University of Birmingham, NBIF Facility

Case Study


University of Birmingham


NBIF Facility

Contract Duration:

20 weeks


The National Buried Infrastructure Facility, (NBIF) is a “One of its kind” facility for research, education, and training in buried infrastructure, ground interaction, soil stabilisation, geophysical sensing, pipeline detection and condition assessment, tunnelling, and trenchless technologies, to name but a few.

The key feature of the NBIF is its large 25m x 10m x 5m test pit, into which a section of moving floor was to be installed, allowing for the simulation of sub-surface ground displacements such as subsidence, heave, and slope instability. The moveable section of floor consists of 50 hydraulic actuators, driven by three large hydraulic pumping units, cooled by roof top equipment providing chilled water for the HPU’s in the plant room at workshop level. The complete installation is fully programmable and operated from a first-floor observation control room.

The facility was originally completed in 2020, but during its construction, a serious Health & Safety incident took place making it the subject of an ongoing HSE Investigation. The installation of the moving floor and its associated infrastructure would require a number of high-risk construction activities, such as overhead crane work, confined space working in a riser shaft and the test pit and moving plant and heavy materials through the workshop. Given the ongoing HSE investigation, Murray & Willis were appointed to undertake the management of health and safety for the duration of the works.

Management of the construction risks was not the full scope of works as NBIF workshop projects were to continue in tandem with the installation of the moving floor equipment. These included such items as, Quantum Physics experiments running in the sand pit area for many weeks, the installation of high-speed centrifuge equipment and a full-time test rig for a 1.8m x 5.5m pipe, with data gathering carried out remotely from Germany.

By implementing a management system that included detailed risk assessments, method statements, special workshop inductions, permit to work systems, exclusion zones, safe zones and daily, all party health and safety briefings, a global safety strategy was established in which contractors, NBIF staff and students became equal partners, enabling the work to be completed successfully, with zero incidents.

Murray & Willis’ management of the project received praise from the NBIF and principal designer, but perhaps the last word should go to the team leader of the Quantum Physics Group who said simply, “Thank you for keeping us safe.”

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