant near Muldersdrift in Gauteng is located not far from smallholdings on the banks of the Crocodile River, the main factory is soundproofed. Nearby, thatched office buildings blend in comfortably with the country surroundings. Smallholders in their rural green peace go about their country chores undisturbed.

While environmental issues are of vital importance, for the Echo group building site safety is the overriding concern, says Ms Louw.

For example,Echo will not supply its panels for any building project unless qualified engineers are involved in the design and construction of support structures.