Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Pollution, politics and productivity in focus at BESA Conference

The first Building Engineering Services Association (BESA) national conference and awards event took on a wide range of political, technical and business issues at a top London hotel last week.

The one-day event focussed in on the industry’s most topical subjects including the need to “reboot a broken process” in the wake of the Grenfell Tower disaster; a heartfelt plea from the deputy Mayor of London for industry support on indoor air quality; and the promotion of a “productivity led change agenda” by industry guru Mark Farmer.

The evening also saw the presentation of more than 20 BESA Awards for excellence including the national apprentice of the year accolade going to Lewis Buchanan of Hargreaves Ductwork.

Deputy mayor of London Shirley Rodrigues delivered the opening keynote address at the Park Plaza Riverbank Hotel. She announced that indoor air quality would be a priority consideration in new planning laws for the city and a crucial part of her Environment Strategy.

She urged BESA members to respond to the current consultation process on changes to the London Plan and to share their expertise with policy makers.

“IAQ is a relatively new area for us to understand and we want to talk to your industry about the right steps to take,” she said. “We also need to make sure that people are provided with better evidence about the risks posed by poor IAQ.

“We are aware that air brought into buildings through their ventilation systems can contribute to health problems and we will use the planning system to make sure this is taken into account by everyone involved in building projects, including architects,” she told the conference.

Her focus on IAQ was welcomed and discussed during a packed session hosted by the Association’s IAQ Group that immediately followed her talk. Issues around serious threats to human health from airborne particulates and how buildings are being turned into ‘safe havens’ were then outlined by a range of expert speakers.

Learning the lessons of Grenfell was the subject of an open discussion led by BESA’s head of sustainability David Frise. He said the specific causes of the fire were still not clear, but that everyone “recognised the culture and the systemic failings that made it possible”.

He cautioned that the enquiry and independent review should not focus exclusively on fire safety as regulators would then miss the wider opportunity to improve a construction process that delivers “broken buildings and broken people”.

The conference also featured technical streams covering: district heating and refrigeration, air conditioning and heat pumps. There were also a series of seminars led by the Association, offering tailored advice on day-to-day contractual issues, late payment and staff engagement.

BESA’s legal and commercial director Rob Driscoll introduced Mark Farmer, the author of last year’s seminal ‘Modernise or Die’ report for the construction industry by making the point that, unless the industry embraced digital methods, it would continue to suffer from poor productivity.

Mr Farmer said, during his keynote session, that the industry was facing an unprecedented combination of market drivers that threatened its “traditional resilience” – a growing capacity gap; rising consumer discontent; and Brexit, which would hit inward investment.

He said the industry was standing on a “burning platform” and urged it to support his vision of a digital-led future where innovation dictated future skills development.

“This is not the same old same old,” he told the conference. “Construction has risen to challenges before, but we are now facing a set of problems that we haven’t seen before.”

The role of Trailblazer apprenticeships, which provide far more flexibility than previous vocational training frameworks, were also widely welcomed as another opportunity to embrace new techniques and tackle falling productivity while also improving the sector’s image. BESA’s training director Tony Howard urged employers to embrace the new schemes and consider becoming training providers in order to plug a serious provision gap across the country.

Apprentices were also the focal point of the Association’s awards dinner, which took place in the evening at the same venue. The winners of regional awards held earlier in the year were nominated for national prizes with top apprentices named in five industry sectors culminating in Lewis Buchanan taking the overall award.

15 individuals were also honoured for giving up their time to help develop Trailblazer apprenticeships on behalf of the industry and the first ever BESA Award for Excellence was won by Fife Council for its work on creating a forum for local authorities in Scotland supported by the Association.

The BESA Contractor of the Year award was given jointly to Boulting Environmental Services and End Systems for their work together on AstraZeneca’s state of the art Sterile Products Plant in Macclesfield.

The Alfred Manly Management Award went to Faye Pinder of Bouygues and the Ann Noblett memorial award went Curtis Castledine from Briggs & Forrester.

For a full list of award winners go to www.thebesa.com/besa-awards/besa-national-awards

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