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Executive Report : Future focus
Several industry challenges were discussed at the HAE’s recent annual conference held in Loughborough. Alan Guthrie reports.
Information about a new initiative that encourages hirers to share data about accidents involving site dumpers was given at the HAE’s 2019 Conference in Loughborough. The event was held at the beginning of October and attendance numbers were affected by the extreme weather and flash floods in some parts of the country.
Frank Elkins, Chief Operating Officer Trade Merchanting with Travis Perkins, spoke on research that the business had undertaken since a fatal accident, which involved an overturned compact site dumper. Against a background of few statistics about such incidents, the company highlighted the importance of providing appropriate Health & Safety guidance. ‘Tip and tell’ stickers were fitted to machines in the fleet to encourage people to report any such events. Travis Perkins, he said, has now not experienced a serious incident for 18 months.
He has also encouraged other hire companies to share their experiences and data. Several meetings have been organised by the HAE in recent months, with additional input from Jewsons, A-Plant, Hirebase, Skipton Hire Centres, GAP and Keyline as an ongoing project. This is providing useful information about the causes of accidents, with the majority being due to unsafe working, user error and operation on unstable ground. This knowledge informs users so that appropriate measures can be taken.
Site welfare project
Dr Chris Lucas, HM Principal Inspector with the Health & Safety Executive’s Construction Health Unit, gave details of the National Welfare Project. Stakeholders such as contractors, hirers, suppliers and trade associations are discussing ways of providing practical guidance to ensure that site welfare provision meets appropriate standards in a variety of applications.
Facilities covered include toilets, washing provision, drinking water, changing rooms, lockers and rest areas, which need to be adequate for a particular site and readily accessible. As Dr Lucas explained, what was ‘readily accessible’ on one site might not be appropriate for another. Also, the level and type of facilities would be different on a housebuilding site than, say, a domestic work location. A framework document is being produced for future discussion.
Another major Conference topic was the recruitment and training of future hire industry professionals. Dr Anne-Marie Imafidon MBE discussed the need to change traditional perceptions of the construction industry, particularly by encouraging women to pursue a career in the field. She is the founder of the Stemettes social enterprise which aims to inspire and support young women into science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) careers.
Dr Imafidon outlined the challenge of overcoming a traditionally narrow perception of who is ‘eligible’ or ‘permitted’ to work in certain industries. It is necessary to widen STEM opportunities for the many, especially as societies enter what has been called the fourth industrial revolution driven by the Internet of Things and artificial intelligence. She also described how these disciplines could offer creative and sustainable career opportunities. New training initiatives, such as apprenticeships, could help to encourage young people into the industry, especially if these were practical in nature and focused on the real world environment.
Current HAE Chairman, Brian Sherlock, who is MD of Brandon Hire Station, outlined several training initiatives that the Association is pursuing. These include additional virtual reality (VR) modules to complement those already offered on the HAE’s V-Hire app, covering topics such as safe work at height and workplace dust.
Paul Gaze, the HAE’s Commercial Manager, spoke on work the Association is undertaking to attract new hire industry entrants. As well as combating demographic changes such as an ageing population, the aim is to counter factors like the high level of employee ‘churn’ within hire. He said that the HAE is working to identify hirers’ training requirements. In partnership with the University of the West of England, it is also developing an NVQ Level 6 in hire management and a degree programme.
Similarly, Mark Noonan, Industry Relations Director with the CITB (Construction Industry Training Board) spoke on a new national campaign called ‘Future Made’. This aims to overcome traditional barriers to recruitment in construction, such as the tendency to follow past models and methods which might be exclusive or out-of-date.
‘Future Made’, which is scheduled to be launched in January, is a programme for behavioural change in the industry. It aims to create a new image that appeals to the next generation and challenges stereotypes as to who works in construction. Mark Noonan explained that the CITB is trying to ascertain hirers’ training needs and that the HAE has had input into the scheme. New learning techniques such as VR training could play an important role, he said, in making work in construction-related industries not just a career, but a lifestyle choice. •