Health & Safety In Construction

If you’ve ever heard the sound of a full grown adult male sliding down a roof and falling to the ground, you’ll appreciate the sickening feeling you get when the thud of  flesh and bone making contact with the ground, finally informs your astonished brain that the events of the previous 3 or 4 seconds did actually happen. You are then faced with the uncertainty of what you might find… such can be the perils of the construction industry.



Government statistics show that during the year 2015/16 there were 45 fatalities in the industry compared to 29 in Agriculture and 27 in Manufacturing. The highest number for England by region is the North West (17) matched only by London.

The good news for the North West is the number is slightly down on the previous 5 year average though not so in London where the figures have increased over the same period to almost double.

The figures per 100,000 employees for the year 2015/16 shows that Agriculture still faces the highest challenges for safety (7.73 fatalities) with Construction showing an average of 1.94 for the same number of employees.

During the same year there were an estimated 79,000 work related illnesses reported which accounts for a massive 2.2 million working days lost.

Slips trips and falls lead the way with 23% followed by lifting and handling 22% and falls from height 20%. 11% is attributed to falling objects and the remainder made up of other illnesses that include stress and anxiety. The costs amount to millions…

New Skills, risky practices

Almost every town in the UK will currently have some form of construction taking place. The demand for housing is still facing a shortfall and government targets over the next 3 to 5 years mean that there will continue to be on-going developments both large and small.

Construction is now a great career opportunity compared to the recession years when many skilled workers chose to leave the industry altogether taking with them a wealth of experience and reliability.

Those workers coming into the industry from college will have been taught, shown and indoctrinated with Health &Safety Regulations and good working practices. If you, as a skilled and experienced employer, don’t adhere to those same standards, then how long will it be before the younger less experienced workforce fall into bad practices and start taking risks.

It can be a dangerous job – Health & Safety regulations help so don’t ignore them. Yes accidents can and do still happen so, as an industry, we need to ensure as far as possible that the risks are minimised. Let’s face it, cutting corners or costs or relying on risky practices you’ve managed with for years, won’t ever compensate for a broken neck or other life changing injury… and even just a broken arm will put you out of action!

Zero Waste – Wonky Veg

If you grow your own veg what do you think the chances are of you rejecting a misshapen potato or carrot?  Would the effort of your labour find itself thrown into the bin rather than the pot? Probably not so why is it that between 20 and 40% of both fruit and veg produced in the UK end up either sent to landfill (another story, another blog,) used as animal feed or ploughed back into the ground. And wasted food production squanders the water, fertilizer, pesticides, seeds, fuel and land needed to grow it, wonky veg

Imagine if, as an independent fruit or veg grower furnishing only your own table, you had to grow and then throw 40% of the resulting produce, based on you or your family rejecting it on the grounds of being less than perfect to look at. As a nation we already waste a ridiculous amount of food – 50% – that finds its way onto the supermarket shelves and into our cupboards and fridges. Add to that the stuff that never gets to the market and it seems incredulous that we can’t do better.

Supermarkets would have had us believe it is we, the consumer, that wouldn’t buy anything that isn’t standardised in shape, size and colour? Previous research by one of the big supermarkets then suggested that more than half us would (and now do) consider wonky veg and with a financial incentive, are even more into it.

Step up a couple a famous chef/presenter/TV personality guys and what do you know? Supermarkets decide that they can sell less than perfect looking produce and we the consumers will buy it. Not only that but supermarkets are also making a positive impact on other food waste through charitable food donation, surplus food turned into animal feed and also converted to energy. Wonky veg that doesn’t make it onto the shelves – yes there are still guidelines – can be converted into alternative consumer products such as ready-made mash, juices or even vegetable noodles. Win win for the consumer, the supermarket and the grower.

However there are still 800 million people across the world suffering from hunger and ironically, there’s currently a shortage in the UK of certain foods produced in Spain!

More to be done… Germany has just opened The Good Food, a supermarket that only sells salvaged food waste with no fixed prices so customers pay the amount they think the products are worth. Although the first in Germany, there are other zero waste supermarkets around the globe. The concept is something of a social movement designed to spread awareness of the problems of food waste.

The generations that remember food shortages in the UK and rationing during and after the war, are the last stalwarts of the ‘waste not want not’ approach to food. They won’t be around for ever so we all need to make a difference. Let’s have our own war on waste!

Wet wipes – modern day convenience or ecological nightmare?

impacting on the environment. It took many years and government intervention to tackle the plastic bag issue which we know has been successful in reducing the amount of bags going into landfill. More recently the use of flushable wipes has come to the forefront. Not as a problem with landfill but as a huge problem with sewers. It appears that the very handy and convenient wipe is responsible for about half the cases of sewer abuse (who knew?) in the UK. Much to the delight of sewer rats who, it has been found, use them as a luxury bedding item when making their nests.

Flooding and Fat…

Reports suggest that in the South East one of the water utility companies spends £1 million every month just clearing blockages half of which are caused by flushed food fat and wet wipes. They have around 109,000 km of sewers and 14 million people. As a result thousands of customers in the region suffer from sewage flood In the news recently we’ve seen an example of another modern day convenience products either to their homes or gardens. Seems a ridiculous amount of money and a lot of inconvenience however come farther North and it gets worse with an astounding £20 million a year spent in the North West alone and with only half as many customers as our friends in the South East. That’s 53,000 blockages. In 2013 a 15 tonne lump of congealed grease in London sewers took almost 3 weeks to remove again fat and wipes were the main culprits with serious flooding a very real threat.

Domestic drainage pipes are 10cm (4 inches in old money) and not designed to carry the waste that’s being put into them but it seems we put all manner of things down the toilet including healthcare waste, razor blades and medicines, not forgetting the good old cotton bud. Smaller items can get through the wastewater filters in treatment plants and end up in rivers; the sea and our beaches as clean water is returned.

But what about the flushable wipe?

Already you’re thinking about supposedly flushable wipes that disintegrate quickly and easily but research suggests that this is really not the case. Wipes, compared to toilet paper, are designed to be tougher so can contain plastic resins such as polyethylene. A weekend clearance on UK beaches found almost 4,000 wet wipes washed up – 50 for every kilometre of beach tackled and an increase of 400% over the last ten years. We have 12,500 kilometres of coastline – that’s a lot of wipes. And whilst we’re talking all things coastal, it’s possible that wipes in the sea end upon your plate as the plastic contained in them slowly degrades and is eaten by zoo plankton along with the micro beads in face scrubs. Zoo plankton as the base of our own food chain and is eaten by fish, caught, fried, filleted and served up as a staple of our diet but that’s another story…

So in simple terms – the only things to flush down the lavatory bowl are the bodily waste products we produce naturally, accompanied by toilet tissue designed to degrade quickly and completely. It’s not that difficult to make a difference…

Housing Shortage

One thing you may have noticed as you go about your business, apart from unpredictable weather and a lot of debate about Brexit  is one or more housing developments . Anything from single detached properties in rural locations to 2 or 3 dwellings sandwiched into spaces you may not have thought possible. Add to that the full blown developments of sites to provide hundreds of homes you might be forgiven for not recognising that the UK is still in the grip of a housing shortage.

Switch on your television and somewhere there will be a programme about homes. Building, renovating, relocating or even worse, the chance to look at dream homes that to you will remain exactly that… a dream!

Despite all this and the buoyancy of the construction industry, coupled with low interest rates for mortgages and a commitment to make it easier for first time buyers, there remains a housing problem. The number of homes built annually cannot meet the demand and hasn’t been able to for the last 8 years. The gap has become even wider over the last few years which is good for house prices and those already on the property ladder but more and more likely to become an impossible dream for others  still looking to be part of the ‘home ownership party.’ That of course is just one side of the story – the other side being the lack of affordable or social housing with the responsibility for this type of build now sitting with non-profit housing associations rather than your local authority.

The Reasons

There are many reasons cited for the gap between supply and demand which include planning constraints, shortage of land and protected green belt areas as we try to keep the distinction between urban and rural. The government has made changes to policy in the 2012 National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF) in an attempt to make it more of a challenge for local authorities to refuse planning consent. They also added new permitted development rights to allow conversions of buildings previously with a different use to be converted into homes. Planning approvals it however show no noticeable rise for the type of homes most needed.

One solution

It might surprise you then to learn that across the UK there are around 630,000 empty homes with just over 200,000 that have been so for more than 6 months. With around 2 million families on the housing list it seems unbelievable that this is the case and begs the question why? What won’t surprise you is the speed at which empty properties fall into disrepair and the impact this has on the community – before you know it whole streets are boarded up. Now and then councils become innovative and bring in schemes to sell run down properties for £1 in an attempt to regenerate less desirable or run down areas. It’s not a new concept and used to be known as homesteading and there are conditions attached as to who qualifies and how long they have to live there. As an option it’s much better (though not necessarily more economical) than bull dozing old traditional properties with the intention of building new homes and for those people who paid 50p back in 1999 for homes in Newcastle that are now worth 6 figures – they’re probably laughing all the way to the bank.

The Energy debate goes on….

Hinkley Point seems to have been in the news in a ‘will they won’t they’ debate for a long time, with argument and opinion from various camps about the need or not, for the massive financial investment it requires. The cost or saving depending on where you sit,  amounts to billions of pounds not just in terms of the construction but the longer term costs and it isn’t going to get better financially as the technology for nuclear power continues to become more complex and the safety standards more stringent.



If, at the end of the day Hinkley doesn’t go ahead, how does the UK government plan to cover the projected shortfall in energy supply? Current information suggests that over the next 15 years or so our capacity for electricity generation will be reduced by 60% compared to capacity in 2010. Coupled with carbon reduction targets and the power that Hinkley would provide against national demand, there’s a big hole to fill that can’t utilise coal or a big increase in gas production.


The fallback position seems to be an increase in offshore wind which, along with solar power, is falling in price making it, longer term, a good economic argument as well as an environmentally sound one. The UK has some fairly substantial wind farms already in place such as the London Array numbering 175 turbines with the potential to power 480,000 households annually. The counter argument is that Hinkley could operate at full capacity for around 90% of the time whereas any wind farm at full capacity is closer to 25/50% due to size, location and being at the mercy of weather patterns.


Looking at how other countries are sourcing energy Portugal, using a combined energy supply from solar, hydro and wind, kept the lights on for 4 consecutive days earlier this year with Germany also having a ‘clean energy’ day with virtually all its power sourced from renewable resources.  Last year wind power was able to meet 42% of electricity demand in Denmark, 20% in Spain, 13% in Germany and 11% in the UK. Denmark has plans to meet 50% of demand by 2020 with the elimination of fossil fuels by 2050.

If technological advances can be made in storing electricity, meaning that surplus wind or solar power can be captured, then perhaps the nuclear way of generating power could become obsolete. Opinion amongst experts however suggests this type of new technology will not arrive quickly enough meaning the programme that Hinkley is part of and the plan for other reactors could seriously compromise UK power generation.


Energy is something we all take completely for granted with regard to its availability at the flick or turn of a switch. Few people give any thought to the balance of supply and demand on the National Grid which is a complex process made up of such things termed Fast Reserves, BM Start Up and Demand Turn Up. In simple terms these Reserve Services are needed to deliver power against the demand of the Nation. If you check out the National Grid you’ll see that they employ thousands of people and that although power generation is big business, it’s a challenge still to be met for the future as the following quote from their website implies:

‘We are at the heart of one of the greatest challenges facing our society – delivering clean energy to support our world long into the future.’

The debate continues…


The construction industry is made up of a wide assortment of businesses that range from multi million pound national companies, small independent companies and all sorts in between. Likewise the type of work carried is also made up of an assortment of jobs and contracts.

The one thing they should all have in common is a high standard of workmanship provided in a timely, cost effective and efficient way. Bit of a pipe dream some might say and regrettably they would be right. There are still ‘cowboys’ working out there sometimes with devastating effect. Whether a lack of skill or lack of morals is the main cause for this, fortunately they are in the minority. So what methods can be employed generically that would enable the industry to self-regulate when the range and types of business is so vast?

Let’s talk Benchmarking! This can be a simple method of improving performance using systematic and logical measures that enable you to compare your performance either against others, or against your own past performance. You can then use the lessons learned to make targeted improvements. In this day and age continued development of yourself and your business is needed to separate you from the run of the mill. It includes staying abreast of new regulations, technology and design.kpi

Where do you start?                                                                    

Ask yourself about your competition. Are they better than you? If so why?

Ask yourself what you need to improve about your own business even when you think it’s all good. Take some time to think about the bigger picture, not just about the next job. Sounds like too much trouble? Luckily help is at hand.

The concept of benchmarking isn’t new to construction but it’s being encouraged by a national set of Key Performance Indicators. This allows companies to measure performance and set targets based around national performance data. It can take many different forms depending on what you want to achieve for your business. For example you might take recycling as a subject looking at the amount of waste generated and how much is recycled. Once you assess what that is, you can look at ways to improve and reduce. Or you might look at Health & Safety.

Performance indicators can be categorised under the following headings; Internal, Generic and Competitive. The important thing is to choose the ones that will help you improve performance rather than the ones that just tell you things that might be good to know. In this way you don’t waste time and effort but you must also acknowledge where the improvements need to be made and then plan, analyse and take action to change things. The outcomes then need to be reviewed. You also need to be persistent if you don’t see results straight away and possibly start with one key area rather than try to look at the business overall.

KPIs can also provide a crucial quick overview of the financial position of a project against budget.

Small Print

Another aspect of where KPIs are important is where a contract specifies rewards or penalties based on performance in relation to particular identified indicators. If these are included in tender documentation they may require the provision of certain information on a regular basis as part of the contract. This can involve a lot of monitoring of processes including sub-contractors as evidence that targets and standards are being met.


This is an old and continuing problem. You might expect in this age of technology and progression in construction and building techniques, condensation wouldn’t be much of an issue… read on!


Condensation occurs when warm air meets a cold surface and can result in warm moisture being released into the air indoors. The consequence of this can be steamed up windows and eventually water trickling down the glass.condensation

Steam from cooking, taking a shower and even tumble driers can cause condensation which might be annoying but there are other more serious consequences if this happens continually over a long period of time.

Intermittent heating of property can add to the problem as warm damp air cools and can no longer hold the moisture. Once heated again the moisture is taken back into the air only to be dropped again when the temperature of the room drops without the benefit of heat creating a cycle of condensation.

The result of this can be decorative deterioration with black mould forming around window frames and on walls which can be difficult to tackle. Condensation can also cause fungal decay in floor timbers where suspended floors are in use.

A more serious form of condensation called interstitial condensation can occur within the fabric of the building and can’t always be seen. This can happen even with cavity filled walls but is not what might be considered common. Rectifying it may include use of hygrothermal material which allows more moisture in than can get out at any one time storing it harmlessly until conditions change so that the water can be released. Not something you are likely to be able to diagnose or remedy yourself – get a specialist in.

Prevention and cure…

Good ventilation and insulation can both help prevent condensation becoming a problem in your home. Ventilation is simple – opening windows or using extractor fans in kitchens and bathrooms will prevent a build-up of moisture and keeping the doors of these rooms closed when in use will prevent the moisture in the air travelling into other rooms. You can of course also run around like a lunatic window cleaner with a squeegee removing the moisture and drying the windows off with a cloth!

Double and triple glazing can be really beneficial as the glass stays warmer and therefore reduces the difference in temperature of the surface and the air coming into contact with it, even from central heating. Walls can be a bit more difficult to deal with particularly in older buildings that may have solid floors and walls that cannot be cavity filled with additional insulation. This can mean that the temperature of the walls and floors drops below dew point which is the point at which the moisture in the air turns to water. This can result in black mould forming on walls which no amount of painting will cover permanently.

Overall, any form of moisture in your property whether from condensation, rising damp or leaky pipes/drain/gutters will eventually cause greater problems than the initial causes so once identified or suspected, if you can’t fix it yourself get a man (or woman) who can!

Jet Streams

There was a time when we knew what type of weather to expect here in the UK dependent largely on the time of year. As a country with a seasonal climate, the four seasons were something we identified with and understood in terms of gardens, clothing, sporting activities and so on. However we are more and more experiencing changes to what we might expect throughout the year with heavier and more persistent rainfall and milder weather when we least expect it.

If you consider where we sit on the globe, the UK has a milder climate than other countries sharing the same latitude for example parts of Canada, due in part to the fact that we are surrounded by water but also thanks to the North Atlantic drift of the Gulf Stream. The factor that affects our weather though is the jet stream. There are four in total and recently they have been in the news quite a lot in association with the extreme weather conditions experienced in various parts of the world.  Think rainfall and flooding that we’ve seen in parts of the UK over recent years. Think also global warming because they are being scientifically scrutinised for possible connections to some of the bigger concerns for the planet.

The jet streams are bands of wind hundreds of miles wide and thousands of miles long that rings the planet and moves the weather around. At around 9 to 16 kilometres above the earth and reaching speeds of up to 200 mph, the jet streams have gotten a great deal of media and scientific attention lately, surrounding recent weather extremes and their possible connections to global warming.jet stream

So what’s happening to them?

  • The Polar jet streams in the Northern and Southern hemispheres are shifting northward and southward respectively – in other words both following what is called ‘poleward movement.’
  • At the same time west to east wind flow in the Northern hemisphere is weakening and slowing down, with the sub-tropical stream in the Southern atmosphere also weakening against the strengthening of the polar jet.
  • Weakening jet streams are inclined to have larger north-south waves meaning as they increase in size they move more slowly from west to east. As a result the weather systems move much more slowly and even get stuck.
  • This increases the possibility of disasters caused by persistent weather for example prolonged spells of rain or drought, long cold spells or heavy snows.
  • Large waves can cause cool air to be pushed in the direction of the equator as a result of low latitudes, with the warm air being pushed towards the poles when the waves swing back creating ‘weather whiplash’ which in turn produces unseasonable temperature extremes.
  • The wavier the jet stream becomes the more it impacts on what we see on the ground
  • Global warning may be the cause of the changes to the jet stream based on faster warming Arctic temperatures compared to the rest of the world, meaning the difference between the coolest and the warmest temperature in the Northern hemisphere is shrinking.
  • So the bigger the difference between the temperature extremes, the stronger the jet stream and the faster and straighter it flows – giving us the type of weather we think of as typical and ‘normal’. The closer the temperatures are to each other, the more the weather patterns become extreme.

Weather impact on Construction

Poor weather conditions can impact contractually in the construction industry if lengthy delays occur. To prove the delay was weather driven, current condition needs to be compared to weather conditions in previous years using data from the weather station closest to the site. Even then it’s not a simple matter to prove.

Recent information released about the UK economy, states that UK construction output fell in November slowing down predicted growth in GDP during the last 3 months of last year compared to that previously forecast. Poor weather was cited as the major cause.

There are also safety issues to consider; The Occupational Safety and Health Act requires employers to provide safety training and personal protective equipment (PPE) to their workers that are adequate in addressing the environmental hazards they are exposed to but at times even this can be seriously challenged by poor or extreme weather conditions. These challenges may include extreme heat, extreme cold, rain, ice and strong winds.

The Chartered Institute of Builders

The Chartered Institute of Builders has a worldwide membership of somewhere in the region of 50,000 members who have all made a continued commitment to the very demanding standards that the Institute sets in line with its Royal Charter. Strict codes of conduct and professionalism must be complied with and a significant amount of evidence provided to the Institute upon application, which is not a process for the faint hearted.
Worth the effort
The opportunity to become a member starts, if you’re of a mind, at student level but can be taken up at any time during your career as a construction professional. It is without doubt a prestigious and recognised qualification which employers may well be prepared to pay a premium for, recognsing that the competencies the owner holds will have been carefully vetted and verified.

After applying for and becoming a member I can say first hand that being able to demonstrate the competencies, with written evidence across more than a dozen areas in my specific field was, at times, quite challenging. Being sure that you interpret the criteria and meet the competencies, which all have to be verified, takes time and a great deal of thought. Not because you don’t meet the criteria in your day to day work life, but in ensuring that what you include is relevant and appropriate.ciob

The application form is generic but of course all applicants don’t have the same experience and therefore some areas can be a little perplexing on first sight. Even with what appear to be relatively straightforward topics such as Health & Safety, it is really important to provide evidence in accordance with the guidelines. There are also more complex areas to be addressed such as Commercial, Contractual and Legal issues along with Strategic Management, all of which you may practice on a regular basis but getting them into the framework isn’t the easiest thing you’ve ever done – not by a mile.
The benefits…
At the end of the day it’s understandable, the Charter is proof that you have a strong understanding and broad knowledge of your field and others related to it. The satisfaction and recognition the award brings makes all the effort worthwhile and as someone who has been in the construction industry for a long time, I feel my professional standing has been validated. The membership also provides me with great prospects for continued professional development and networking opportunities through seminars and events..
The construction industry gets its fair share of bad press and it’s a fact that there are people who experience less than satisfactory outcomes after finding themselves dealing with less than satisfactory standards. In these cases it’s usually provided by unskilled and possibly unqualified builders. The industry, after suffering massively during the recession is back on the up. According to government statistics there is still a skill shortage with considerable opportunities over the next 5 years. This is great news for genuine builders and associated trades and with the demand on their skills increasing, it is even more important that the public and businesses alike have faith in the industry and this is where the Charter comes into its own.
So if you’re looking for quality assurance and a personal recommendation isn’t available, look out for the CIOB mark!

Women in the Workforce

There are now over 30 million people in employment in the UK with more women with jobs than at any time since the Office for National Statistics began keeping records. Female employment now accounts for 67.2% of the UK workforce. Changing attitudes to working mothers, better childcare opportunities, career women and even crippling mortgages have all been suggested as contributing to this situation. Not forgetting of course the change in retirement age for women from 60 to 65 and beyond as the ageing population remains fit, willing and able to carry on working longer.

Women in Construction

So where, in fact, are the Nation’s women working… not it would seem in Construction. Statistics show that just 11% are employed in the industry with a mere 1% actually on-site with the remainder employed as architects, lawyers, engineers, quantity surveyors, project managers and associated roles. Women working as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers are so rare the numbers can’t be measured. UCATT, the UK’s only trade union specialising in construction has found that women face considerable challenges, including being paid less than their male counterparts to name but one. The National Apprenticeship Service which shows a considerable rise in the number of women participating, reports that only 2% of starts in construction were female. Even then the vast majority leave within 5 years. Despite many years of positive campaigning if you take yourself to any college that includes Construction in its curriculum, the numbers are borne out with female students in very short supply in areas of plastering, bricklaying, carpentry and joinery.

Look beyond the Construction and the industry isn’t in isolation by way of gender balance with the Armed Forces and Fire fighters, perhaps understandably, also showing low levels of female employment.

Industry% of Women in Workforce
Construction – on site1.0
UK Regular Forces9.0
Engineering professionals9.0
Doctors under 30 years of age61.0
Doctors 30 to 50 years of age46.0



Women employed in skilled manual work that we now associate with men is not a new concept and can be traced back in history as far as the Statute of Artificers of 1562. This act brought in the parish apprenticeship with records showing that 34% were girls covering 51 occupations including bricklayers, carpenters and joiners, stonemasons and furniture makers. So what it is that stops females taking up the option today when conditions, life expectancy and Health & Safety have improved the lot of this cornerstone industry. Based on the predicted need for new homes alone over the next five to ten years, the Construction industry needs a huge injection of skilled labour so why not women?



21st Century Women in Construction

It’s not an easy life actually working on site so that possibly explains the low numbers but associated occupation such as architects are a great career option. Student numbers for the profession show that 44% are female which bears out the appeal however only 12% make partner. Some of the best and most famous buildings have been designed by women. One of the UK’s more famous architects is Angela Brady. Angela was elected president of the UK’s Royal Institute of British Architects for a two-year term in 2011. She has since dished out some serious advice to the industry stating that to stop talented women leaving the profession, the industry needs to act quickly. In essence attitudes need overhauling and it seems that there is much more that can be done to entice new talent to stay including parity in terms of salary and opportunity.

Zaha Hadid London Aquatic Center


Female architect Zaha Hadid designed the London Aquatics Centre for the 2012 Olympics

Women Architects

The laymen amongst us we might be forgiven for thinking that an architect is someone with a technical ability to design buildings, someone who looks at a space and figures out how use it. We would be right but look a bit closer and we’ll find inspirational people who collaborate on a huge scale to take ideas and release them, manipulating not just materials but light and detail to create buildings that are functional, efficient and sustainable. Buildings that improve the environment and that are in context with their surroundings. Good buildings can lift people so it’s not just about the way they sit in the landscape, often in an iconic way. They have to work and benefit the people who use them. Architects need empathy, integrity, determination, stamina, courage and the ability to deal with complex problems. Along with the artistry they are responsible for budgets, materials and the management and orchestration of huge teams of people.

Sounds like a job for the girls…..