The ‘beast from the east’ or Storm Emma, whatever you wish to call it, has descended on every building site in Ireland by now, halting work and causing chaos.
For sites on the east of the country, the snow on Tuesday night was much heavier than predicted and much more treacherous than the status orange weather warning suggested, leaving site managers in the unenviable position of having to use their discretion about closures. Of course, the danger with discretion is the likelihood of making the wrong call; being overly-cautious incurs massive financial and productivity cost, at a time when margins are already close to the bone. On the other hand, not being cautious enough incurs risk to human life and this flies in the face of every health and safety initiative that has lead to the downward trend in both fatal and non-fatal accidents within the industry in Ireland over the past five or six years.
At least by Wednesday, when Met Eireann raised the weather warning nationally to status red, this discretion was taken away from construction bosses and site managers. We know that site managers in parts of the west found this to be excessive, however, it saved them from having to make a judgment call, that might have proven more costly in the long run.
There was a time when site closures due to weather were measured in terms of inconvenience and project overruns; lessons have been learned since storm ‘Ophelia’ and there is now a deeper appreciation of the dangers faced by employees being allowed to continue their work through hazardous weather conditions. It is unreasonable and unsafe for workers to present and labour through in these conditions, but how long before there will be a safe environment for the workers to return to site after the last snowfall?
While many construction projects provide for inclement weather days, this most recent weather event is the second 30-year (plus) event to hit the country in less than six months. It is difficult to assess right now just how will this impact workers and the overall project delivery costs. Where inclement weather days are planned and budgeted for prior to the project commencing, the effect of this is ordinarily to excuse rather than compensate i.e. there will be a time extension allowed but no additional payment (depending upon the agreement between contractor and owner).This extended delivery time, without financial compensation has a tangible cost, not to mention the lost opportunity cost. For this reason, it is vital for the sustainability of the project that site closures do not affect productivity across the entire organisation. Technology and communications have moved on to the extent that design and delivery teams should be able to work remotely off-site. But what about the site labour and transport, which can account for close to half of the total project costs for civil engineering or groundworks? With a national status red weather warning in place, generally staff will still need to be paid and leased/hired machinery will still be paid in full. The only exception to this is where a site is using a temporary workforce, however, this is no longer common within the Irish industry.To be clear, we absolutely do not want to see a return to the days of temporary workforces on site, if anything, this type of critical situations highlights the importance of digitising the construction sector further.
Director / Business Development
Lotus Investment Group