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A method statement for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries

Lisa Wagner
Sculpture Conservator

Phil James
Museum Technician

The installation of 12 wall-mounted, middle to large-scale monuments and architectural features made of stone, stucco, and terracotta in the two largest rooms of the new Medieval & Renaissance Galleries was, in its dimensions and timescale of 14 months for completion, a project unprecedented in the history of the V&A. Key to this was the close collaboration between Technical Services and Sculpture Conservation developed during the decant of the majority of these objects between 2005 and 2007.1 The experiences gained in the de-installation highlighted areas that needed further analysis and fed into the production of a comprehensive risk assessment and method statement to support the planning and logistics of a controlled installation process as well as to structure and manage a safe work environment.

Under the Museum's Health & Safety (H&S) policy a risk assessment must be carried out prior to works commencing. This reflects legal obligations concerning safety of staff at work. In such a large project, involving similar, different and related activities taking place at the same time, it was vital to consider the wider context of the work and identify risks, which could arise. A workable method statement concerning work at this scale, however, has to respond to a number of additional requirements, which are also of relevance when considering H&S, and also cover important aspects of work and people coordination:

  • Manpower
  • Material and equipment needs
  • Pace of work and rest periods
  • Need for external contractors' work
  • Installation requirements
  • Conservation needs
  • Training needs
  • Installation process fitting in with other demands on staff and equipment elsewhere in the Museum

An underlying work approach is reflected in the method statement. Two teams, ideally comprising a maximum of two conservators and two technicians, each would work simultaneously in the gallery space building two monuments. Realistically it would sometimes be necessary to alter the team numbers as conditions changed. The two teams would carry out installation work while remaining conservators would prepare further objects for gallery installation in the conservation studio. Every two to four weeks, depending on the physical strain of the installation task, the teams would rotate, bringing the installation teams back to the studio allowing two new teams continue the installation.

The rotation system was designed as a key element in reducing physical strain, exhaustion and stress. At the same time it ensured that two installation projects could be carried out continuously, allowing free conservators and technicians to be employed to work elsewhere in the Museum or in the conservation studio. The method statement, a pre-agreed overall installation approach, as well as a logbook for each installed monument, ensured continuity of the installation method as they act as reference documents for changing teams.

A large tool cage was equipped for each of the two running installation projects with a carefully chosen set of tools. The set of equipment has to be re-filled and put in order before each hand-0ver to a new team to allow for an efficient work-flow. This standard set of equipment was set apart from special equipment needs, particularly fork lifts, gantry, hoists, and scaffold specifications, as these would require scheduling-in for availability, hiring and trained staff to operate.

Highlighting periods when external contractors were needed to erect or change steel scaffolds, to build fabric supports or to insert steel mounts, or, when rest phases needed to be factored in, to allow mortars to set before putting on more weight, are an important part of the method statement as it helped managers to arrange the installation schedule and link with contractors.

Overall, a comprehensive risk assessment and method statement should ensure thorough understanding of the work and the risks involved. It should also provide information which forms the basis for deciding necessary expenditure and, importantly, demonstrates to the Museum that its obligations are being met and that the installation will be managed responsibly. It is particularly important that the Museum's Health & Safety advisors are involved since those preparing the document may not be aware of all the health and safety issues relevant to the project. During the installation process constant monitoring of work should be performed by all persons involved to ensure that they conform to the appropriate health and safety procedures. Therefore, it is imperative to phrase and detail the method statement so that it can be understood by everyone.

Analysing all the requirements with regard to the situation in the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries, provided information which was developed by Sculpture Conservation into a risk assessment and method statement template for major built-in objects that could be produced for each object with little change. The major difference in each case was object-specific handling, material needs and resources. The risks to personnel performing the practical work, others, and risks to objects and Museum conditions, largely remained the same. This consistency in the template allowed the main focus of preparation to be directed at identifying and devising methods for each object installation.

Creating a clear document and applying it to works, raised awareness in people, showed where change was necessary, and brought risk and task analysis to the forefront leading to efficient and cost-effective preparation and work performance while allowing effective responses to changing needs and conditions. It has demonstrated that a good understanding of the work environment and conditions (such as the need for team rotation), the impact of time schedules of external contractors, the provision of accessible refreshment, the impact of dust creation, and learning about health and safety implications (such as hand-arm vibration from drills leading to far reduced exposure limits) cannot be underestimated. The development and application of the risk assessment and method statement has been a very useful tool in aiding the management of these different aspects in the installation of large-scale monuments for the Medieval & Renaissance Galleries.

It is hoped that the method statement will support the work of technicians and conservators involved in similar projects and is available for download in the on-line issue of this journal.2  It should be noted that the template needs to be adjusted if it is applied to any task and after careful assessment of risks. Health & Safety regulations do change and are specific to each country. The V&A and its staff cannot be held responsible for the consequences of using or adapting the method statement template.

References

1. Borges, Victor Hugo López. 'Dormant Giants', V&A Conservation Journal 54 (Autumn 2006), pp.w
6-7

2. Method Statement Download 1

Method Statement Download 2 [Tool Cage Equipment List]

Autumn 2009 Issue 58 special edition