Why we must take care of iconic buildings

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

The emotional response to the devastating fire at the Notre-Dame de Paris cathedral shows that such iconic buildings really do mean a lot to us, not just to our industry but to the world. Whether conscious or otherwise, the built environment and infrastructure influences how people perceive a place, its economy and its people.

The construction of Notre Dame was completed in 1345. It’s a masterpiece of medieval architecture, a building that, for all the advances in materials and building techniques over the years, still takes your breath away. There are a number of rare buildings around the world that are particularly important to us; they are the places people gather and the heart of communities. Notre Dame is one of those. With an estimated 13 million visitors a year, whether that be Catholics attending mass or tourists hoping to see Quasimodo, the cathedral is important to many people around the world.

Historical buildings are a reminder of an area’s history, usually made of marble, old brick or heart pine, the aesthetics are just beautiful. That said, Notre Dame’s aging wooden foundation has been topic of concern for some time and was undergoing a £5+ million renovation project at the time of the fire. The entire frame of the 850-year-old building is made from timber, with an estimated 1,300 trees used for the construction of its beams. There is always going to be a risk of fire with timber structures.

Within days of the fire they announced it would be restored and there would be an architecture contest to rebuild the spire. I agree, rebuilding the cathedral is the right thing to do but I also agree with the French Prime Minister, who said the rebuilt cathedral needs to reflect the techniques and challenges of our times. The goal of restoration is not always to replicate the past. Modern tastes and technologies may influence how damaged structures are reimagined. Notre Dame is a building that has been restored many times over the years, it wasn’t a perfectly preserved building. It’s suffered wars, destruction and repair. I don’t think we need the new build to be a replica with no trace of the fire, the fire is now part of its history and I don’t think that should be forgotten.

While the cause of the fire is still unknown, we must remember complex, historic buildings, especially those undergoing restoration are at risk from fire. Within hours of the Notre Dame fire, people were quick to point out the dangerous state of the Palace of Westminster, which has been crying out for restoration for over a decade. If there is one thing to take from this tragedy, it’s to not take such iconic buildings for granted, to look after them and make every effort to ensure they are preserved for years to come.

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.

Flexible working and working mums

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

Construction doesn’t have the best reputation when it comes to women. Last year the results of the gender pay gap report showed that construction has the biggest gender pay gap of any UK industry, at 25%. We have known of the under-representation of women in the industry for many years, so it was nothing new, but it seemed to kick start some actions around encouraging and retaining women in the industry.

Working hours that are not compatible with childcare, combined with a culture of presenteeism, can make the industry seem scary for female employees, I get that. Thankfully, a lot of firms are working towards changing that. Staff surveys at Morgan Sindall revealed that salary comes third to flexible working and personal development, regardless of age or gender. In any industry, the desire is to have a healthy, productive workforce and construction is no different. We all want to work somewhere where we feel comfortable, safe and valued, and when we do, that’s where we’ll thrive. There’s no reason why you can’t be a parent and have a successful career in construction. If people can fulfil their responsibilities with flexible working, then why not give it a go? Something as simple as arranging your working day around the school day isn’t going to stop you having a successful day at work. If anything, I think it might make you more productive, by taking the pressure of childcare or missing out on important milestones off your mind you’ll be able to concentrate on the job in hand.

I understand there are still some circumstances where flexible working might not work. There are sometimes where you still need be on site before 8am which is difficult for a working parent, but why not involve the graduates – those who want to learn, want the experience and are more than happy to help out. Have someone there to help you set up, lock up or carry out tasks that cannot be carried out during the typical 9-5. You’re getting the job done, it’s less stress for you and a keen younger worker is getting invaluable experience working with responsibility.

I love to see new ideas that make working women’s life easier which is why I was thrilled to see that you can now buy maternity high-vis clothing. Leo Workwear have released the first stocked maternity garments conforming to high visibility standard ISO 20471. They make life easier, safer and more comfortable for pregnant women at work and it could be the deciding factor in whether a woman stays in the industry or leaves when deciding to start a family. That teamed up with the news that several big contractors are now promoting flexible working to encourage working mums to stay or return to the industry makes me very happy – after all, the industry definitely needs women.

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.

Why is poor payment still an issue?

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

For me, the big news in the industry last week were plans to charge subcontractors 1.5% of package turnovers to become closer strategic partners. The controversial (to say the least) new plans were announced to overhaul and promote better supply chain relationships across the group. Is this encouraging greater collaboration and alignment with subcontractors or is it just pushing the ‘pay to get paid’ culture that I desperately hoped we’d stay away from?

The Prompt Payment Code was launched 11 years ago in an effort to help SMEs get paid faster. While support from the government has only increased over the years, it still hasn’t helped PPC be more successful. The government have always threatened to name and shame those that fail to pay promptly, but never followed through. Despite many being members of the PPC, which expects businesses to pay 95% of their invoices within 60 days, there are still a number of companies who take more time than this to pay their own invoices. How can you expect one thing but do another? It’s especially important that money is paid on time in our industry; on a construction site there could be 20 different trades that participated, and money could be held back because of anyone else in the project chain.  Until recently, there were no financial penalties for not sticking to the PPC, the only punishment was the risk of having the PPC ‘badge of honour’ taken away. The PPC was intended to be a driver for change but it has struggled to have an impact due to a lack of funding and unrealistic expectations. Given that Carillion were still signed up until the day it collapsed, it clearly wasn’t working.

Last week, the Cabinet Office minister wrote to government suppliers reminding them that a new late payment crackdown is on the way. Unlike other efforts to change the culture, this one actually comes with a business incentive that might work. From September, firms that don’t pay at least 95% of undisputed invoices within 60 days face being barred from public sector contracts worth more than £5m, this will ensure the government only does business with companies who pay their suppliers on time, many of which are small businesses.

Finance is a huge problem for our industry and one I don’t think we’ve taken seriously enough in the past. In everyday life you pay for things immediately, whether that be goods or services, you also wouldn’t expect your boss to ask you for money to ensure you got paid on time or earlier – so why should our industry be any different? We saw the same thing happen with Carillion and look how that turned out!

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.

Stress Awareness Month – mental health in the workplace

By Emily Pearson, Founder & Managing Director, Our Mind’s Work

This month is Stress Awareness Month, need I say it, to increase public awareness about stress. For me, we’re already fairly aware of stress and the more aware we become, the higher the numbers climb for stress-related absence in the workplace.

Like many industries, construction has its pressures. Our industry has and always will be a stressful industry, with workload, client demands and budget concerns being a daily worry. According to statistics from safety barrier manufacturer, A-SAFE, 48% of workers are kept awake as a result of workplace stress with some losing more than 10 hours of sleep a week.

In October last year, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released their report ‘Work-related stress depression or anxiety statistics in Great Britain’. The data showed that 2018 saw the highest rates of self-reported work-related stress, anxiety and depression since data began in 2003/04. The rates were quite stable until around 2015 when we started to see them steadily increase. This increase seems to correlate with how much we’ve ramped up awareness of “mental health in the workplace”. The more awareness we have raised has reduced sigma and therefore impacted the confidence to self-report. Add this to an increase in workplace demands and pressures and we are seeing a definite upward trend, which in 2018 accounted for 15.4 million working days lost.

This isn’t news to the HSE, as they have been interested in the impacts of work-related stress since they ran their Stress Priority Programme (SPP) between 2004-2009. The SPP identified a number of industries that had the highest incidence and prevalence of work-related stress and were defined as high priority and subject to proactive inspections. As far as I am aware, I have not seen nor heard of proactive inspections related to work-related stress in high-risk industries. Unsurprisingly, these industries are still, 15 years later, the industries with the highest levels of work-related stress and continue to increase.

Under Section Three of the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 an employer (including managers) are legally responsible for completing a risk assessment and acting on it to reduce work-related stress. The HSE have not been doing enough to actively enforce this, if they were proactively going in to workplaces and inspecting as per their Topic Inspection Pack, we might see some changes.

Morally, preventing a psychological injury caused by the workplace is the right thing to do, but the legal responsibility is there too. The HSE shouldn’t have to enforce this to keep people mentally well, but it looks like this is the route that they will have go down soon. Don’t wait till your company ends up in the court room, act now, the solution is simple.

To hear more about work-place stress and Our Mind’s Work’s solutions for your workplace, contact Emily.Pearson@ourmindswork.com