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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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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?


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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New Expert Witness Service


We can provide reliable, engineering based expert witness services for all aspects of height safety disputes. This service is underpinned by our unique access to international height safety expertise.

For this service please contact our chief engineer e.rickard@highwire.info with your specific requirements.

All enquires will be treated in strictest confidentiality.

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