In the last 15 years, the UK has seen two large scale events that have had serious repercussions on the economy. The global crash of 2007 and the recent pandemic have affected businesses across the board, but it’s not unfair to say that building and construction have been among the worst hit both times. When the UK went into lockdown in March, tradespeople on building sites were sent home, and the advice to work from home wherever possible couldn’t be applied.
A few weeks ago, however, the UK not only allowed builders and tradespeople to return to work, but that measures were being put into place to ‘get Britain building’ and give a boost to the sector. Construction firms will be allowed longer on their planning permission to prevent projects being lost, as well as flexible working to prevent too many tradespeople being on site at once and retaining social distancing. It’s news that’s generally been welcomed by building companies, but our first thought was if construction begins again, will we see a new demand for steel?
Although we may not think of it immediately, construction actually accounts for more than 50% of the demand for steel worldwide. Our modern cities are – literally – held up by steel. In some cases, this is quite obvious and the glass-and-steel frame skyscrapers that have been appearing across the world for decades use lots of steel, but our favourite material is also there for any building that needs structural strength adding. Everything from car parks to schools need steel, but many building foundations are now steel-reinforced concrete.
When you move beyond the structural benefits of steel, you’ll still often find it being used as a material of choice. In the home and workplace, steel forms the backbone of many heating and cooling systems, whether it’s the housing for the equipment or the ducting that carries the air. Steel is relatively cheap, strong and comes with a wide range of treatment options, so it’s the natural choice for internal fixtures, even in domestic usage.
This is also before we consider the other uses of steel that are essential for the construction of our new homes and workplaces. More building requires more scaffolding, which is commonly steel tubing. Provision of electricity needs steel pylons and a large amount of the equipment is made from steel. Gas provision is also relies on steel, as all low and medium pressure mains are made from steel or polyethylene. As much as it may seem like a different world, steel also underpins the digital provision of internet services!
For those who work with steel, it’s no surprise that it’s an essential construction material, both for offering structural strength and for supporting the tradespeople who build our houses, schools, offices, hospitals, car parks and dozens of other different buildings that we rely on and use every day. As the country returns to work and construction becomes a part of the UK’s recovery plan, we’re quite happy to remember that steel itself is helping to support those plans.