A look back over 2018

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

It’s that time of year again when everywhere you look there are reviews of the last 12 months and predictions of what we can expect from the year ahead. If I had to summarise what 2018 was like for our industry, I would say three things- progressive, amazing and bloomin’ hard work!

A new year is a natural point in time to stop, assess how things have gone over the past 12 months, look at everything that we’ve achieved and look at what we can do better in the coming year. While you can never predict exactly what the year ahead holds, I’m sure we all had a few things in mind, the outcome of Brexit being the main one, yet here we are one year later and still pretty much none the wiser. Instead, we got the collapse of Carillion, a never-ending winter and little Grenfell resolution.

We had the alarming statistics that 56% of female respondents to Building’s survey on women in construction had experienced sexual harassment and 33% been discriminated against on the grounds of sex in the previous 12 months. The gender pay gap report in April confirmed the disappointing news that most women in the industry work in low-paid roles. We also had the really scary news that low-skilled male construction workers are almost four times more likely to take their own lives than the national average, with the number of suicides in construction now six times higher than deaths caused by falls from height.

We didn’t get off to the best start of the year with snow and ice sticking around until the end of March, causing problems for the industry’s output in the first quarter. But eventually output picked up and the government published the Construction Sector Deal, which was the biggest investment in the industry in a decade, something we’d all been longing for. The deal, worth £420m aims to transform the industry by investing in new technologies to increase productivity and tackle the housing crisis. It supports the development of affordable, easy to construct homes and commits to increasing the number of apprenticeships starts and T Level placements.

Last month, the chancellor gave the final Budget before Brexit and it made some small adjustments but lacked bold, long-term commitments, which I think we all expected. I feel like I’ve been saying this year in year out, but with the fallout of Brexit still looming, who knows what next year holds. So, there’s just one thing left for me to say, from all of us at Constructing Excellence in the North East, we wish you a very Merry Christmas and a happy and prosperous new year. Let’s see what 2019 has in store for us – one thing’s for sure, it’s not going to be a quiet one.

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.

Industry precautions when working in bad weather

If you thought last winter was cold, I’ve got bad news for you. This winter is expected to be the coldest for ten years.

According to weather forecasters Exacta Weather, temperatures are expected to fall well below average with things getting even worse in the New Year with widespread snowfall, icy storms and high winds. In the winter, strong winds, cold temperatures, snow and rain have the potential to cause serious hazards for workers in the industry, both regarding disruption to current building projects and possible damage to existing buildings that may not meet current wind and snow load standards.

External walls and roofs not designed to withstand such extreme weather demands could suffer severe damage. However, with preventative action the extent of such damage can be lessened, according to UK leading roofing and cladding specialists, CA Group Ltd. Over the past couple of years, we have witnessed changing weather intensity with severe flooding, record summer temperatures, early snowfall and now we’re facing a potentially harsh winter. Such unpredictable situations can prove costly, severely impacting timeframes on new builds and refurbishment projects and putting older buildings under much pressure.  Traditionally, buildings were designed with local climates in mind and not for worse-case and unpredictable weather, which means they are more susceptible to weather damage. This is much less of an issue for new builds which tend to be better designed, better equipped and much more capable of responding to extreme weather.

Poor specifications can lead to poor installations – resulting in major failures. Ridge and verge flashings that have ripped off the building are some of the most common faults and can often prove costly. Bull nose features at eaves and verges, unless correctly designed and correctly installed with adequate fasteners, are prone to failure.  Ridges, corners and edges of a building are most susceptible to high winds.  It is therefore crucial for project-specific calculations to be undertaken to establish the loads, complete with full design data for the cladding systems and details, or the buildings envelope will not be designed to withstand the wind loads in the concentrated areas.

In anticipation of the bad weather, there are preventative measures that can be taken. Something as simple as introducing snow guards and measures to manually remove the snow can prevent serious accidents but my one piece of advice would just be prepared for the weather or work with a company who knows how to deal with it.  CA Group work to establish structural standards, load capacities and risk analysis to provide a thorough assessment of a building’s needs over its life, taking into account snow, wind pressure, location and altitude. Working from such an informed position results in a much higher quality build, with the likelihood of weather damage being far less.

For further guidance please contact CA Group Ltd on technical@cagroup.co.uk

£72m given to technical industry research

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

The government has approved £72m for industry research into technical innovation. The Core Innovation Hub is part of the government’s modern Industrial Strategy, it will transform the industry by supporting the development and use of technologies such as digital design, advanced manufacturing, robotics, drones and augmented and virtual reality.

Following a nationwide competition as part of the Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund, the government, through UK Research and Innovation, awarded the funding to the Transforming Construction Alliance, a partnership between the Manufacturing Technology Centre, BRE and Cambridge University’s Centre for Digital Built Britain.

The increased use of technology will enable the industry to design and build faster, cheaper and more sustainably – which is exactly what we all want. Smart sensors and digital systems will be incorporated into buildings and infrastructure, so they can manage and maintain themselves – and the data they gather will enable the government and industry to make our towns and cities better places to live, work and travel in.

As an industry, we have historically been slower than others in maximising the opportunities arising from innovation. Understanding innovation’s value is so important in a fast-moving business climate where markets and technologies are continually evolving. While we have worked hard to keep up with the changes and challenges if we do not now focus on embedding innovation in our businesses and across the industry, there is a risk that we will be left behind and become uncompetitive. The Core Innovation Hub is there to ensure this does not happen and that the industry meets the challenges it could face. It will be a constant helping hand and reminder that we need to put innovation in the heart of everything we do. It plays an essential role in delivering increased sector productivity by accelerating industry innovation. It will enable businesses to develop and validate new products and manufacturing and assembly processes and will leverage investment into UK offsite manufacturing capability.

Modern technologies will be the cornerstone of construction sector reform to increase productivity, efficiency and quality of delivery. However, for change to happen, new cultures and ways of working need to be driven from the top; leaders of companies large and small need to ‘think digital’ in everything they do. Constructing Excellence in the North East are holding an event with the Construction Industry Training Board and Generation for Change about the opportunities and challenges of digital construction technologies. The ‘Unlocking Constructions Digital Future’ event on Thursday 31 January, will include speakers from; CITB, BIM Strategy, Kier and Space. The event will look at:

  • How to increase your awareness of digital construction techniques
  • Future digital construction technologies
  • The implications for construction skills and training
  • Funding available to digitally upskill your workforce.

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