Safety First

Iqon

Many in the industry might think sufficient progress in terms of safety has already been made; Iqon Director and Business Manager, Peter Naylor, however, cautions that much work remains to be done. “From where we see it, we are on the tip of an iceberg,” he says. “We have a long way to go to get more sustainable and better outcomes. It is not about complying with legislation; it’s about attitudes.”

Previously known as Integrated Construction Management Services, the company was re-branded in 2006. “We are a local company, established in the Canberra region for the last 26 years,” explains Peter. “As an organisation we undertake a lot of work for local (i.e. ACT) and Commonwealth government and institutional groups such as universities and REITs. We have done a lot of work over the years for the Australian National University, University of Canberra, Calvary & Canberra Hospital & ACT Education along with the Australian War Memorial. Our works have also included on the courts (High Court and Magistrates court projects), and we have worked in most sectors – commercial and educational, and we do a lot of health work.” Peter estimates the total value of work done to be in excess of 1.5 billion dollars.

“Although we are a Canberra based company we have done work in other eastern seaboard regions such as Adelaide with Adelaide University, which saw a significant expansion programme in the late 1990s, and as far north as Airlie Beach (in Queensland, between Mackay and Townsville) where we built some residential apartments for an existing client. But we don’t regard ourselves as a national company, although we will work for our clients wherever they need us to be.”

A current major project is the Canberra Hospital’s Capital Region Cancer Centre, a $45 million development around 60 per cent completed. The CRCC Project, will have an approximate GFA of 6,850 square metres over five levels, and will include an Ambulatory Care Clinic, Day Therapy Centre, Research facilities, meeting spaces for community groups and accommodation for clinical administration as well as patient information and support services. The project includes all associated external works, courtyards, landscaping, car parking and civil works.

Gridlocked in an already crowded hospital, the project is required to be constructed within a confined site that is completely surrounded by occupied buildings. Extensive site management planning has been required to enable the operations of the campus and its surrounding buildings to continue unimpeded by the construction of the CRCC. Peter calls this a “significant challenge. We are continuing to work collaboratively with hospital staff and management about conditions on the site, including a few hazards that have added to the complexity and limited entry and egress.”

Materials handling is another challenge on the site and has necessitated a number of innovative solutions to ensure work does not disrupt the healthcare facilities; even the weather has been uncooperative, forcing an unusual amount of downtime. But Peter says the project remains on track for completion mid-2013 despite all these hurdles.

The local market is flattening, he reckons – the boom part of the cycle is past. But, he says, “there is not a cliff on the other side; there is sustainability in the Canberra market, a lot of it fed by local rather than federal authorities.” The last seven to eight years have seen a large amount of building of government accommodation and this requirement has slowed considerably. There will certainly be continuing activity at the local government level, and there is still some ongoing activity in the educational and health sectors in the region. Commercial activity, however, is “significantly slower than it was two years ago.”

As an organisation, Iqon has sustained numerous cycles in the region and will continue to hold its own. “Our reputation is strong with both public and private clients; we have diverse expertise in delivering across most sectors and we are confident about the market going forward. We have enough work at the moment to carry us through well into 2013 and we are examining further opportunities.”

The Canberra market does not necessarily move in the same way as other states or mirror their economic cycles, Peter points out – it benefited from the BER stimulus package but it did not need it like neighbouring states, for example, because it was already very busy. But likewise, as other regions pull out of the current slow market, Canberra may well not show an uptick in the next year or so. This slowdown is in a way useful, almost a necessity, to manage what has been an acute skills shortage in the region. Peter says that three or four years ago the Canberra market “was screaming for skilled resources. But the skills shortage in this market has slowed considerably and the resource demand is nowhere near what it was five years ago. Now it is all about quality.”

Hopefully, every reader of Construction in Focus is serious about safety. But it is unlikely anyone could be more committed to the issue than Iqon. “We have recently recruited a non-executive to our board to assist us in providing more sustainable solutions in the areas of health, safety and environment (HSE),” explains Peter. “As an organisation we are committed to continuously improving HSE and we are participating in a pilot programme which is being run via the Master Builders Association in the region to improve safety in terms of both attitude and culture.”

Iqon is establishing a ‘leadership group’ across a couple of its projects, engaging lead contractors and subcontractors in a similar leadership group on those projects to challenge the effective and efficient performance of safety outcomes. The aim is a holistic solution aimed at better safety whilst maintaining sufficient productivity. “We are very confident this programme will help us achieve those consistent, sustainable ingredients into our future projects.

“Health and safety is not a ‘bolt-on’. It is part of planning for successful outcomes and we want to make sure that our projects and our partners on those projects contribute to that matrix of successful ingredients, planning for safe and productive outcomes.”

The national legislative requirements in this area are changing, making occupants of businesses take safety a bit more seriously. Changes do bring greater awareness at industry level, “but we are conscious that simply using a stick and carrot does not always produce the right solutions. The only way to make this consistent and sustainable is to make it an integral part of the business – in everything we do. We want outcomes on projects so that we and our clients can rest easy at night, knowing we are not cutting corners, not putting people’s lives at risk.”

Iqon has always maintained a keen safety culture, Peter says, but the whole concept of continuous improvement is based on no one being perfect. The Iqon team, like anyone else, can always do better. “We want to do everything we do in business smarter,” Peter says. The whole industry is going through an attitude change, but Iqon wants to be at the forefront of this new philosophy. “We are trying to embrace safety as an integrated outcome in our business.”

The new philosophy also calls for safety to be cost-effective, not prohibitive. “That is what we are striving for. Consistent planning and engagement with our partners can mean more productive outcomes. By making sure our partners take the same attitude it becomes a culture. If it’s an integrated solution about good planning, it doesn’t impact on productivity, so our cost efficiency is not put in jeopardy and we can obtain more cost-effective solutions by that planning rather than waiting until we get to the bridge before deciding we can’t get across it so we jump. We want the bridge to be continuous so we don’t have to make that jump, so when our teams reach the next stage of a project there is no hurdle to jump over.” Communication is vital, to ensure all parties on a project (including the client, of course) are planning for the same outcomes.

Awareness is another key to success. All Iqon employees are shown a relatively graphic video of a particular example of what happens when safety breaks down (because a single individual in the example chose to take a short-cut instead of following acknowledged safety procedures). “We want everyone to understand that ‘safety starts with you as an individual,’” says Peter, and that every individual must take responsibility for his actions instead of thinking that safety in some way is something provided by others, like a toolbox or a canteen – it’s not about the equipment itself but the underlying thought processes and developing that all-important culture.

“Everything we are doing in this pilot project is about changing the mindset of the people that do business with us. If we can influence that, so they think that things can be done safer, and with no impact on how they undertake their work, then they will do it. We need to change that view of individuals and organisations in this industry that safety is in some way a bolt-on extra or that it comes at a cost. It’s not just about Iqon, it’s about change in the industry.”

Home Automation

Call it ‘domotics,’ and you are likely to receive a blank stare, but refer to it as ‘smart home’ or ‘home automation,’ and you will get a nod of acknowledgement. For the past few years, consumers have heard the word ‘smart’ attached to countless products and services, from food and drink to snacks like popcorn and mobile phones, which no one seems to refer to as a ‘cellphone’ anymore. Yet what, exactly, constitutes ‘smart’?

July 14, 2020, 1:02 AM AEST