Sunday, August 24, 2014

CDM Regulations 2015 – Changes that will not please everyone!



….the proposed removal of the CDM Coordinator and replacement with that of a Principal Designer will result in plenty of debate.  Currently the CDM Coordinator is an independent role under the CDM Regulations, which will be lost, as a Principal Designer will undoubtedly have other additional roles/duties within a project. 

http://www.schlecht.com/safety
Consultation on proposed changes to the Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM) were completed on 6th June 2014 by the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) with the aim of introducing Construction (Design & Management Regulations 2015 in April next year.  In its consultation document the HSE set out a number of policy objectives which explain why an update to the current CDM 2007 is required:
     ·  Maintain or improve worker protection;
·  Simplify the regulatory package;
·  Improve health and safety standards on small    construction sites;
·  Implement the Temporary or Mobile Construction  Sites Directive (TMCSD) in a proportionate way (this  is a European Directive);
·  Discourage bureaucracy; and
·  Meet better regulation principles. 
HSE also cite external research into CDM 2007 within its consultation document which concluded:
    ·  CDM 2007 was viewed more positively by dutyholders than the 1994 version; its broad structure was fit for purpose;
·  Problems generally arose through mis- and over-interpretation of the Regulations; significant concerns remained, however, in several areas:
·  The Regulations had not borne down on bureaucracy as hoped;
·  The Regulations had led to an industry approach to competence which was heavy-handed and in many cases burdensome, particularly on SMEs;
·  The co-ordination function in the pre-construction phase was not in many cases well-embedded. 
Source: http://www.constructionsafe.co.uk/
Interestingly a number of the research findings above were also reasons why it was felt that the original 1994 CDM Regulations needed to be updated and it appears that the 2007 CDM Regulations have not addressed these issues.  For example, ever since the introduction of CDM 1994 and I can remember this vividly, there have always been issues around bureaucracy. Initially, this was partially down to lack of understanding of the workings of the regulations and latterly it could be argued that this is a result of complacency.  I can remember numerous occasions whilst acting as Planning Supervisor (Now CDM Coordinator, although this title will no longer exist under the new proposals), where documentation such as Designer’s Risk Assessments, Pre-Tender Health & Safety Plans and even Construction Phase Health & Safety Plans had became so generic that often information was copy/pasted with the wrong project title, works information, site address etc. This situation became ridiculous and large volumes of paper were being produced because that is what some thought the Regulations required.  CDM 2007 does not appear to have solved this problem, as this remains an objective for CDM 2015.

CDM 2007 also introduced the need to ensure that duty holders were competent in their role.  This put additional responsibilities particularly on Clients to ensure that those they appointed in the various roles had the skills and competence to carry out their duties.  Competence checking is not a role exclusive to the Client under CDM 2007, however HSE cite this as a particularly bureaucratic process and propose the following within their consultation document:

We plan to retain a general requirement under the revision of CDM (new regulation 8) for those appointing others to carry out construction work to ensure that they have received appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to allow them to work safely. This aligns with the general requirements under Sections 2 and 3 of HSWA.

HSE believes that the competence of construction industry professionals should be overseen by, and be the responsibility of, the relevant professional bodies and institutions 

It will be very interesting so see how this will work in practice, particularly when there are Health & Safety incidents which require investigations by HSE, and especially how those appointing duty holders can demonstrate that ‘duty holders have received appropriate information, instruction, training and supervision to allow them to work safely’

In summary, the proposed changes to the current 2007 CDM Regulations are:
     ·  Significant structural simplification of the Regulations;
·  The replacement of the ACoP with targeted guidance;
·  Replacement of the CDM-c role with a new role, that of the ‘principal designer’;
·  Removal of explicit competence requirements and replacing with a specific requirement for appropriate skills;
·  Addressing areas of TMCSD relating to domestic clients; and
·  
The threshold for appointment of Coordinators. 
I am sure that the removal of the CDM Coordinator and replacement with that of a Principal Designer will result in plenty of debate.  Currently the CDM Coordinator is an independent role under the CDM Regulations, which will be lost, as a Principal Designer will undoubtedly have other additional roles/duties within a project.  A Client will effective lose an independent advisor who can provide them with a fresh perspective of Health & Safety issues and responsibilities under the Regulations, outside of other individuals within the project team.

Also, HSE estimate savings of £30 million each year as a result of efficiencies gained under the proposed new CDM Regulations.  Although, there ‘could’ be savings made due to reduced bureaucracy, as previously discussed (although this is questionable) it is difficult to see how the removal of the CDM Coordinator will produce any savings.  The title may be changing to a Principal Designer however the role and responsibilities remain.  All that will happen is that the fee currently charged by CDM Coordinators will now be charged by Principal Designers. 

What about those companies and organizations who provide CDM Coordinator services, some of which are exclusive to the role?  Surely they must be extremely concerned by this proposed change.  The role of a Principal Designer has very wide connotations and will prevent many CDM Coordinators from simply re-labeling themselves.  Whereas CDM Coordinators may have expertise in health & safety related matters, in order to be a Principal Designer they would need a much wider skill set due to the implied skills of being a 'Designer'.  No doubt some will be able to make this transition, however there will undoubtedly be others who fall by the wayside.

Another implication of the proposed replacement of the CDM Coordinator will be the requirement to update numerous pieces of documentation as well as re-drafting of Construction Contracts.  This will also have a cost implication and will reduce cost savings at least in the short to medium term.

The new proposal for CDM 2015 also propose changes to the notification threshold for a construction project as well as introducing duties for domestic Clients for the first time, however ‘create the default position whereby duties that would fall on a domestic client instead fall to the contractor’. This in itself generates a number of concerns however the HSE state that they expect the new regulations to be discharged in a sensible and proportionate manner.  It will also be very interesting to see how this works out in practice.

You can find more information about the proposed changes to CDM Regulations from the HSE by following this link (Link).

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Why Greater Powers Are Essential To Regulate Private Residential Landlords



Landlords across the UK must be rubbing their hands together at the thought of the large amount of prospective tenants who will be paying ever increasing rents, a situation which is not likely to change for the foreseeable future

Source: http://www.midlandepc.co.uk/
With rising house prices and the general lack of affordable homes in the UK many who may want to step onto the property ladder for the first time are being forced to consider rented accommodation.  Even those thinking of using the Governments Help to Buy scheme as a way forward are still required to save a 5% deposit in order to be eligible for the scheme.  A 5% deposit may not seem too bad however with an average UK house price in excess of £250,000, this still requires a deposit in excess of £12,500, which can often prove to be difficult to save once you factor in the cost of living and the cost of paying rent. Consequently demand for rented accommodation has continued to rise and in particular within the private rented sector. Financial Reporter (Online) (Link) report:

‘Average UK private home rents have increased 7.5% in the last 12 months while national average earnings now rising at 1.7%. The average cost of renting a home in the UK has risen more than four times as quickly as national average incomes, according to new findings released today from the May 2014 HomeLet Rental Index’

Source: http://www.rostons.co.uk/
Landlords across the UK must be rubbing their hands together at the thought of the large amount of prospective tenants who will be paying ever increasing rents, a situation which is not likely to change for the foreseeable future. This high demand for rented properties has provided the opportunity for some Landlord’s to try to take advantage of the current situation by attempting to encourage tenants to leave their properties by not carrying out repairs or attempting to evict tenants in order to hike up rents.  In a recent article, the Independent (online) (Link) explained:

‘Soaring numbers of people in private rented homes face eviction despite being up to date with their rent because rising house prices are prompting landlords to ask tenants to leave. In the last year, Citizens Advice Bureaux has seen a 38 per cent increase in desperate tenants coping with the threat of eviction even though they have no rent arrears, according to figures seen by the Independent.


More than 5,000 of these cases were reported to Citizens Advice in 2013-14, up from 3,750 the previous year – and as the housing shortage reaches critical levels, the figures show how increasingly precarious the situation is  for renters.

Eviction by private landlords is the most common cause of homelessness encountered by Citizens Advice, causing one in 10 of the 80,000 problems with homelessness the charity saw in the last year.

Tenants report being evicted following a request to carry out repairs, because the landlord wants to sell their home, or because rents are suddenly hiked to unaffordable levels’

Tenants have statutory protection under a raft of legislation such as the Rent Act 1977, Housing Act 1985, Housing Act 1988, depending on the type of tenancy, and the Landlord & Tenant 1985 in terms of obligations and responsibilities to carry out repairs. It does appear that Landlords are choosing to ignore their statutory responsibilities in increasing numbers in order to chase higher rental yields.  So what can a tenant do in these circumstances?

I am regularly contacted by people who experience difficulty, sometimes silence when contacting their landlord to carry out repairs.  In nearly all cases this involves private sector Landlords who for some reason think that if they ignore their tenants for long enough then they will just go away.  The issue of course is that the Tenant has rights and the Landlord has responsibilities under a whole raft of legislation (as indicated above)) and vice versa. In the event that a Landlord fails to carry out repairs for which he/she is responsible, a tenant can take action to remedy the situation. The problem becomes magnified if the repair that is necessary is something that may be dangerous or posing a health risk to the occupants.

Source: http://www.latentexistence.me.uk/
In my early career as a Building Surveyor I undertook a number inspections on behalf of Solicitors who had been appointed by Tenants where complaints had been made about living conditions and in particular habitation standards in their homes.  In those days a Surveyors report would be used as evidence that a landlord had breached their duty under legislation such as section 11 of the Landlord & Tenant Act 1985 or Public Health Acts such as the Environmental Protection Act 1990 or others.  In order to assess fitness for habitation at the time a Surveyor would consider the requirements of something known as the ‘fitness standard’ under section 604 of the Housing Act 1985.  Nowadays an assessment of the health & safety of a dwelling is considered under a much wider context under the Housing Health & Safety Rating System 2006 (HHSRS).  A tenant can contact their Local Authority and request an inspection under HHSRS if they feel that there are health, safety or habitation issues.  The Local Authority has enforcement powers under HHSRS where category 1 hazards are identified.  For more information on HHSRS refer to my previous article (Link)

Nobody wants to go through a legal process as this can be time consuming and expensive.  Ultimately, however this is one form of recourse that may be considered in which the tenant will effectively try to force the landlord to meet their statutory obligations through the courts.  In most cases tenants will not want to take this option as costs (money, time and stress), will be deemed to negatively outweigh the benefit that could be attained if successful.  Note the word ‘if’, because there is never any guarantees that legal proceedings will succeed. Although legal action should be used as a last resort this is nevertheless an option that a tenant may utilise.

Better regulation, particularly of private landlords is essential to addressing some of the issues considered above.  Rather than dilly dally around with suggestions the Government should introduce a landlord registration scheme such as that introduced in Northern Ireland earlier this year.  Under the scheme all private landlords are required to register under the Scheme and it is an offence to commence a new let of a residential property under a private tenancy without being registered. In the rest of the UK there are currently a number of voluntary registration schemes however the fact that they are not mandatory will mean that those who are likely to cut corners or do not meet their responsibilities are hardly likely to sign up!  Therefore this is something that has to become mandatory through legislation.  Mandatory registration schemes can state minimum levels of service that tenants should expect including transparent fees, improved property conditions, better communication between landlords and tenants, improved response times for repairs and maintenance and protected deposits. If all private landlords are required by law to meet these requirements then they will be made to think twice about the manner in which they deal with their tenants.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested


Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

UK Construction – Is a skills shortage really a surprise?



It clear for everyone to see that there is currently a skills shortage within the UK construction industry, a problem that is likely to get worse before it gets better.  There needs to be a radical re-think into the manner in which we attract people into the industry, but equally as important is how we actually keep them.


Source: http://www.constructionfutures.org.uk/
At present construction is prominent in the news every single day and increasingly the topic revolves around a skills shortage.  Having worked in the UK construction industry for many years I would suggest that a skills shortage is an inevitable result of the nature of the construction industry and really should not be a surprise to anyone.  In a recent article, Building Magazine (online) highlight the current chronic lack of skills within the UK construction, suggesting that the skills shortage is now at its highest level for six years (Link):

‘Fears of skills shortages in the construction industry hit their highest level for six years in the second quarter of 2014, with 51% of firms saying there are insufficient workers to meet demand, according to the latest RICS UK construction market survey. The survey, which reports a balance of positive responses against negative, showed skills shortages were particularly acute in quantity surveying and bricklaying, where 54% and 59% of respondents, on balance, reported shortages respectively’

The issue was also highlighted in an article early this month in the Telegraph on-line (Link):
‘The scale of the skills shortage in the booming construction sector has been uncovered by data showing the number of vacancies in the industry has risen almost 40pc in the past year. There were 18,000 vacancies in construction in the three months to May according to Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, a rise of 5,000 on the same period in 2013. Government stimulus measures such as Help to Buy are contributing to the rise but construction – which employs a total of 2.1m people – is still suffering from the after effects of the recession according to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB)’


Source: http://www.wecf.eu/
In reality the fact that there is a skills shortage will not come as a surprise to many who work within the construction industry, as the cyclical nature of the construction industry inevitably results in a large turnover of personnel.  When times are tough construction personnel will either choose to seek career opportunities in other sectors or will be made redundant or ‘layed off’, as construction companies contract whilst adjusting to tougher economic conditions. 

In the UK between 2008 and 2012/13 we experienced not just a recession, but a ‘double dip’ recession and only narrowly avoided a ‘triple dip recession’.  During this period construction suffered significantly with many construction companies going out of business.  Those that did survive found themselves in an exceptionally competitive market which required them to make some serious business decisions just to enable them to stay in business.  One of the first things to suffer during this period for many companies was the training budget.  Having spoken to numerous employers during this period when trying to find placement opportunities for our undergraduate building students, the message was generally consistent, ‘we cannot afford to take anyone on right now, but contact us again when things pick up’.  I am sure that this was replicated across all sectors of the construction industry and at all levels, particularly the construction trades. Some might say that this is just a commercial reality, however this will undoubtedly be one of the main reasons why we have a skills shortage when things eventually start to improve, just like they are now. I wonder how many good quality people we have lost to other industries when they could not find work in the construction industry during this period?



Source: http://www.merchantcircle.com/
The cyclical nature of the construction industry and the negative news that goes along with it during an economic downturn will do little to convince young people that construction will provide a secure future for them.   If this is added to the fact that jobs are more difficult to come by during these periods it is easy to see why young people may consider careers in other sectors.  This will also be a contributing factor to a skills shortage as we need a regular supply of ‘new blood’ to replace those who are retiring or leaving the construction industry.

The current UK Government clearly see Apprenticeships as a way of bridging the skills gap and business secretary Vince Cable has recently given his support to a new commission which is being introduced to oversee apprenticeship.  The Telegraph on-line report (Link):


‘A commission to investigate the quality of apprenticeships in the construction industry and the number of people taking up the training programmes is being launched to help ensure the sector has enough skilled workers. The cross-party project is being launched today by think-tank Demos to examine vocational training across all sectors, though it will focus on construction. The Commission on Apprenticeships comes after an analysis by the Construction Industry Training Board found that the building industry needs 120,000 apprentices over the next five years to fill an emerging skills gap. Research shows that the number of people completing construction apprenticeships has plunged by almost 75pc since the financial crisis, with just 3,760 apprentices completing training in 2012-13, compared with 14,250 four years ago’

On the basis that we have a general election next year some would argue that this type of initiative is introduced to win votes and in reality there is no guarantee that the current government will be in place to see it through.  Trying to introduce 120,000 apprentices into the construction industry over the next five years is all well and good but what about the current shortage and the needs of the near future? With a little foresight would it not have been better for the Government to invest in apprenticeships during the difficult economic period in anticipation that we would need skilled workers to sustain a recovery?  In actual fact what happens is that the Government take a reactive rather than a pro-active approach which only serves to get us into the predicament we now find ourselves in.  No doubt politicians will say that they do not have a crystal ball however they do not need a crystal ball to know that the construction industry always recovers after a recession and usually very strongly. All that is needed is a little forethought into preparing for a recovery that can be sustained, rather than waiting for productivity and output to increase and then start scratching their heads and asking ‘where are all the workers?’

It clear for everyone to see that there is currently a skills shortage within the UK construction industry, a problem that is likely to get worse before it gets better.  There needs to be a radical re-think into the manner in which we attract people into the industry, but equally as important is how we actually keep them.  Government policy and funding needs to take a much longer term approach to ‘training and retaining’ to try to avoid the chronic skills shortages that we are seeing now and have seen after previous recessions. If we continue with the same short sighted approach we have adopted in the past then all we are doing is stifling recover which does not just affect the construction industry but wider sectors of the economy also.

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Who is managing build quality these days? – Part 2



Guest article from Joe Malone BSc(Hons) ICIOB

There is a particular shortcut that seems popular with contractors at the moment, which is installing windows using nothing more than expanding foam. No mechanical fixings whatsoever and sometimes even the additional external frame sealant is omitted; I have encountered this a number of times and it is completely unacceptable

In last week’s article Joe Malone provided a number of case studies which demonstrated how build quality does not appear to be adequately managed whilst building works are being undertaken.  The article raised a lot of interest and debate in numerous social media discussion forums and I have no doubt that the further case studies below will equally stimulate a similar level of interest:

Case Study 3: Make Sure the Finisher Goes Back

This particular case relates to a residential high-rise block in the centre of London. The block was converted to residential use and fully refurbished to a nice standard. Unfortunately the flats had suffered from water ingress from the day keys were handed to residents and a number of investigators had failed to get to the route of the problem. My investigation focused on one flat in particular because the resident had moved out until the problem was resolved. The flat was in disarray when I got there, carpets had been taken up and clearly there had been a serious attempt to uncover the source of the water ingress.  You may or may not know that many contractors employ trades people called finishers. These are the people who go in after a bathroom has been installed and silicone round the bath & windows etc., and carry out all those other minor finishing details. Hold that thought…

I immediately used a thermal imaging camera and it was fairly obvious that the water ingress appeared to be concentrated at the base of the patio doors that led to the balcony. Note the dark and lighter blue areas in figure 1 below. The dark blue areas were particularly telling as this was at the base of the doors. Also note the orange band sitting on top of the doorsill, this is the metal packing plate that can be seen in figure 2 below.


Fig 1. Damp areas to base of patio doors - Source: Author's Own
I noted a gap at the base of the aluminium patio doors and a steel packing plate, See fig 2 below, but I couldn’t be sure whether or not the doors had been sealed to the frame with a gasket that I couldn’t see, it seemed too incredible that the doors had not been sealed in their frames.  I decided that the only way to prove this issue was to remove the MDF patio doorsill inside the flat. With the sill removed I could see daylight between the patio doors and the doorframe. The doors had been levelled and adjusted with the steel packing plates seen in figure 2 below but no one had bothered externally sealing the doors in their frames. I checked other patio doors in the development and not one patio door had been sealed in the whole development. It seems quite simple doesn’t it but this problem had remained undiagnosed for almost ten years.

Fig 2 - Source: Author's Own
I do wonder how such a significant and ultimately damaging defect could have been missed. Did the contractor forget to send back the finisher or did they think that sealing with Polysulphide mastic wasn’t necessary due to the doors being partially protected from the elements by the balcony? I’ll never know the answer but I suspect it is yet another example of the contractor cutting corners on their work. This defect caused tens of thousands of pounds worth of damage to expensive laminate flooring and other internal fixtures. I see so many of this kind of defect that I will be keeping a regular blog on my own website (Link).

There is a particular shortcut that seems popular with contractors at the moment, which is installing windows using nothing more than expanding foam. No mechanical fixings whatsoever and sometimes even the additional external frame sealant is omitted; I have encountered this a number of times and it is completely unacceptable.

In the meantime if you are considering trusting build quality to the contractor, your building control officer or the NHBC guarantee then I hope these case studies make you think again. Pursuing NHBC claims is a less than pleasant experience and of course they will always look for reasons not to pay out rather than to pay out. I could have cited many more similar examples.

Case Study 4: Sometimes even when it looks right it isn’t.

This particular issue relates to survey work I carried out on building within what was formerly a large industrial building constructed in the late Victorian (Circa 1890)  era, of London stock bricks. The building had been converted to residential cottages within a gated community by a large National developer in 2001 and yet the properties were suffering from severe wall base damp and decorative spoiling.  There were far too many defects to note here but one that I did find interesting relates to the installation of a retrofit concrete floor slab within the property.  I first noted a very obvious problem in that the blue plastic Damp Proof Membrane (DPM) was simply turned up the wall and not connected to any Damp Proof Course (DPC) in the wall. Since the wall was absent of a DPC then how could it be? In any event if there was a DPC present then achieving an effective link between the DPM and DPC is virtually impossible. This is one of the reasons you should never fit retrofit concrete floor slabs in old properties. See fig 3 below.


Fig 3. Blue plastic DPM for concrete floor slab turned up the walls - Source - Author's Own 
For some reason I decided to check the gauge of the plastic DPM that had been installed with a micrometer. It simply did not feel substantial enough when compared to 1200 gauge DPM that I had previously handled. I took a small sample from the edge and found that the constructor had installed cheap 800 gauge builder’s plastic. See fig 4 below. Remember, this was a very expensive residential development in the centre of London.


Fig 4. Micrometer proved that 800 gauge builders plastic had been installed - Source - Author's Own
I would expect 1000 gauge as a minimum for DPM and suspect that 1200 gauge was actually specified. Corners were clearly cut despite 800 gauge builders plastic not being fit for purpose as a DPM. It will be prone to puncturing due to a lack of durability and I suspect was probably damaged during installation. A constructor who cuts corners in this way is not going to take care during the DPM installation process. Incidentally, in case you’re wondering about the margin of error for the micrometer, I folded the piece of DPM several times to overcome the small margin of error specified by the manufacturer.

Joe Malone BSc(Hons)ICIOB
Malone Associates Ltd

Please feel free to share this article and other articles on this site with friends, family and colleagues who you think would be interested

Information/opinions posted on this site are the personal views of the author and should not be relied upon by any person or any third party without first seeking further professional advice. Also, please scroll down and read the copyright notice at the end of the blog.