25/10/18 Preserving historic buildings is more sustainable than building new ones

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

In the North East we are lucky to have such a rich history. Whilst our historic environments and buildings are undoubtedly fantastic to look at and explore, they contain within them knowledge and evidence of skills from centuries ago. Which is why rebuilding, restoring, maintaining and upgrading sites and buildings of historical importance is essential to understanding our nation’s heritage. As an industry we have a responsibility to help people to enjoy and learn from these environments now and preserve them for future generations.

We’re often talking about how the industry has upped its game in terms of technology over the last few years, but for almost every piece of new tech, there are energy-efficiency lessons to be learned from historical buildings. Existing buildings can often be energy efficient through their use of good ventilation, durable materials and spatial relationships. Before air conditioning, structures used passive environmental control from cross-ventilation windows to shutters and bricks that helped keep out the sun. The high thermal mass of stone, as seen in most Victorian buildings, retains warmth in winter and cools in summer. When properly renovated or restored, old buildings can use less energy than modern buildings, even those that are ‘sustainable’. We must ensure we learn from the past and use appropriate methods and materials to secure their future in the most sustainable way. Preservation and restoration are the ultimate form of recycling. It helps reduce waste and ensures that buildings work in the way in which they were designed.

Here at Constructing Excellence, we understand the importance of preserving and maintaining historic assets. It’s an important part of protecting the character of a city, making it an attractive place to live, work and visit. Which is why we dedicate an award to the Preservation and Rejuvenation of buildings each year at our Constructing Excellence North East Awards. The category is one that holds a special place in my heart as it focuses on restoring and preserving the history and culture of the region, something I’m very passionate about.

We are hosting a breakfast briefing on Wednesday 7 November, looking at the restoration of North East buildings and structures. The event will feature speakers from Sunderland City Council, Datim Building Contractors and Space Architects looking at the restoration of Roker Pier, Lindisfarne Castle and the Darlington Hippodrome; some of the biggest restoration projects in the North East in the last couple of years. All three cases studies were shortlisted at our awards earlier in the year, with Lindisfarne Castle winning, Darlington Hippodrome taking away the highly commended award and Roker Pier receiving a Special Award.

To register for this event please contact Grace on 0191 500 7880 or email grace@cene.org.uk

18/10/18 Drugs and alcohol on site

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

Over recent years, alcohol and drugs misuse has been an increasing issue in the industry and although the majority of contractors and suppliers now say that they carry out regular tests, it seems that there’s still an issue, although we’re lacking data to back it up.

It goes without saying that when working in the industry, concentration, co-ordination and being of sound mind is critical to both the safety and success of a project.  Accidents caused by impairment or intoxication can be detrimental to the health of workers, but also to the reputation of the workers and company. Implementing a drug and alcohol policy and enforcing it with drug and alcohol screening is one of the only ways to reduce these risks. Due to the large machinery and tools used in a construction project, there are few industries where health and safety is more important.

A survey carried out last year by the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) revealed that despite 35% of people saying they had noticed colleagues under the influence of drugs and alcohol during working hours, 65% said that they had never been screened or tested for either by their employer. I’m sure most employers are aware of the risks, but maybe they aren’t sure what to do about it? The CCS has launched a new programme to help employers tackle drug and alcohol issues in the industry. The organisation has launched an online Drugs and Alcohol course focusing on how contractors, subcontractors, suppliers and clients can take practical and effective measures to protect their employees. The course aims to provide a platform for the industry to learn about the risks as well as methods to manage them and support those who need it. After taking the lessons online, companies can take a quiz. If they answer more than 70% of questions correctly they will pass the course and receive a certificate.

What does worry me is that the only piece of major research on how the industry is affected by drugs and alcohol is now over 2 years old. The figures were alarming enough back in 2016, but now we don’t know whether the issue is getting better or worse. Without new figures it’s unlikely that people will take action. Just last month, Barratt Developments announced they had introduced random drugs and alcohol tests as a way of focussing more on health and safety after their injury rate increased by more than a fifth last year. It’s time for the industry to take control of drugs and alcohol on site, but I do believe we need more figures and data to know where action is needed. Until then, I think we need to make sure we’re all doing the best we can to ensure health and safety on site is a top priority.

The CCS online course is available on the CCS Best Practice hub and offers lessons on drugs and alcohol in the workplace and what can be done to address misuse.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

11/10/18 How freelance construction effects the industry

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

A Freedom of Information request recently revealed that 1.12 million construction workers were paid via the Construction Industry Scheme (CIS) in 2017/18. A 4% increase on the figures for 2016/17, indicating self-employment is on the rise.

The subject of self-employment has been the cause of many industry discussions over the past few years, with several debates over whether freelancers are helping or hindering the industry. I think self-employed workers can help the industry by relieving companies of the pressures of meeting deadlines and recruiting new workers, however, as an industry we must ensure our whole workforce is treated fairly and with respect.

A flexible workforce is a great way for companies to meet project demands. With government targets approaching, companies need to be able to hire the right number of people, with the right skills, at the right stage of the project and using freelancers can help them to do this. Using self employed workers can also help boost productivity. With full-time employees, specialist work can be slow and expensive, whilst taking on freelancers means companies can use people with highly-specialised skills and also avoid unused downtime, which can result in huge savings on labour costs.

Sadly, false self-employment is always going to be an issue which adversely impacts individuals and, importantly, the reputation of our industry. There are a number of reasons some companies claim people are falsely self-employed; National Insurance Contributions (NICs) can be avoided and individuals can also make tax savings. However, self-employed people lose their right to sick pay, holiday pay and pension contributions which can create inequalities in the way people working alongside each other are treated.

Ask anybody from the industry and most will be able to give you an example of a contractor who has been hauled to an employment tribunal facing a claim for employment rights from a supposedly self-employed contractor. There have also been concerns about companies using the uncertainties around the rules to exploit workers, disguising the true nature of a contract and unfairly leaving the worker without proper benefits or payment. It has rightly been labelled a ‘con’ by some people, with the union Unite declaring that the government has failed to reduce such bogus self-employment which is very worrying. The rules surrounding self-employment need to be made clear and although there are a few who exploit the uncertainty, there are many who simply don’t know where they stand.

Freelance construction workers seem to be increasingly in demand, due to a ‘pay per project or task’ model now being used by many employers. Offering the chance for more flexibility and increased productivity, freelancers look set to play a vital role in the industry in the future. With nearly half of workers already being classified as self-employed, self-employment is going to have an effect on the future of the industry, therefore we must ensure the regulations around self-employment are made clear to everyone.

For more information on Constructing Excellence in the North East, please contact chief executive, Catriona Lingwood, on 0191 500 7880 or email catriona@cene.org.uk.

4/10/18 – Getting comfortable with BIM

By Catriona Lingwood, Chief Executive of Constructing Excellence in the North East

It’s been over 2 years since the government’s Building Information Model (BIM) mandate came into effect. From 4 April 2016, the collaborative use of BIM Level 2 in all government procured buildings became mandatory, with all asset information relating to a project becoming electronically shareable in a common environment – which basically means that projects using Level 2 BIM, at a minimum, are using 3D CAD models that have been developed by each design team and then these models must be shared in a common file format.

BIM has been identified as a key enabler on the construction sector’s journey to becoming a truly digital industry. Despite this, how to get started with BIM still remains unclear for a lot of industry professionals.

So, what is BIM? BIM is an intelligent 3D model-based process that provides architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) professionals the insight and tools to more effectively plan, design, construct, and manage buildings and infrastructure. If refers to a collaborative method of working which is based on the generation and exchange of data and information between the various project parties. It allows more intelligent use of resources, optimisation of workflows and leads to productivity and profitability. It allows all interested parties to assess the same information at the same time, whether you’re on site or at a desk. All in all, leading to better outcomes through more effective communication and collaboration – a win win!

If you don’t know where to start or feel you’ve been left behind, The Charted Institute of Building (CIOB) North East, in association with Constructing Excellence in the North East and BIM Strategy, are hosting an event designed to close the knowledge gap and make BIM easier for businesses in the North East to both adopt and benefit from. The daylong event will:

  • Focus on several key BIM projects
  • Explore and share knowledge and experience of using BIM
  • Help you really understand what BIM Level 2 means in practice
  • Look at how to use BIM concepts from the perspective of; clients, project teams, facilities management
  • Identify where to find world-leading expertise here in the North East.

The event will have key speakers from clients and industry covering all aspects of the BIM journey from project inception to FM including; John Adams, BIM Strategy, Iain Garfield, Newcastle University, Simon Lewis, Womble Bond Dickinson and Graham Kelly from BIM Academy.

The event is ideal for those in the industry who are looking to adopt BIM into their organisation or for those who want to progress with BIM and aren’t sure where to go. There’s no need to panic, BIM really isn’t as scary as you think.

For more information or to book your place for this event please contact Leanne Conaway on 0191 500 7880 or leanne@cene.org.uk.