It’s been a long and difficult 18 months or so. The world has changed markedly since Covid-19 began to take hold, and while it seems the UK is on the way to better times, many regions still face huge and dangerous challenges.
The pandemic has been traumatic in so many ways. Alongside the human costs, businesses have struggled, and the construction industry offers no exception. You can get a simple idea of the impact of the pandemic on our customers’ ability to trade with a simple measure of activity: the number of audits recorded each month.
As you can see, the first lockdown caused a huge dropoff in activity, as firms struggled with new dangers – and limited understanding and resources to help overcome them. The strong recovery as we headed toward the June 2020 end of that lockdown reflects businesses implementing ‘Covid-safe’ working practices.
Being our customer data, it also strongly reflects support from the remote working features of the Assure360 system. After seeing first hand how Assure360 was helping businesses stay open during the first lockdown, we were inspired to try and do more. From July we made Assure360 Paperless available on a three-month free trial.
Paperless was designed from the outset to remove paperwork, maximise productivity for the supervisor and promote remote management. In normal times this is a huge boost to site efficiency, allowing supervisors to concentrate on the works at hand. It’s also a great way for contract managers to reduce their dependence on site visits to ensure everything is proceeding as planned.
In Covid, these benefits became even more useful. We spoke to customers such as GreenAir Environmental, who had abolished all site paperwork, and were using wipe-clean iPads as their on-site hub: supervising jobs, holding Zoom meetings and communicating the method statement to the team. Asbestech told us how, by doing away with paperwork returning from site, they’d eliminated one vector through which the virus could spread.
The take-up of our free Paperless offer was strong. Not only was this an endorsement of a product we strongly believe in, but it’s made us incredibly proud to know we could do something to help our community through a once-in-a-lifetime crisis.
Look again at the graph above and you might notice a marked difference as the UK began to lock down again, from late September 2020, through to the full lockdown in the first months of 2021. By this point, many of us had strong experience of Covid workplace safety measures, and far more of our customers were using Paperless to help reduce paperwork and support remote working. The result was a far smaller drop in activity, with more of our customers able to keep working throughout.
Towards post-Covid times
Despite the success of vaccination and lockdown measures in reducing cases, hospitalisations and deaths, it’s too soon to say that Covid is behind us. Less than half of the population is fully vaccinated, and we’re still a way off everyone having that first shot. Even so, we seem to be through the darkest days. So what have we learned?
The first, soberingly, is that the pandemic might not be over yet. While we’re in a far better position than even a few months ago, Covid has already proved its tenacity with additional waves and variants. The government is keen to stress the need for continued caution, even as it removes the restrictions we’ve all been living and working under.
For employers, this makes it even more important to look beyond government or industry guidance, no matter how sensible it is. As I wrote in February, it’s our legal duty to keep employees safe from Covid. If the government is both opening things up and urging caution, it’s hard to avoid an implied transfer of responsibility to the private sector.
We’ve also learned that some of the changes forced on us by Covid have been good. It’s a small ray of sunshine to take from 18 months of awfulness, but it’s clear that changes like reduced paperwork and increased home or remote working are here to stay.
At Assure360 we’ve also seen how many customers who took advantage of the free Paperless upgrade have decided to stay with the product after the three-month period. It really is a system that has to be used to be believed, so we’ve extended the offer: now every new Assure360 Platinum contract will include the first three months free.
What’s changed on the ground?
Finally I wanted to take a quick look at what our audit data can tell us about any changes on the ground. If we compare the non-conformances we were seeing in the first quarter of last year with the first quarter of this, we see:
|Non Conformances Identified in Q1 2020
||Non Conformances Identified in Q1 2021
|Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper)
||RPE Maintenance – Certificate on site
|Method Statement (clearly written, site specific and appropriate)
||Risk Assessments (detailed in method proper)
|Electricity – Isolation
|Method Statement (appropriate)
||Electricity – Isolation
|Welfare Facilities (general)
|Analyst Recorded (including who contracted to)
||Method Statement (appropriate)
||Trip Hazards (general)
At first glance, it looks like a lot has changed, but if we look at broad trends we start to see some similarities. In 2020, the large majority of issues were related to the method statement, and its suitability and accuracy. Looking at the broader picture for Q1 2020, we can break the top 10 down like this:
- Method Statement related issues (70)
- Isolations (12)
- Housekeeping and trips (11)
- Welfare (11)
In 2021 we see four very admin-related issues coming into the top 10: RPE maintenance certificates, monthly RPE checks, and medical and training certificates (not) being on site. Looking at the broader picture we can break the top 10 down like this:
- Certification on site 59
- Method Statement related issues 49
- Isolations 11
- Housekeeping and trips 10
This might hint at a picture where admin teams are struggling to adapt to the ‘new normal’, or simply that they’ve been furloughed and that some of their responsibilities aren’t getting picked up. However, other than the new challenges of getting the right paperwork to site, the picture painted by data is relatively similar year-on-year. I’d be interested to know if this tallies with your experience. What are you finding on site?
How do we move on?
It’s hard to know just how different – or not – the world will be post-Covid. And again, I’m mindful that for many this nightmare is far from over. But it’s certain that in many ways the changes of the last 18 months will be permanent.
Just like many of you, we’ve spent the last year changing how we do things. First we added Android support to the Paperless and Incident apps. In Paperless we added site diary entries with photographs – a hugely important and flexible tool for all supervisors and contract managers. We’ve been responding to other changes, too. Last month we introduced our solution to calculating four-hour TWAs – something that the industry has been waiting on for 30 years!
We’re still adapting and improving our products as quickly as we can. Next on the list – and coming very soon – is Assure360 Audit 3.0. Just as with Paperless and Incident it will be available for both Apple (iOS) and Android devices. We’ll be refreshing the look, but we’re also taking the opportunity to add in lots of features that many of you have been asking for:
- Auto upload – the audit is submitted to the Assure360 Cloud Compliance system as soon as the auditor completes the audit. There will also be a function for feedback from management, and the ability for auditors to edit and re-submit after further investigations.
- A long awaited search function – so you can find the right place in the audit quickly.
- A simplified module for changing the question sets – allowing us to create bespoke sets much more quickly.
- Embedded support for the Trusted Auditor Scheme.
To quickly elaborate on the last point, this means that Auditors powered by Assure360 will be able to better cooperate with their clients to help drive through improvements.
As I said, Audit 3.0 is coming very soon. We’re looking for customers who’d like to test the beta release from the end of May. If you’d like to take part, please get in touch below.
And whatever your personal experience of the pandemic, I hope that things are improving for you now and that you, too, are able to look forward. I hope we stand on the verge of a period of rebuilding, growth and – let’s hope – renewed social interaction. May we all make the best of it.
Want to help shape and test the next version of the Assure360 Audit app? Get in touch to join the beta programme.
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