Construction remains the least productive industry in Ireland – but what can site supervisors do to improve it?
Delivering on time and on budget is a challenge that has plagued the construction industry – just look at Crossrail; originally planned to open in 2018 and cost €17.4bn (£14.8bn), the project has been delayed (yet again) to “sometime in 2021” and the cost has risen to €21.48bn (£18.25bn).
Initially, the project was considered to be exemplary – but now it’s two years late, productivity is through the floor, and confidence has plummeted. In this scenario, it’s easy to blame the project managers – and while talk of “unrealistic expectations” and “poor communication” cloud the news headlines, there’s a lot going on that needs to be addressed.
And this isn’t anything new. Construction projects across the country are moving at a snail’s pace – and while many are hampered by budget constraints, poor performance and inadequate communication are endemic. According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the construction sector remains the least productive industry in the UK economy – at more than 20 percentage points below the average output per hour for the whole economy in 2018.
In this blog, we’re going to look at the communication challenges construction site managers face, how they affect productivity and what can be done to improve.
Communicating with contractors
The widespread reliance on independent contractors throughout the construction industry may help to reduce the overall cost of the project at the beginning but it creates problems downstream. With each contractor using their own tools, transport and equipment – including communication methods – construction site managers spend far too much time relaying messages in different formats between teams. Rather than maximising productivity and ensuring the success of the project, the construction site manager becomes a glorified messenger.
Site managers also have to bear in mind the fact that mobile phones are often the go-to communication device for many construction workers – that’s according to a research report by Hytera. Mobile phones are not designed for harsh and hazardous conditions, so if a contractor’s phone is lost or damaged at work, they’ll have no way to communicate… again influencing construction productivity.
Achieving site-wide visibility
As construction site managers are held accountable for the growth and success of a particular project they need to know what’s going on (or isn’t) and when.
But to achieve site-wide visibility (and ensure the right team is in the right place at the right time), construction site managers need real-time communication, job allocation and control room software. This can be tremendously difficult when workers have their own communication solutions and may not necessarily buy into this level of visibility.
Ensuring security and preventing theft and trespass
As well as keeping workers safe on site, construction site managers also need to address security, theft and trespass. Many construction sites are poorly protected and easily accessed by “urban explorers” trying to practice climbing and film videos. Any trespass, injury or theft could lead to extensive police investigation and/or court hearing – resulting in delay and additional cost.
Security requires more than a deterrent: site supervisors need to know if equipment has been stolen, when and by whom.
How can two-way radios help?
By equipping all contractors with digital two-way radios, the construction site manager can communicate with everyone in real time. To communicate with specific teams, channels can be set up (i.e. frequencies assigned to certain groups) and encrypted so only those who know the password can access that channel. Supervisors can also set up a general channel where updates, messages and emergencies can be shared. This ensures consistent communication.
Also, digital two-way radio systems can be designed and expanded to support mobile phone devices. This is particularly useful when contractors come on to a job but refuse to use anything but their own communication device. For greater coverage and consistency of signal, repeaters can be set up across the site.
Finally, through radio over IP, supervisors can communicate with contractors on the ground remotely from their PC or laptop, regardless of location.
Job management and reporting
What about managing tasks and reporting on progress? By adding radio dispatch solutions – such as TRBOnet – site supervisors can send jobs to workers via their two-way radios. Workers can then accept, decline or finish jobs by pressing specified buttons on their two-way radios. No need for the supervisor to check in. The supervisor can then use the data collected – i.e. jobs in progress, jobs declined and jobs finished – to build a report showing actual progress and construction productivity. This report can then be cross-referenced with goals to track project progress. All of this can be done with digital two-way radios and the appropriate software.
Site-wide tracking, alarms and ‘guard tours’
Once digital two-way radios are implemented, supervisors can take advantage of the internal tracking and GPS tracking features. This means that if a device is stolen, the supervisor just needs to check their TRBOnet software to locate the device. They can also utilise indoor positioning (a purchasable module) which is designed to show where a two-way radio is inside a building.
Finally, for site security, guard tours can be set up – ensuring security staff follow specific routes (i.e. the least protected and/or most important areas of the site). This will help to deter thieves and trespassers.
More than just a radio
Digital two-way radios form the backbone for a comprehensive communications network, improving health and safety, maximising security and providing site supervisors with the visibility (and data) they need to ensure construction productivity.