Just what the doctor ordered
It would be hard to imagine anyone more enthusiastic about his job than this year’s CMYA winner Roger Frost. Denise Chevin begins our coverage on the awards by finding out how he delivered the mother of all hospitals. And if you want to find out what our medal winners’ must-have kit is, read our ‘Dear Santa’ feature.
Photograph by Sam Fairbrother
It was Roger Frost of Balfour Beatty who took home the coveted Construction Manager of the Year Award 2011 from the Grosvenor Great Room last month for his inspirational and remarkable stewardship of the mighty £588m Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham.
But, as well as a project manager par excellence, Frost should also be saluted as a first-class industry ambassador thanks to his enormous enthusiasm for his trade. After all, it’s one thing being a master at constructing buildings that help people get well. Frost, though, could be bottled as the most efficacious pick-me-up and administered under the NHS. The 50-year-old simply boils over with inspiring enthusiasm: enthusiasm for
“his hospital”, for “giving birth to buildings that go on to make people better,” for his love of the industry and his immense pride in being a chartered builder. Even DIY for goodness sake.
This year’s CMYA winner, Roger Frost
Now, exuberance in some people can come across as a tad annoying, PR spin even. But when you speak to Frost, his is simply infectious and endearing. You know instantly it’s utterly genuine zeal for the job and for getting things done.
Morag Jackson, new hospitals project director for the University Hospitals Birmingham, who commended him for the honour, recognises these qualities too when she says: “Roger is straight talking, loyal and passionate about what he does. He was completely focused on delivering us a new hospital on time and within budget and with no serious injuries during the 14 million man hours taken to build it.”
Frost won the overall award after receiving the Gold Medal in the PFI category for the project (see page 36). He’s never entered before, because he sees running a project as very much a team effort. “I don’t want to get too big headed about this award,” he says. “There were hundreds of people involved in this on site, clients and designers, and engineers. All I did was stand at the front and steer a bit.”
Queen Elizabeth is Birmingham’s first new hospital in 70 years. It includes a 100-bed critical care unit, the largest in Europe, and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, with a separate ward for military casualties, and the UK’s only National Institute of Health Research Centre for Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology — the sole research centre to focus on both military and civilian care and treatment.
A teaching hospital with 1,213 beds, it is also probably one of the last of its kind. As CIOB chief executive Chris Blythe described it on the night of the awards: “It’s a real juggernaut of a project.”
Frost, now 50, has spent the last seven years of his life steering this juggernaut home, joining the project from Carillion when it was within 18 months of financial close, because he “fancied a crack at a really large building”.
The project was a joint venture between Balfour Beatty Northern and Balfour Beatty Engineering Services and had its own board, to which Frost reported.
Queen Elizabeth is Birmingham’s first new hospital in 70 years
He was brought in to run the project having built up a formidable record in health projects over 15 years at Trafalgar House (the forerunner to Skanska), Bovis and then Carillion. During this time he has been involved in either winning work, or construction of a number of high-profile schemes, including the first phase of Worcester Royal Infirmary, the Children’s Head and Neck Unit at Radcliffe in Oxford, as well as major PFI hospitals in Dartford, Southampton and Swindon. He even built the last publicly procured district hospital in Dorchester.
“I love building hospitals,” says Frost. “They simply take on a life of their own. You give birth to this great building, which then goes on to look after people. Unlike an office block which might stay empty for a while, hospital buildings immediately take on their own personality.
“Five thousand people a day go through my hospital in Birmingham, that’s how I see it. The facilities there are second to none, BDP did a fantastic job on the design. When people are knocking PFI they should go to somewhere like this and look at it. Just stepping through the front entrance is an experience in itself, it’s like walking into a cathedral.
“When we handed over the last major section in 2010, it felt like there was a real vacuum left. There was no machine to feed any more.”
Since 2010 Frost has been running the Midlands region of Balfour Beatty Northern. “I do miss being on site and the buzz from running a large project,” he says. “No matter how hard the previous day had been, just turning up there and seeing the project rising out of the ground gave me such a high. Building the hospital was a phenomenal experience. It involved over 200 staff, 1,500 operatives, and no serious injuries. And great opportunities to do things differently.
“However, I now have responsibility for multiple projects with their own challenges.”
One of the things he did differently was to bring more women in as part of the management team. “They bring a balance to the process, a different perspective. They take some of the aggression out of the process,” he says.
And he’s proud of another innovation he brought to the project, which he says has “changed the industry.” He explains: “When we started, there was a lot of talk about prefabrication and modularisation, but not that many people were actually doing it. Now it’s become far more the norm.”
Prefabricated elements at the hospital included wiring and bathroom pods, modularised services, as well as the hospital’s huge chimneys and the bed-head walls and theatres. The prefabricated services were produced in a new factory set up for the scheme near Wolverhampton.
The hospital includes a 100-bed critical care unit, the largest in Europe, and the Royal Centre for Defence Medicine, with a separate ward for military casualties
Another innovation was the unitised cladding, which meant that the 65,000m2 facade could be fitted without the need for scaffolding, which had never been done before on that scale, he says.
Frost says the overriding drive to ensure “no one ever went home maimed” was the reason he opted to go down the off-site route. “If you manufacture and do as much as you can off-site, it reduces the number of people you need on site, which in turn reduces the opportunity for accidents,” he says.
Additionally, fewer people on site means less demand for facilities such as car parks and other resources.
“The cost benefits were wafer thin, but one of the advantages of building such a large project does mean you can afford to invest in a factory,” he says.
Frost’s factory remains and has even expanded. It is now fully owned by Balfour Beatty Engineering Services and supplies equipment to competitors as well as in-house teams.
As Frost acknowledges, on a project this size, it can’t all be plain sailing. “You always get things going wrong. But no one went home harmed, there were no major disputes and we were all adult enough to be able to resolve anything that arose without any detriment to the client.”
Looking back, are there any things he would have done differently? “We pioneered an electronic snagging system, which resulted in us handing over the building with zero defects. So the success of that means I would like to have also automated the quality control system. That would have meant that when tasks were officially signed off, it was all logged electronically. It would have helped drive out any inefficiencies.”
And the biggest challenge? “Without a doubt, inertia. Getting human beings to move is a problem. Getting started is always a big challenge. People don’t
like change or moving forward. Starting each of the number of phases required a real push each time to keep the momentum going.”
Key to the overall success, says Frost, was retaining staff: 80% of people there at the end had been there from the start.
“Each section of the project had its own team and a manager that reported to me. All were experienced, so I was confident in letting them get on with their jobs.
“The PFI contract meant design and construction risks lay with us. I ensured that we had procedures in place to reach low-risk solutions and the early involvement of the supply chain was fundamental to this. First and foremost, I see myself as a risk manager and to this end I ensured that I was visible and interacted with the workforce.”
One of his fondest memories of the project was the open day, when more than 5,000 people turned up to inspect the emerging hospital. Many signed a plasterboard wall, which was then sealed over by new plasterboard, creating a time capsule for future generations to discover.
Despite the all-consuming nature of his job, Frost has a busy home life with his wife and two sons, aged 17 and 20. And, as noted above, this year’s Construction Manager of the Year is a dedicated DIY enthusiast. “I like to be creative with my hands. I’ve refurbished our whole house over the past 14 years, including fitting a new staircase and bathrooms and built an extension myself.”
Not content with that, Frost has also built a car from a kit of parts, which he describes as being akin to a 1930s Aston Martin Ulster.
Not particularly outstanding at school, leaving with CSEs, Frost did an OND in engineering and then went on to do an HND. He came into construction after doing his year out working for a construction firm as part of the three-year sandwich course at Bristol Poly. “I fell in love with the industry and wanted to be a project manager. I returned to college with renewed vigour and decided then that I was going to be chartered.”
When he passed his CIOB exams, he recalls it was the only time in his life he got a distinction. “And I’m still extremely proud that I am a chartered builder.
It adds to the pleasure of receiving the award,” he says.
The hospital also houses the UK’s only National Institute of Health Research Centre for Surgical Reconstruction and Microbiology
Queen Elizabeth Hospital Birmingham in Numbers
14 million man hours (4 years)
all 34 sectional handovers were completed on or ahead of time
2.5bmillion consecutive man hours RIDDOR incident free and AFR
100% recycling rates for vinyl, plasterboard, tiles, wood metal and paper
80% recycling rates for mixed materials
96% demolition waste used on site
Canteen to seat 1,500 people
Trust treats 700,000 patients
£30,000 raised for local charities and volunteer groups
Client variation orders