December 6, 2021

Considering construction’s impact shouldn’t be a box ticking exercise

At a time when so much uncertainty remains within the construction sector, here Mike Hedges, Director of Beard, looks into why the sector should be doing more to improve its reputation, especially if it is to attract new blood into the industry.

Perceptions matter, and while those inside the construction industry may have a positive view of our peers, it’s fair to say some of those outside do not share that outlook.

In recent years, the construction industry’s reputation has taken a number of hits. The tragedy of the Grenfell Tower fire, collapse of Carillion and Garden Bridge failure, have all undermined confidence in an industry which is one of the key drivers of the economy.

Beyond the headlines, most people’s experience of construction will be first-hand by either living or working near to a project. Often experiencing inconvenience as a result due to the nature of construction.

These interactions are important. The sector has a skills gap that is only widening and desperately needs more young people to consider construction as a career. To improve its reputation, the industry needs to focus on considering its impact.

Considerate construction

The introduction of the Considerate Constructors Scheme (CCS) in 1997 was a welcome initiative to help improve the reputation of the industry. It focuses on three main areas. The public, those on-site and the environment and was brought in to raise standards across the board. While it certainly is a force for good, the industry has to move beyond a checklist approach and have these practices embedded within culture

The standards set out by the CCS are a great starting point for those looking to do the right thing. But to truly improve the image of construction, there will need to be a shift in the way construction firms approach projects, as doing the right thing should come naturally.

Putting people first

Respecting those around a project should not just be a ‘nice to have’, it should be built into the foundations of everything. At the outset of any project the impact on those involved, directly or indirectly should be considered. This includes those that are on-site, ensuring not just their physical, but mental wellbeing is being taken into account. There is some guidance in the Considerate Constructors checklist, but this should be a starting point for project managers.

Ensuring there is someone onsite who is a trained mental health first-aider is a positive step, but actively encouraging people to seek advice is equally as important. Therefore, project managers should take the time to talk to those on-site. Opening up these lines of communication is crucial, as it means if someone is struggling, they are much more likely to let a colleague know.

Worker fatigue can sometimes be overlooked as a potential issue. According to the CCS, the construction industry in the UK has one of the highest rates of psychosocial health problems, which includes fatigue and burnout. Only 14% of construction workers in the UK work fewer than 40 hours a week, and these long hours take a toll. The extended time spent working has been identified as the most significant contributor to poor mental health within the UK construction industry. Setting rotas that ensure those involved in a project are not over-working is a crucial step to preventing physical and mental health issues.

Those nearby to a project are also impacted. Minimising noise, dust, debris and traffic is a good starting point to reduce potential issues. Opening a dialogue with those nearby is also a positive. Every site will to some degree disrupt those in the vicinity, but if the reasons for the building, the noise and the disruption are explained, then those nearby are much more likely to be understanding.

Treating suppliers well

Another area where construction can get better is in the treatment of suppliers. Payment terms have long been an issue for the industry. And one that a recent industry survey  found is actually getting worse. The survey showed that most businesses (72%) are waiting more than 40 days to be paid. Some of those are paid within two months (43%), but nearly a third (30%) of all respondents said it takes more than 60 days.

This has a ripple effect, causing delays, forcing some to take out loans, and wastes time and resources. It also paints the sector in a negative light. Giving fair terms to suppliers is not only ethical but means more suppliers will want to work with you, leading to better project outcomes including improvements to the quality of the end product. That is why at Beard we have implemented 27-day payment terms. To change the industry, every part of the chain needs to play their part, in treating suppliers decently and ensuring payments are prompt, as it just takes one to slow the entire chain down.

It may be a slow process, but it is possible for the construction industry to improve its reputation as there is a lot of good practice that needs to be highlighted instead of the more typical perception. While the Considerate Constructors Scheme is certainly a great starting point, considering impacts needs to be a fundamental of every single project. Not just as a box-ticking exercise, but an essential part that every build is judged against. While this can be a difficult decision with deadlines and costs taking precedent, for the future of the industry, this shift needs to happen. And it needs to happen soon.

Mike Hedges, Director of Beard