Why Public Perception Can Challenge Productivity

With years of belt tightening and cancelled projects (hopefully) behind us, it’s a good time to reflect on why people without any formal experience in construction have suddenly found themselves with considerable influence over projects we work on. First, let’s consider what appears to have happened, then we’ll get into the reality.

I’ve never known a time quite like the present when everyone wants to stick their proverbial nose into things that they know nothing about whatsoever. It can be incredibly frustrating for project managers to lose time explaining to local residents why their day to day lives are being disrupted by large lorry deliveries, the nuisance of noisy building sites and so on. I’ll be honest, I don’t particularly like any of those things either, but I would dislike the alternative ways to get steel girders and other bulky materials to site even more.

What appears to be happening is people feel more included in society’s problems as a whole, and in turn take a greater interest in what’s happening on their doorstep and the immediate area. Don’t get me wrong, that’s certainly no bad thing, as it’s a giant step back towards the ‘good old days’. If you take a moment to think about how your parents would feel about progress on a building site as a project progresses, you’ll probably see what happens as this generalisation meets reality.

People see a hive of activity at the beginning of a build. Lots of fencing being erected, workmen measuring out the plots and marking out the land. The diggers roll in, sometimes with reclamation work, sometimes straight into foundation digging. Perhaps the land needs to be levelled or otherwise modified. Then the concrete arrives and gets poured into the trenches, and everything….stops. At least that’s the impression. The general public don’t understand how long the gap can be before we can safely continue to build upwards, but as we know, that certainly doesn’t mean nothing is happening. Planning continues, and there’s probably a lot of assessments continuing on site. To the untrained eye, however, it’s just the odd person in a fluorescent jacket wandering around, probably being mistaken for a security guard or caretaker. The chances are that it’s a very well qualified caretaker! It probably doesn’t help either that we’re very good at attracting attention to what we’re up to by having our jobsite radios blaring away throughout the working day.

The point is that we need to remember the effect of perception. We’re working very close to a lot of people’s day to day life, and people like to get about their business as usual. Change has always been divisive. There will be people that have walked their dogs on that bit of wasteland you’re developing, or used it as a short-cut to the newsagent to buy their daily paper for decades. The pressure of deadlines and the boss in earshot doesn’t help us remember, understand and empathise with those people when they look on disapprovingly or start up a lively debate. That doesn’t mean they aren’t entitled to their opinion though, and a little understanding might change the aggravation every morning of obstructive residents into an understanding greeting. They still won’t like it, but they’ll likely understand you don’t make the decisions, and resign themselves to ‘progress’, whatever that means.

It Would Be Funny If It Wasn’t So Serious…

Posted on March 4, 2016  in construction

In the building game, things do go wrong from time to time, it’s the nature of the job. Whether its as serious as theft or just inconvenient like unexpected obstacles to progress,  as project managers, we are paid to keep those to a minimum, and as far as possible we should only be dealing with modifying plans for minor mishaps or unseen circumstances.

Imagine my sense of humour failure this week when we were on site, preparing to hand over after the second fix was complete on our latest project, a 12 storey block in the heart of an industrial zone in a big UK city. We knew that the timing was crucial, as there were some commercial kitchens being fitted throughout the building, and the client had been remarkable cagey, with the usual nonsense about non-disclosure agreements hampering progress at various points throughout the project.

Fortunately for us, completion was legally complete, so there was no comeback as far as we were concerned, but that doesn’t stop us wanting to help a client in their moment of need, after disaster struck less than half an hour after completion. The problem was those commercial kitchens were to feature oversized range cookers, as well as the Smeg models that had been included in previous discussions. At ground level, that can usually be solved by removing a window or using any available entrance to solve the issues. When they need to be installed some distance from the ground though, that’s an entirely different headache.

We’d gone to great lengths to learn about the appliances ahead of fitting the internal aspects of the building, even going to the probably more cautious than necessary lengths of installing oversized lifts, capable of hoisting heavy equipment to the upper floors. For common equipment, like those items we were aware of, you can just look up dimensions and weights, for example with Smeg range cooker reviews that are generous with the specifics. If we’d been able to get the information we needed (much) earlier in the process, there would never have been an issue, as it would all have been considered ahead of time and plans drawn up.

Of course, a solution was found, but that meant damaging the pristine finish of a brand new building, and a huge unnecessary cost of making good those areas afterwards. There will also be an ongoing risk that machinery will need to be replaced, and it’s going to be even tougher to take those items out and get replacements back in once the premises are occupied and operational. The moral of the story? NDA’s (in our opinion) are all well and good, but only when you really need to keep things secret. I don’t think our team of structural engineers, brickies and plasterers are ever going to be much of a threat to Gordon Ramsey or Jamie Oliver even if they have all the celebrity chef trade secrets!

Simple Building Site Security Considerations

Posted on July 15, 2015  in construction

Crime is a big part of life for many businesses, and construction sites are no different. Whereas retailers need security guards to keep an eye on suspicious behaviour, on our building sites we are forced to make provision for these problems too. While there are parallels, such as using overnight security guards, keeping the building company’s property safe can form a much bigger challenge, as we don’t have the luxury of a well secured shopping mall to protect us.

Common solutions that we draw on include lock up units, delivered to site on a lorry and winched into pace by a crane, but it’s just not convenient to remove all materials, which are often very heavy (such as pallets of bricks) and lock them away every night. That’s why human protection is often required in the form of security guards and night watchmen. If it’s anything larger than a tiny site though, anyone with sinister intentions can easily monitor the movements of a night security team and strike just after they have moved on to a different part or their patch.

Technology has created much better deterrents, and they’re proving quite effective. On a recent project just outside the town of Northampton, we chose to tackle an ongoing problem with crime on a site beside the M1 motorway. This was always going to be a high risk site, because of the remote location and the immediate access to high speed transport links to escape the scene. By using a local team of CCTV installers in Northampton, we fitted cameras around the site in very prominent positions, and it had an instant effect as a deterrent. A lot of the crime was low level, such as fences being damaged or knocked down, so was believed to be children playing on site. Obviously, this is not just a problem for materials being disturbed and damaged, but more seriously very likely to lead to injury (or worse) eventually.

There had been a number of thefts from the site too, mainly of building materials, and a break in to the site office. As with many crimes, it’s not the value of the stolen items that is of greatest concern, it’s the lost productivity and dealing with the administrative tasks of getting back on track. A simple change like adding video surveillance through temporary CCTV cameras made all the difference.

Allowing workers to be confident the site will still be as they left it when they arrive in the morning can help with morale, and certainly the opportunity to prevent injuries to children should spur any site manager into action. It also shows locals that you’re taking things seriously, as a common complaint on building sites is the unwelcome attention they attract.

Construction Safety Begins Before The Build

Posted on August 20, 2014  in construction

Having witnessed countless large scale construction projects, I’ve been fortunate to see some well organised, professional people take charge of incredibly complex project plans. At the heart of these should be safety. That includes public safety, worker safety and visitor safety from the moment the project gets underway, to the completion date when the keys are handed over. In fact, it often goes further, with maintenance contracts the well-being of employees and other people within the building and the surrounding area is an ongoing concern.

Where the less well organised people fall short tends to be in the preparation. That means preparation in terms of drawing up the appropriate blueprint for the project in advance, but also (and importantly) the demolition of existing structures, land reclamation and so on. This might mean that there is little thought for checking for hazardous substances on site, so that the appropriate action can be taken for the project to proceed. A good example would be to check whether there will be the need to find asbestos removal contractors to remove any health risks to workers that are on site later in the build. It’s not a difficult task to arrange these services, as there are some online services to accommodate the booking of the checks. For example, a construction manager in Hastings, dealing with a demolition phase can quickly get quotes and book asbestos removal in Sussex using a simple form.

It’s these simple tasks that are all too often overlooked, and can result in very serious, long term health implications. If you talk about construction site hazards, you’ll probably find that broken limbs and immediate dangers spring to mind, but the asbestos threat is a great example of how much more serious the danger can be. On the face of it, breaking an arm sounds serious, but compared to the fatal lung conditions that could result from a failure to complete a proper asbestos survey and resulting removal it’s a short term injury.

Of course, that’s not to say that keeping the public off a building site and taking sensible precautions such as scaffolding and harnesses when at height aren’t important. The point is that a fully rounded risk assessment must be completed way before the site is even prepared for the construction project to begin.

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