Are you employing enough labour? What percentage of the on-site workforce has qualifications? Are you meeting working time regulations? An access system which can provide all this information is fighting to find a market in the construction industry. Kristina Smith reports
DO YOU know the name of the person sitting next to you? The chances are, if you work in an office, you do. If you work on site, you might not.
'I have been on a site where someone was knocked out and nobody knew him,' says Andy Batehup, a project director with Bovis. 'They knew him as Kelly and which pub he drank in - but second name, address or next of kin ...'
But there is no chance of that happening on Mr Batehup's current project, an office development in the City of London.
A swipe card security system holds the personal details, qualifications, training, and relevant medical records of every person on site.
Bovis is not doing this purely for health and safety reasons. The system, called Construction Site Monitor, reports who was on site, and when.
'We want to know what labour force we have actually got,' says Mr Batehup. 'We sometimes find ourselves in the position where a contractor will tell you he has 12 men on site ... and actually you will find he has six.'
On another Bovis site, Construction Site Monitor has saved the client £150,000 in 18 months by bringing to light a discrepancy between the number of workers the contractors were billing for and how many actually 'swiped' onto the site.
Construction Site Monitor is a small part of a bigger business run by Public Access Terminals (PAT). The public sector - particularly education and health - provides much of PAT's business.
Construction Site Monitor has only been around three years and has met with limited success, according to PAT account manager, Tim Kirkland.
In fact, the company was thinking of pulling out of the construction market altogether, until it found out how healthy its number one customer's - Bovis - future workload was.
A new open-book billing strategy has been introduced - only in the construction sector - which is helping contractors overcome the shock of the £10,000- plus bill.
'We have a bottom line and we need 10 per cent net profit, otherwise we don't do the work,' is how Mr Kirkland puts it.
This honest approach is going down well with new customers, he adds.
Since its launch Bovis has helped hone the system so the reports it produces match the construction manager's needs. On Bovis' site, which is working 24 hours a day, seven days a week, two reports are printed out each day, showing how many people each contractor and subcontractor has on site.
Other reports have been designed to meet EC and government directives. These include a tally of the total hours worked, sorted by individual, company or function. PAT can also deliver custom- designed reports, at a further cost.
But Construction Site Monitor does deliver safety benefits.
Firstly, Bovis has organised its system so that the access cards are issued at the same time as the health and safety induction. Since no one can come onto the site without an access card, this also means that no one can sneak onto site without having had a health and safety induction.
Secondly, in the case of a site evacuation, the chief security guard will print out an evacuation report from PAT's system which shows exactly who is on site. The guard then can check off names at the muster point so that he knows who is missing.
On Mr Batehup's site, there is another bonus on the safety front, points out Bovis construction manager Martin Leppard. Web cams, trained on the site to update project partners around the globe via the Internet, also record any unsafe practices and, because everyone's face is on database, Bovis can identify the person responsible and take appropriate action.
If someone is expelled from site there is no way they can re-enter. Chief security guard Godfrey Obi has had a couple of workers who had been sent off site during the day trying to come back on site during the night shift. Although a different guard was on duty, when the card was swiped, the message 'Bad Card' alerted him to the fact that the person should not be on site.
The hardware for the system is very basic: two readers (in and out) for the bar-codes at each entrance; one PC in the chief security guard's hut; a digital camera and a machine to produce security cards.
Mr Obi confirms that the system is easy to use and that it has simplified the task of keeping track of all the people on site throughout the project's duration.
It is quicker for the workers, he adds: 'Everybody used to sign in a book. Now they just come in, pick up the card from me, and swipe in. Any time they leave the site, they have to swipe out.'
PAT also operates a support service. Problems with the system can be tackled over the phone or by modem.
Another element of Construction Site Monitor that is likely to become increasingly important is its ability to store training records. Major clients are starting to insist that contractors can prove their workforce's competency.
BAA, for example, has set a deadline of January 2001 for all operatives to have proof of competency. Bovis has set the same target for the end of 2001.
Since PAT's system registers everyone's qualifications and training, it allows Bovis to gauge what proportion of the workforce is skills-certified.
Bovis now installs Construction Site Manager on all its projects valued at more than £10 million. The reason for this cut-off price, explains Mr Kirkland, is that below that figure PAT cannot make enough profit for it to be worth while.
So, although the system is a good one, it looks like its main takers will be the major contractors and construction managers. For small and medium-sized firms, it is probably not a viable option.
Construction Site Monitor uses the following hardware, which Public Access terminals can supply as part of its package:
PC with an Intel Pentium 200 processor (or higher)
Microsoft Windows 95 or Windows NT Workstation operating system version 4.0, or later
32 Mb RAM (64 Mb recommended for Windows NT Workstation)
2.1Gb (minimum) fixed disk
Image Capture: video card with 16 bit colour support at 800 x 600 screen resolution
Sound: Blaster-compatible sound card and speakers
Database: Engine (Oracle 7, SQL Server, MS Access)
Imaging Device: camcorder(PAL/NTSC), CCTV.
Printer: Eltron Privilege M300