The Lyncinerator on… Failure

Don’t get me started.  Stuck on an interminably delayed flight, I leafed through the airline magazine.  An article on a new Museum of Failure in Sweden caught my eye.  “Only in Scandinavia” I thought, cynically.  But it made interesting reading.  The curator is a psychologist and innovation researcher who got fed up with hearing people talk only about success and not the failures that lay behind it, his view is that development only comes through learning from failure.  The fact that the museum is partly funded by the Swedish governmental department that supports industrial R&D suggests that he is not the only one to think this way.   The museum demonstrates products and services that did not take off, and explains some of the reasons why.  It was a thought provoking and informative article.

This blog was written by Lynne Ceeney, Technical Director at BSRIA

I talked to some colleagues about the museum and the article, and laughingly said I would write a blog titled “BSRIA is good at failure”.   I’m sure you can imagine the raised eyebrows, and concerns that this could be misconstrued.  And in a world of short tweets and clickbait headlines this is a justified concern.  But for an industry like ours, understanding and learning from failure is really important, and maybe we don’t talk about failure enough.

In-use failure of safety critical components and elements simply should not happen.  That’s what testing and inspection are for, although we know that sadly, these are not fail-safe.  But talking about those failures is imperative.  The causes of these failures are shared openly and quickly, so that future incidents can be prevented.  Public enquiries are one route, but for less public failures, as an industry we need to look at the “no blame” culture that the aviation industry has introduced.  (More correctly perhaps, it’s a “just” culture – where people are rewarded for providing safely related failure information.  Deliberately unsafe actions or decisions are still penalised).  If this type of safety critical failure is declared and investigated, it can and should prevent future incidents.  It seems that litigation and insurance may get in the way of the necessary “no blame / just” culture, and there is a definite need for an industry-wide approach to investigate and remedy this.

But what about failures that only interrupt occupant functioning and are inconvenient?  There is a tendency to patch or fix, or to simply replace, and to move on without capturing learning.  This is one of the points where BSRIA comes into its own.  Our Problem Investigation team get to see multiple failures in different buildings, delivered and managed by different teams.  This has two consequences: (1) we are quick at spotting the cause of problems which cannot be simply identified by front line repair teams because we know where to look with our analytics, so front line teams can fix the problem efficiently, and (2) we are able to upcycle our learning into publications, guidance and training to pass preventative knowledge to the industry.  A good example of this is our work on pipework corrosion, which we have been able to investigate in some depth and include our learnings in guidance for water commissioning.  This helps optimise the performance of existing buildings, but importantly we can also influence the design of the next generation of components and buildings.  To increase our impact, we need to encourage more failures to be reported and investigated so that we can better understand trends and problems, and report back to the industry as to how to remedy them.  This too requires an industry culture that recognises the value of learning from failure.

And of course innovation doesn’t happen without failure.   There are of course degrees of failure (the Museum features frozen pizza marketed under the brand of a toothpaste company, I would have loved to have listened to the strategy meeting for that!).  Controlled failure is useful – in our test laboratories we help establish parameters for new products through testing prototypes, and then we test the end product on behalf of the manufacturer.   We move beyond labs though, and we monitor technologies in the real world, in occupied buildings, to see what happens when expert and non-expert users are let loose on equipment and to see how it performs and what doesn’t work so well.  All useful data for the next iteration of designs, products and systems.

So BSRIA is pretty good at failure – investigation, remedy and recommendation for prevention.  And the industry clearly benefits from reporting, investigating and talking about failure.  So we need to think about how we can encourage this culturally, and how to process and use what we find.

The flight, incidentally, was very delayed.  I read the whole magazine.  And I couldn’t blame the pilot, it was a weather issue.  But the failure to deliver on board food because they had sold out – well that was a failure too far, don’t get me started…

 

The Lyncinerator, September 2017.

 

 

 

Construction Leadership Council – study into labour markets & off-site

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

This blog was written by BSRIA Chief Executive Julia Evans

Exciting times: leading on from BSRIA’s press statement issued on 3rd February: the Construction Leadership Council (CLC) has been asked to undertake a “major” labour market study by skills minister Nick Boles MP and housing minister Brandon Lewis MP.

BSRIA is encouraging member and industry input from to the accompanying CLC consultationconstruction industry labour model study

Evidence to: construction.enquiries@bis.gsi.gov.uk

Deadline: Monday 29th February 2016.

The CLC has invited Mark Farmer of Cast Consultancy (formerly Arcadis) to lead the study, culminating in a report for CLC’s consideration in the spring. It will both: reflect on the impact of the current “labour model” in construction and make recommendations for action by the industry and government to help overcome constraints on skills development and the sector’s capacity to deliver new homes and infrastructure.

In particular, ministers want to know whether there are structural issues and risks that diminish long-term incentives for smaller subcontractors, who employ the largest part of the sectors workforce, to invest in training.

As I said earlier this month: BSRIA is very much supportive of this commission and consultation and, on behalf of the industry and our members, wishes to be involved every step of the way. Such commission hasn’t come a day too late, especially with rising demand especially, but not only, in the house building sector.

Alternative delivery methods – such as off-site – with a fresh skills base and capacity to bring new entrants to home building supply chains signifies a “shifting focus”.

 The consultation requests:

  • Evidence of how the construction labour model and recruitment practices impact on incentives for skills development in the sector (including in the supply chain) and on the introduction of more novel techniques such as off-site construction.

Evidence on how the current model works – including:

  • What business models and other arrangements could better support skills and skills pipelines in the sector?
  • What measures could improve wider incentives for capacity investment and the introduction of new ways of working?
  • What are the barriers and enablers to greater use of off-site construction?
  • How could the range of participants in the UK housing market be broadened, including through the better introduction of institutional funds?

So, I urge “one and all” to take a few minutes to put “comment to keyboard” for this crucial study. Remember: little can change without your expert opinions!

Being a Young Engineer

This blog was written by Laura Nolan, Sustainability Engineer at Cudd Bentley Consulting

This blog was written by Laura Nolan, Sustainability Engineer at Cudd Bentley Consulting

What is it like to be a young Engineer?

I think it’s fair to say the term Engineer in itself is very broad so for the purpose of this blog my focus is my discipline, Building Services Engineering.

So how did I become an Engineer? Through my love of maths and problem solving, I chose to study a common entry Engineering Degree in Dublin Institute of Technology. Following the first year of Maths, Applied Maths, Physics and Chemistry, I then chose the Building Services route as it seemed the most interesting to me and it was. It offered modules in a wide range of subjects from lighting design, fire engineering to smoke control and acoustics. As well as the heating, cooling and ventilation design as you would expect.

I graduated in 2010 from Dublin Institute of Technology to a bleak construction industry in Ireland so I looked elsewhere and succeeded in getting a job here at Cudd Bentley in Ascot. Since graduating and entering the workplace as a Consultant Engineer, no two days have been the same, each week offers new challenges and the range of projects I have been involved in has been exciting. Projects I have been involved in range from retail to residential, shopping centres to extensive refurbishment projects. I work as part of a team and although I am mainly office based, I regularly visit site to carry out inspections or for Design Team meetings, offering an enjoyable diversity to my job.

Quite quickly into my career I realised my interest in the area of Sustainable Engineering Design and with the support of my company, Cudd Bentley Consulting, I have completed a range of courses including CIBSE Low Carbon Energy Assessor, Elmhurst On Construction Domestic Assessor and Bentley Hevacomp modelling course to allow me to be proficient in thermal modelling and a Low Carbon Consultant. I really enjoy building modelling and have had the opportunity to work with some interesting models here at Cudd Bentley. I use my models to generate a variety of outputs including heat loss and heat gain calculations, energy and carbon saving potential, overheating analysis, Energy Performance Certification and Part L Compliance.

Sustainability is an area that I am particularly interested in and this year I have begun an MSc in Renewable Energy in Reading University. I enjoy learning and I don’t think I will ever be finished learning. Topics which I am particularly interested in currently are Nuclear Energy and the Feed in Tariffs Scheme for solar energy. I think it will be a real shame if the Government chose to drastically reduce the Feed in Tariff Scheme. I am also eager to see what will come from the Climate Change Conference, COP21, in Paris this month.

I have been attending events for the BSRIA Young Engineers Network for the past five years and I was delighted to be asked to be the Chairwoman of the Network this year. I would encourage all young Engineers to attend as it gives a unique opportunity to meet experts in their field, discuss current topics with your peers and to network with fellow young Engineers.

I was fortunate to be surrounded by highly experienced Engineers from the beginning of my career and one piece of advice I would offer every young Engineer is to immerse yourself in the knowledge of those people around you with such experience as well as making sure to put your own young and fresh approach to it where appropriate. The industry is constantly changing and it’s important to be constantly evolving.

Being a young Engineer is challenging, exciting and for me a fantastic career.

Why the industry needs to be uncomfortable with current ways of working

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of Buildoffsite

This blog was written by Richard Ogden, Chairman of BuildOffsite

I am delighted to have this opportunity to contribute a blog – particularly at a time when a hugely influential industry like BSRIA is exploring the need for the industry to change its processes.

I have worked in the construction industry for more than 40 years – as client, contractor and property manager. In all that time there has been an almost constant call from voices drawn from right across the industry, from Government and from the media for the industry at large to change its processes and ways of working. To do things differently – to work collaboratively – to partner – to adopt innovative processes – to invest in and adopt new technologies and project management practices and so on. The reason for this clamour is always the same – the need to improve performance and productivity, the need to be less wasteful and more sustainable, to improve the image of the industry, to deliver better value assets, and to make the industry a better and safer place in which to work.

All good and well intentioned stuff but it does seem to be a peculiar feature of the construction industry. I don’t for example hear anything similar coming out of the automotive or consumer products sectors. Industries where investing in change/innovation is constantly being driven by the unforgiving hard edge of competition. OK- I hear (but do not accept) the mantra that construction is in some way different from other industries and frankly I recognise that there is still a whole lot of life left in this view of the industry. I am certainly not going to beat myself up in challenging this position when there is so much more constructive work to be done.

The case for change within construction often comes wrapped up within the covers of a report from an industry or Government appointed committee together with recommendations for action plus of course a set of targets. Inevitably before long yet another report will come delivered by yet another committee having chewed over an almost identical bone which will have come up with broadly similar proposals and another set of targets. All seamless and without any sense of continuity of message or indeed continuity of action.

Don’t get me wrong I am not against this approach as a mechanism to stimulate discussion and debate and indeed I was a member of the Movement for Innovation. However, it’s just that I don’t see much in the way of connection between broad based calls for change and the practical decision taking that goes on day in day out within individual construction businesses looking to win work and improve profitability and competitiveness. Close coupled to this is the reality that the status quo is for many a very comfortable place in which to operate. Unless there is a pressing need for a company to do things differently the chances are that sticking to the knitting will be an attractive option. Why break step if your competitors are operating in much the same way and if business is good.

In my experience it is only when individuals decide that they are uncomfortable with or no longer willing to simply go along with the way things are that meaningful change is likely to happen. If enough individual businesses decide to do things differently then there is the prospect that a sizeable part of the industry will change how it works – not because a report has made recommendations but because they are convinced of the need. Encouraging more decision takers within the industry to be uncomfortable and then encouraging the uncomfortable to take decisive action is how substantive change can happen.

Sometimes change becomes necessary if a business is to survive and prosper. When I worked for a client the cost of construction delivered traditionally became more and more expensive until the point was reached where the business could no longer afford to invest in new construction projects because the cost was not justified by the revenue that the investment would deliver. Think about that for a minute we were a serial client wanting to invest in new construction to help grow our business and to create jobs but the harsh reality was that we had been priced out of the UK market. I suspect that it will not be long before this phenomenon reappears in some sectors of the UK market.

Our decision was quick in coming – if the traditional industry was not able or willing to provide us with the built assets at a price we could afford and to deliver within the timescale in which we needed the assets then we would change our construction model and our supply chains and take on board the challenge of stripping out a significant amount of the waste that we knew to exist within the traditional industry in order to deliver the projects at a price that worked for us and within a timeframe that was acceptable to us. Working in close collaboration with our project partners we demonstrated that it was possible to simplify processes, strip out waste, adopt standardisation as much as possible and most importantly take that essential step of maximising the use of factory made offsite solutions to minimise the need for construction work to be carried out on site. Constructing on site from a set of commodity materials and products is inevitably going to be uncertain and potentially challenging involving low levels of site based productivity, indifferent quality and uncertainty of build programme.

The results we achieved were powerfully impressive in terms of the cash savings made, the additional value we gained and the much faster build times that we achieved. All this – including protecting the margins of our suppliers – was achieved by minimising all forms of waste. That was just fine as far as I was concerned because as a client given the choice I would not want to pay for waste and inefficient processes. I would want to pay for right first time quality, build programmes that are realistic and cost in use that is meaningful.

The learning acquired as a result of this forced change stood my company in good stead and became our standard construction practice. Our approach was also taken up by many other leading clients.

We were not talking about rocket science. The steps we followed involved a relatively simple approach including: giving clear leadership; being sure about what we wanted to achieve; listening to our suppliers and encouraging their advice; being collectively prepared to rethink every aspect of construction – absolutely no sacred cows; not being prepared to accept the message that this or that couldn’t be done – it usually can; be open minded; recognising that there will always be scope to do things even better next time around.

This approach and in particular a recognition that other than for site specific elements it is almost always better to assemble building and civil engineering structures on site is fundamental to the work programme that Buildoffsite has been advocating for more than 10 years. Together with our Membership we will continue to make the case for the increased use of offsite solutions based on sharing information on the innovative projects that our Members have delivered, working together to develop new innovative solutions, promoting new technologies and encouraging the take up of information modelling and the application of lean principles to identify opportunities for introducing more efficient processes.

I am delighted that our Membership continues to grow bringing together leading clients, suppliers, investors, skills and research organisations and so on. The common denominator is that our Membership and those organisations we work with to partner knowledge transfer are all committed to do things better – at a practical level to make change happen and to support continuous improvement.

Front cover imageThe case for offsite solutions will be proven to the satisfaction of clients and suppliers by the tangible project benefits delivered by projects that incorporate offsite methods. This applies just as much to the delivery of building services as it does to all other construction elements. However, there will be no free lunch. An approach based on the use of offsite solutions will need to deserve to be commercially successful. If offsite solutions fail to be competitive with traditional methods on whatever basis the customer deems appropriate then they will not be adopted.  That is precisely how markets should operate. However, I hope that in comparing the performance of offsite solutions with traditional solutions the assessment will include all relevant factors that impact on value including time, cost, quality and cost in use. For example it can still be the case that the precise cost of a potential offsite solution will be compared with the theoretical and highly uncertain predicted cost of traditional construction. As construction inflation increases this simplistic method of assessing project value is likely to become increasingly unreliable. We are working closely with the industry’s professional institutions to improve the understanding of offsite construction and to support the development of new skills.

I have no doubt that the case for offsite solutions will continue to grow and the market will expand rapidly across all sectors. I also have no doubt that we have only just started to scratch the surface in terms of our understanding of what can be achieved in reducing cost, improving client value and improving the performance of the industry. Remaining open minded and being committed to challenge the status quo will continue to drive innovation and to effect the changes that we are called on to support.

If I can pass on one final suggestion it would be to encourage everyone in the industry to be uncomfortable with current ways of working. If we could achieve this we would be well positioned to move on to effecting change.

If anyone wants to learn more about Buildoffsite check out our web site www.buildoffsite.com

Is construction still a losing game for most women?

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Politics is all about attempting to second-guess the mind of the electorate. Although cynics might cast a sceptical eye at the timing of the Cabinet reshuffle, the fact that women are more prominent in politics is a cause for celebration. After all, women make up 52% of Britain’s population, so increasing female ministers to around a quarter of the Cabinet (6 out of 17) is a belated step in the right direction1. But when there are so many talented women, why is it that more of them don’t achieve high office?

Before we cast too may stones, we in the construction industry need to have a good look in the mirror. Women make up just 11% of the workforce and our industry’s lack of progress towards equality is shameful. Aside from the lack of diversity, from a practical perspective, with one in five workers soon to reach retirement the industry needs to increase its skilled workforce. It needs to thus start attracting and retaining talented professionals regardless of gender, age or ethnicity (needless to say, ethnic minorities are also under-represented in construction2).

Women have struggled to get an equal footing in construction, but the representation of women in our industry has waxed and waned in recent history, demonstrating that, left to chance, both government leadership and the fluctuating demands for skilled labour can be persuasive. Perhaps Nicky Morgan, the new Minister for Women and Equalities ought to have something to say about this too.

According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the number of women who work as roofers, bricklayers and glaziers is currently so low as to be essentially unmeasurable. It hasn’t always been like this. In the 18th century, women in Britain worked as apprentices “in a host of construction occupations, including as bricklayers, carpenters, joiners and shipwrights”. However, by the early 19th century, with changes in legislation and new divisions of skilled/unskilled labour, women became increasingly excluded. By 1861 trades including that of carpenter, plumber, painter, and mason, were subsequently largely ‘male’3.

The First World War led to a marked increase in women in the building trades through a government agreement with the trade unions which “allowed women into skilled male jobs as long as wages were kept low and they were released at the end of the war”. During the second world war, there was similarly an estimated shortage of 50, 000 building workers, so the National Joint Council for the Building Industry agreed that employers should identify whether any men were available first before a role was filled by a woman (who earned, on average, 40% less their male counterparts—and it’s still not perfect now, with women earning c10% less4). The bias of the apprenticeship systems and trade unions were largely responsible for the fact that women in the building industry declined once more from the 1950’s to ‘70s3.

We’re currently back to the issue of a lack of available skilled labour. The government recognises this, and I welcome the recently announced BIS funding call specifically designed to help women progress as engineers. The funding will support employer-led training to encourage career conversions and progression in the industry. This call is in response to a recent report identifying that “substantially increasing the number of engineers would help the UK economy […] and the potential to significantly increase the stock of engineers by improving the proportion of women working in engineering jobs”5.

Carbon Comfort event 14th March-lowFunding new training opportunities is a great step forward, but to see real change we need industry leaders to be proactive in embedding a more diverse and inclusive work culture. The majority of women aged 25-45 find that attitudes, behaviours and perceptions are the greatest barriers3.

If you feel there is nothing new in the story, then the words ‘ostrich’ and ‘sand’ come to mind. It is about you. It’s about you and how you and your business behave now, not just when we have the time given that the recession is over and it’s a ‘nice to do’.

So, inspirational leadership—and not just policy—will foster a more inclusive and skilled workforce. Look around you. How many women are in senior management roles? What is your office culture really like? Is your organisation progressive or part of the problem? And, most importantly, what are you going to pledge to do about it?

1 Reshuffle 2014: Women control one in four pounds of government spending. Huffington Post, 15 July 2014

Inquiry into Race Discrimination in the Construction Industry, Action Plan. Equality and Human Rights Commission, 2010

3 Building the future: women in construction, The Smith Institute, 2014

Gender pay gaps 2012. David Perfect, Equality and Human Rights Commission Briefing Paper 6.

 Employer ownership: developing women engineers,BIS, 23 June 2014

Why do women leave architecture? Ann de Graft-Johnson et al., 2003.

If you are interested in careers at BSRIA then please check out our website. We also have an extensive training programme covering topics like BIM and the Building Regulations. 

Best & Worst Practices Please!

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

Julia Evans, BSRIA Chief Executive

BSRIA recently held a workshop on behalf of DECC identifying priorities to promote low carbon heating and cooling in non-domestic buildings as part of the development of its low carbon heat strategy.  Attendees were drawn from both the Young Engineers and Energy and Sustainability BSRIA networks.  Personal thanks to AECOM’s Ant Wilson for chairing the event.

It was a busy day.  It recognised that both new and existing buildings have a pivotal role in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and by 2050 one of the key requirements will continue to be how we provide heating and cooling.

BSRIA’s Peter Tse and Ian Orme both gave excellent presentations which drew on both good and poor practices identified from more than 50 independently assessed case studies.  These, I felt, answered the questions “what does good practice look like”, as well as “what are the consequences when its not followed”.

The workshop session resulted in many suggestions as to priorities for the future.  There were a couple which caught my eye.

In response to the suggestion that one of the priorities for DECC should be identifying independently assessed best practice and developing exemplars of new technologies, a number of delegates felt that instances of “bad practice” were even more helpful.  It seemed to me that a priority for at least a part of the audience was to know what to avoid doing.  Perhaps this reflects the industry’s receptiveness to messages about risk, and that we often learn most when we make mistakes.  The emphasis on “independent assessment” also resonated.  Many have become sceptical about instances of self-identified “best practice”, and BSRIA’s independent guidance on what works, and what does not, is there to assist the industry do things better.

Another of the workshop themes was on “skills shortages”.  After many years of recession, construction companies have euphemistically “right sized”, and this means that we have lost a lot of great talent from the industry.  Now that there are green shoots of recovery in construction, there is already talk of an exacerbated “skills gap”.  This gap makes it even more challenging for the industry to deliver buildings which meet the needs of their occupiers and where innovation is required to help tackle climate change, and meet the UK’s commitment to “zero carbon” and “very low energy” buildings. This reminded me of another of BSRIA’s strengths – training provision.

BSRIA's 2014/15 Training Brochure

BSRIA’s 2014/15 Training Brochure

Finally there was an astute observation that our recent quest for low carbon buildings has meant that we have worried less about the efficient use of energy, with the net outcome that we can end up with an EPC A rating for carbon design, but a DEC G rating for energy in use.  The move to policies that move us to buildings which are both zero carbon and nearly zero energy use will hopefully remedy this, although I suspect this particular journey may contain further unintended consequences before we reach that goal.

The workshop identified many requirements if we are to create environmentally conscious buildings that meet user needs, and importantly maintain these elements over the life of the building.

BSRIA’s mission remains to “make buildings better”.  As part of my role, I’m listening to our members and the industry what they expect from BSRIA.  I’d like to extend this offer to you, so if you have ideas about BSRIA’s future role, please send them to me: Julia.evans@bsria.co.uk.

To learn more about the BSRIA workshop you can download all the presentations from our website. 

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