Opinion

Leader: Here's to a healthier and more productive 2017

2 January 2017

After witnessing tumultuous political upsets in 2016, only the brave could make hard predictions for 2017. The market has already been see-sawing on the prospect of Brexit and who knows how that will pan out?

But among the ebb and flow of the market and the political scene, one big issue that will be riding high on the agenda is the need to improve construction productivity. In fact, productivity full stop. At the end of last year, consultant Mark Farmer ruffled feathers by suggesting the industry needed to “modernise or die”.

In his government-commissioned review of the sector, adopting digital technology and offsite fabrication were high on the list of recommendations.

So the productivity theme certainly dominates our coverage for this month – both directly, by looking at how firms are streamlining processes through innovation and collaboration but also indirectly, by improving the happiness and health of the workforce.

Developers and occupiers are already starting to focus more closely on offices that nurture good health and we're seeing a take up of the US WELL standard. At the moment, meeting the WELL requirements and those of the BREEAM standard potentially clash, so the BRE and the WELL Institute looking to work more closely together is a welcome step in the right direction.

Occupational health, and in particular mental health, is a being made a priority by the Health in Construction Leadership Group led by Land Securities’ Clive Johnson. He has told contractors and their supply chain that they must sign up to a new initiative called Mates in Mind, which provides a network of mental health first aiders on sites around the country.

And two former contractors have come together to provide a toolkit to help companies and their staff reduce the kind of stress that contributes to poor mental health in the first place.

Both initiatives should be welcomed by the sector – and let’s hope they start to get the traction they deserve. Surveys suggest that more than 80% of workers in the construction industry suffer from some degree of work-related stress.

According to the Samaritans, construction workers are six times more likely to die of suicide than a fall. Not the sort of statistics to woo a younger generation of people to come into the sector in the wake of Brexit.

We're also going to see a lot more new technology deployed this year – drones, robots and virtual reality are set to become more common fixtures on site, if not yet highly productive ones.

Andrew Wolstenholme, chairman of the Construction Leadership Council, says the industry has made great strides but still has a way to go to make the step changes talked about by Mark Farmer.

That is true, but let’s not forget, the industry has broken a great taboo by even talking about mental health. And appointing an innovation director, as an increasing number of firms are doing, in itself underlines that we are living in exciting and hopefully progressive times. 

Denise Chevin, editor

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