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Social housing and working safely at Height with Highwire

It is no secret that there is an alarming social housing crisis throughout the UK right now. With more than a million households currently on waiting lists for adequate social housing (a number that is steadily on the rise), the need for immediate action is becoming increasingly crucial. In fact, several reports indicate more than an 80% increase in the number of households waiting on social housing availability since 1997. So how exactly are these housing associations dealing with this crisis, while still ensuring that safety standards are being met?

Housing Associations are overwhelmed by both housing needs and the height safety requirements needed to maintain them

Addressing the current social housing crisis has unsurprisingly led to many housing associations being forced to take on massively large portfolios of properties, often without knowing exactly what type of housing they have, or what to even expect in terms of height safety issues. This often leads to several uncertainties as to the test/certification status, as well as the “fitness for purpose” of some height safety system installations.

With housing associations being responsible for every aspect when it comes to the safety of individuals charged with carrying out maintenance on properties (often subcontractors), it is vital that health and safety standards are both up to date and strictly adhered to. Keeping up with the ever-changing health and safety standards can prove to be an overwhelming task, especially considering that it is dealing specifically with the preservation of human lives. This is primarily the reason why many of today’s housing associations are relying on thorough Height-Safety audits to not only identify potential height-safety hazards but also find solutions to maintain good standards as well.

Highwire – helping to ease the burden

Highwire specialises in carrying out Height-Safety audits for numerous housing associations by creating detailed records (both written and photographic) of what height safety equipment is currently installed, to offer insight and support on how existing safety equipment can be both improved and enhanced.

In addition to assessing and reporting on the Height-Safety status of portfolio properties, installed equipment requires regular testing to ensure that it meets stringent height safety standards. This is why Highwire implements a re-test schedule for all safety equipment to ensure the safety of anyone who will be using or maintaining such equipment. We also apply recertification schedules that are both set up and managed by us to ensure that safety equipment is “in-test” as well as having valid certification.

Continued assessment and maintenance

Height safety involves far more than safety fittings and fixings to buildings, however. Increasingly, housing associations are encouraged to provide PPE (Personal Protection Equipment)– including equipment such as safety harnesses – alongside the safety fixings on site. This is vital for emergency repairs where a subcontractor may not have the correct PPE to hand, but also saves in terms of costs as it improves the efficiency of maintenance visits – meaning subcontractors don’t have to return again with more equipment.

Highwire not only adheres to all of the current height safety requirements – we feel we consistently exceed them by providing recertification schedules that are both implemented and managed exclusively by our team, as well as offering expert advice on carrying out practical and realistic solutions for each client’s unique needs.

We have been able to provide businesses, not just in the housing sector, with the most workable and practical height safety solutions by forming and maintaining trusted and long-term relationships with each and every one of our valued clients.

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Highwire’s take on Fees For Intervention

A recent report released by the HSE has concluded that not only is the Fees For Intervention (FFI) scheme a good thing but that it is here to stay. Feelings on this news have been mixed, with some people of the opinion that FFI is nothing more than a tactic to raise revenues, as opposed to improving on-site health and safety.

The HSE, of course, disagrees with this opinion and instead theorises that the threat of monetary loss will improve health and safety practices among businesses.

Opposers struggling to find a practical alternative

The frustrating truth for companies at the moment, is that there is currently no practical alternative to the FFI. As much as we dislike any plan that involves the risk of additional costs, it is irresponsible to put a price on health and safety. The HSE is of the opinion that companies are more likely to take all necessary safety precautions when the fear of fines and penalties hang over their heads – an opinion that is, unfortunately, hard to disprove.

Are you at risk of receiving fines and costs associated with the FFI?

In a word, yes – especially if you are unsure of the current health and safety standards that are in place. Thus far, many companies financially affected by the FFI due to non-compliance of safety standards have claimed that although they have attempted to be diligent in their health and safety practices. Many claim they have ultimately struggled to keep up with all that the health and safety standards involve. Unfortunately for these companies, citing ignorance does little to reduce or eliminate the costs associated with non-compliance of health and safety law.

Highwire’s take on the current situation

There are two sides to every argument, and in this case, Highwire can identify with both. Because of how passionate we are about health and safety, we fully acknowledge the need for health and safety enforcement measures to be taken. However, we also recognise that for companies to remain successful and profitable, they cannot afford the staggeringly high fines and enforcement notice costs associated with the FFI, as well as the expense and inconvenience associated with the HSE getting involved.

Moving forward

The silver lining for companies when it comes to HSE involvement and the FFI is that if you are adhering to the current safety standards, you really shouldn’t have anything to worry about. This is why it is imperative that you hire a knowledgeable and experienced health and safety expert to deal with your health and safety requirements – particularly when it comes to specialist fields such as working at height.

At Highwire, we specialise in maintaining health and safety systems that can help you avoid a HSE visit or FFI charge.  We carry out up-to-date safety audits, as well as offering on-going support and advice on how to best improve and maintain crucial safety requirements – offering you not only protection from the HSE or FFI costs but peace of mind as well.

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Action against poor quality safety equipment

I hwlogorecently read an interesting article by Stuart Linnet. Manager, Global Engineered Systems at Capital Safety. Entitled Working at height:demistifying the myths, Stuart’s article discusses the importance of proper training and procedures in the use of Height Safety equipment and how people make assumptions about the quality and effectiveness of some safety equipment which simply aren’t true.

A key assumption made (quite naturally) by many people is that because a piece of equipment is CE marked it must be tested as safe and fit for purpose. This is not true!

As height safety specialists, Highwire do not simply supply a standard range of products. In every case, we make a professional assessment of the needs and application of each client and then specify a system and equipment that is, in our engineering experience, fit for purpose.

In our own experience we have come across height safety system installations which include components which simply WOULD NOT WORK in a fall-arrest incident, yet meet the basic required standards.

HSE-logoThis is a situation that the Health and Safety Executive is keen to address proactively. At a meeting earlier this year, HSE representatives agreed that where a BSIF member identifies an inferior piece of safety equipment which, in their opinion, is inappropriate for the particular installation, they should report this directly to the BISF who will then refer details to the HSE for investigation and any necessary action they deem appropriate.

The details of this new regime are still being finalised but it looks like it may be a significant step forward in raising UK height safety standards even further.

If you’d like to know more or to discuss your own height safety requirements, do get in touch.

 

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The value of planned maintenance

Planned maintenanceMaintaining a property is a never-ending task. Once you think that everything has been dealt with, something else inevitably crops up. If you simply react to a problem whenever it arises, you could find yourself facing a lot of inconvenience and unnecessary expenses. This is why a planned maintenance programme is advisable, irrespective of whether you are responsible for a factory, a whole estate, or a commercial building.

The problem with being reactive

When an unexpected problem occurs, it can be incredibly frustrating, especially as issues seem to happen at the most inconvenient of times. In a lot of cases, these issues will need to be dealt with straight away otherwise they can cause even more damage to the property. This may mean that you need to close your business for a number of days or that other plans need to be cancelled. You are also going to be faced with an expensive and unexpected repair bill, and if you’ve had to close your business, you’re going to be losing money in that respect too. Instead, you can manage the condition of your property with regular maintenance.

The benefits of regular maintenance

The cost of regular maintenance is a lot lower and you know how much you are going to pay every quarter or year, for example. This means that you have no nasty surprises – rather, you have a programme of planned maintenance that you can control and complete on your terms. You will not only save money in the short run, but the long term as well, as potential defects will be identified and addressed before they become costly disasters. This ensures the physical deterioration of your property is minimised, which will in turn increase your property’s value over time.

A vital tool in preserving older structures

A comprehensive planned maintenance programme is vital for all types of buildings, especially older buildings, a lot of which do not have a maintenance programme in place. This is worrying, as small problems can quickly magnify if they are overlooked. With an older building, the entire structure must be assessed to ensure the useful and economic life of the property is optimised. It is also worth noting that legislative and statutory property requirements are regularly updated, which raises the upkeep standards that are expected. All in all, planned maintenance is a vital asset management strategy for businesses, particularly those in older buildings, ensuring optimal value and preserving the building.

How to plan your maintenance

The planned maintenance required depends entirely on your property. Reputable companies will not provide a one-size-fits-all solution. Instead, a professional will make a detailed survey of your building so that they can determine what scheduled works are required, which could be anything from structural surveys to dealing with asbestos related issues. They will then estimate costs and work out what projects need attending to first.

Access issues

One thing that is worth considering is that access can be a real issue, especially in regards to commercial and industrial buildings. This is something that can pose further problems and expenses if you react to issues instead of implementing planned maintenance. Luckily, this is something you don’t have to worry about if you choose Highwire, as we can develop an effective planned maintenance programme for your property ensuring you have the right equipment to access all areas.

Contact us to discuss your effective planned maintenance

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Valuing people – The power to deliver

BeFairRecruitment and retention in the construction sector is something that has been the subject of many debates, as there is a real issue in terms of developing standards, and ethnic minorities and women are also highly unrepresented. Here, we discuss this in further depth while also providing suggestions on what can be done to attract and retain the best talent in the UK construction sector.

Don’t ‘treat ‘em mean’

One issue that is plaguing the industry is that subcontractors often feel undervalued, which, of course, has a knock-on effect. Most would agree that there is a total imbalance of power. Barry Ashmore, the owner of a company providing dispute resolution in the construction sector, StreetwiseSubbie, remarked that younger people are being trained to think that beating subcontractors is the way to do business, calling it shameful.

Payment issues

Unfair payment practices are the main issue, with a recent survey revealing that every three in five subcontractors are underpaid by main contractors, even when they job they delivered was perfect. In addition to this, 55 per cent of SMEs need to wait over 30 days to be paid, and one in ten subcontractors mistakenly believe that main contractors can simply refuse payment without any justification.

We’re all equal – aren’t we?

There is then the issue that women and ethnic minorities are underrepresented in the construction sector. The industry is 13 per cent female, yet this drops to 5 per cent in technical and professional roles, while ethnic minorities struggle to make up a mere two per cent. Maternity leave is virtually anathema. In fact, in STEM roles as a whole, 28 per cent of women have taken maternity leave, which is shocking when you consider that 80 per cent of women in the UK have at least one child.

An industry-wide shakeup is needed

It is evident that there needs to be a push to develop standards in the industry, ensuring that there is more equality and a positive approach to diversity. However, the issue is that the focus on developing these standards tends to be with a few major firms, who are then expected to filter these standards down to SMEs. This makes little sense considering the sector is 96 per cent SMEs, and they can often feel like they are being bullied by the bigger firms, which in turn causes a greater negative spiral.

Starting from the bottom

Instead, it would be advisable to work from the bottom up to promote equality and diversity in the industry, showing businesses the value of this. There is also a need to focus on improving business management, encouraging a professional attitude towards managing subcontractors and being open to hiring women and ethnic minorities. By embedding respect throughout the sector and implementing good management practice, the feeling of being undervalued can be eradicated. Knowledge and information resources need to be easily accessible so that firms know what to do in order to raise standards while coherent communication and promotion of good practices is also vital.

Practice what you preach – we do!

At Highwire, this is something we are heavily invested in. We have active involvement in CITB BeFair, which is a structured approach to Fairness, Inclusion, and Respect (FIR). We are actually the smallest company to receive the CITB equality and diversity accreditation, and we are focused on driving equality and diversity from the ground upwards. Our director, Liz Rickard, sits on the BSI board and works alongside the government in regards to the new diversity standard.

It is vital that all businesses, even the smallest firms, start to take responsibility. The focus should be on working with companies that have the right attitude, instead of expecting to drive standards down from the top. Next time you have a project, see it as an opportunity to build for the future by taking this into account.

Contact Highwire to find out more

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Our Director featured in Telegraph article as engineering role model

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Our director Liz was delighted to be featured in the recent article in the Telegraph

“It is great to see the media portraying a diverse and positive image of engineering and construction careers, and essential to attract talent and ensure the future success of the UK construction sector”

View full article

 

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The dangers of unplanned maintenance

It is always upsetting to hear of someone losing their life in an accident at work. Nobody leaves home in the morning not expecting to come back. But it is particularly distressing – for the victim’s family and friends, colleagues and those in the wider industry – when you know that a death could easily have been prevented.

dangerAt Highwire we are obviously acutely aware of incidents where a properly designed and utilised fall-arrest system would have saved lives. We want all employers and operators to fully understand the risks and that just taking the time to put professional precautions in place before undertaking what may seem like a basic job at height can literally be the difference between life and death.

Tragic consequences

In 2012, Cheshire firm Lion Steel Equipment pleaded guilty to corporate manslaughter and was fined £480,000 over the fatal fall of maintenance worker Steven Berry at its Hyde site in Greater Manchester. Berry had gone on to the roof in an attempt to locate and repair the source of a leak but he was unsupervised, untrained and wasn’t provided with a fall-arrest harness, crawl boards or any other safety equipment. The roof had several fragile sections, about which there were no warning signs, and it is believed that Berry may have been taking a short cut when he fell through a fibreglass rooflight 13 metres to the factory floor.

The judge responsible for the case described the accident as “entirely foreseeable” with “no precautions being taken to guard against something going wrong”.

“No one told me”

Lion Steel had in fact been previously warned by a Health & Safety Executive inspector about the lack of signs in reference to fragile sections of the roof, but that was just one of the factors contributing to Berry’s death and the firm had not been given specific directions concerning its working-at-height procedures at the site. It is all too easy for business owners to assume that their insurance providers would raise any issues that need to be considered or addressed, but in reality they don’t usually do so, are under no legal obligation to advise in that way, and are rarely qualified in height safety. It is not a defence for a company to say that the insurers haven’t mentioned something!

Make time to plan

If a firm does not already have full, appropriate systems in place for working at height, including on a roof, any maintenance work must wait until expert input has been sought and a proper, safe solution is in place. This is more critical than ever in situations where ‘emergency repairs’ are needed – an unplanned decision to check out a roof because a leak has suddenly sprung or there has been weather damage is far more likely to be approached hastily and without safeguards in place. Even in an era of the most advanced high-tech equipment, sometimes the right answer in the short term is a bucket on the floor to catch the drips while a properly planned repair is organised!

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Specifying the right fall arrest system for each individual

The right fall arrest system for each individual: So much more than a harness that fits

Who remembers the old playground trick question: Which is heavier, a tonne of lead or a tonne of feathers? How about this one: If you drop a hammer and a feather at the same time, which will land first?

featherlead

The answer to the latter, of course, is that it depends where you are – as proven by Commander David Scott of the Apollo 15 space mission, who conducted this precise experiment on the moon in 1971. He was testing Galileo’s theory from nearly four centuries earlier that objects will fall at the same rate, regardless of their mass, in a vacuum or where the resistance of the medium through which it is falling is negligible. Check out this video beamed back from the Moon 45 years ago (can you believe it?):

The hammer and feather landing simultaneously on the moon’s surface is undoubtedly a ‘Wow’ moment but beyond the science lesson brought to life, the physics at play here has crucial implications in all manner of situations back on Earth.

Feel the force

What is less visible in the famous space footage is that, while the hammer’s acceleration is equal to that of the feather and it hits the ground at the same speed (metres per second – m/s), the hammer has a lot more energy (energy is a combination of speed with mass).

Many people outside engineering and associated fields don’t appreciate the difference between an object’s mass (kilogrammes-kg) and force (kilonewtons – kN) which results from the effect of gravity on that mass and gives the object ever more energy as is speeds up. Yet this difference is the critical factor between a successful fail arrest system and one that could result in serious injury.

A correctly specified fall arrest system needs to account for the mass involved so that the force can be calculated and the system can be tailored to the amount of energy it will have to absorb in operation. At Highwire, we are never simply dealing with a harness and safety lines – a one-size-fits-all approach in these circumstances will not work.

Scientifically tailored solutions

A system that functions perfectly for a 120kg (19st) man could injure a 50kg (8st) woman, for example, if it slowed her fall too quickly. Anyone who has skydived will recall the sensation of being jerked violently upwards as the parachute opened, which was in fact just the extremely fast descent being suddenly slowed – many will have also sported harness-shaped bruising as a memento. The potential for significantly worse injury, including internal damage, in a situation where the fall is unexpected, the person involved is in a far from optimum position and their acceleration must be halted almost instantly, is very clear.

With an increasing number of women working in industries, from engineering and construction to retail and catering, that rely on fall arrest systems under certain conditions, the systems themselves have to be designed and manufactured to cope with a wider range of body mass levels than ever before. At Highwire, this is what we specialise in – precision solutions for the changing market that can be trusted to work effectively whatever the application. The right answer may be slightly different, but our team can advise and deliver the best option for every individual need.

Please get in touch to discuss your fall-arrest requirements

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Quality training delivers the right people and right results

Thanks in no small part to Highwire’s own focus on professional practice and standards, and the way our determination to forge a better service has influenced the wider industry, overall performance and safety levels in the field have undoubtedly improved.

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Tailor-made training

While this is clearly a positive move, our team at Highwire has found that external training within the industry can still fall far short of the exacting levels we are committed to within our company. This is not something that anyone at Highwire is prepared to compromise on – we never lose sight of the fact that our ultimate role is to prevent loss of life, and there is no leeway under those circumstances.

As a result, we have consistently invested in our own in-house training, developing successful apprenticeships and pioneering a unique accredited NVQ Level 2 in fall-arrest sector. This is the only qualification of its kind in the sector and key training for operatives.

Foundations of the future workforce

We can give our clients complete assurance that we only use direct and fully trained labour. We are proud to have as a current site supervisor someone who first joined us 12 years ago as a young trainee. Since 2014 Mark Normanton has built his skills and experience with us, recently completing his NVQ Level 2 and now ideally placed with his knowledge, practical abilities and understanding both of Highwire and our clients, to run height-access teams on site.

At the other end of the scale, just starting out following in Mark’s footsteps, we have height access apprentice Saul Del Rio, who has been with Highwire since early last year. He is developing a valuable skillset through a combination of hands-on experience with our operatives, college work and the dedicated Highwire NVQ.

The wider picture on site

Alongside his practical and college-based training, Saul – like all our operatives – is given the opportunity to learn about and respond to the wide variety of situations that crop up in the ‘real world’ by working alongside our teams on site. Highwire is involved with a large number of projects based at schools, colleges and medical facilities, among others, and we believe it is important for both clients and our team members that any of our staff on site understand and are comfortable with the specific environment. To this end, all our operatives are not only appropriately trained but also DBS (previously CRB) checked and always introduced to clients so they know who to expect on site.

Fresh talent across the board

We do not only offer apprenticeships on the height access side but appreciate the benefits of helping to develop quality staff across all aspects of the business. James Burney joined us in October 2015 to work in the sales and marketing department, and trains at NSPP Vocational training alongside his on-the-job experience with us. James is already starting to make an impact at Highwire.

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Welcome to 2016 and our new website!

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We are stepping into the new year with a fresh website and a new CRM system, so for our customers and staff it will be easier and quicker to find the information you most need.  Thank you all for your custom over 2015.

Where did 2015 go? Defiantly a busy  year filled with change with two of our staff Megan and Olivia celebrating new arrivals late on in the year. Within the company we welcomed new apprentices Saule and James.  We had a nice Christmas surprise from the Construction Skills Training Board of  a ticket to the Pride of Construction Awards and an extra grant award for excellence in training.

Congratulations to our operative Mark who is now the 4th technician to pass his site supervisor  qualification.

Our director Liz is continuing to work with the British Safety Industry Federation on improving knowledge and standards within our sector, last year she had the privaliadge of giving a  lecture for  to the Institution of Civil Engineers on the dynamic engineering aspects in  fall arrest and is looking forward to working with the institution this year. She is also working with BSI on a new Equality an Diversity standard promoting smart working.

Wishing all the very best for 2016! We would like to leave you with a quote from John Ruskin (1819-1900), how much and yet so little has changed! Enjoy.

Value…

It’s unwise to pay too much, but it’s unwise to pay too little. When you pay too much you loose a little money that is all. When you pay too little you sometimes loose everything because the thing you bought is incapable of doing the thing you bought it to do.

The common law of business balance prohibits paying a little and getting a lot. It can’t be done. If you deal with the lowest bidder it’s as well to add something for the risk you run. And if you do that you will have enough to pay for something better.

 

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