“The more you understand your clients, the more you can understand exactly what they want, and hopefully and ideally you deliver that first time. It’s an area where the whole industry can become much more efficient.”
So says Dr Martin Pedley, managing director of Cementation Foundations Skanska, the specialist foundation contractor that works predominantly in the piling and ground engineering markets and won the overall category at this year’s Specialist Awards.
It’s a focus that has seen the company’s repeat business reach nearly 90 per cent. “If you can start to work with the same customers and clients and teams, you’re developing those relationships each time. Repeat business as is an opportunity to do things better.”
It appears to be working. Turnover has increased from £63 million to £70 million, and profit levels are 6.1 per cent on turnover, up from 5.3 per cent in 2006.
The number of projects has reduced, without reducing revenues. The volume sits at around 100 projects each year, compared to 450 to 500 when Dr Pedley joined the company around 18 years ago.
He explains: “We’ve tried to concentrate much more on the value end of the market, where service is much more important in terms of how you go about the work. It means providing a high level of service with a high level of design, technical expertise and equipment for the more showpiece type projects.”
Staff levels have increased, from 223 last year to 279 now. Inducting and training staff to get them up to speed has been one of the main challenges in the past year.
The company’s growth comes from the fact that it has tried to focus on a certain area of the market where it feels it can add value and -perform, says Dr Pedley.
He adds: “The industry has been going through quite a peak in the last 18 months or so and a very, very high level of activity. Not just in the South-east but throughout the UK and Ireland, where we operate as well.”
As for the future, Dr Pedley sees a possible shift in the piling industry, away from the residential, retail and commercial buildings and into more infrastructure projects - roads, rail, water and possibly oil and gas.
The past year has also seen achievements on health and safety, through a renewal of a behaviour-based Incident and Injury Free initiative which has been running since 2004.
“We’ve got a number of new recruits in the business and we felt it was time to renew some of the areas on IIF and make sure that everyone is still fully committed,” explains Dr Pedley.
In 2007, CFS produced its own safety video called ‘What IIF’. Every employee attended a workshop to review the video.
From 2006 to 2007 there has been a 30 per cent reduction in injuries on site and a 21 per cent decrease in severity of -incidents. Unplanned event reporting has gone up by 12 per cent and near miss reporting by 15 per cent.
Dr Pedley says staff feel they can stick their head above the parapet and say “that’s not right”. It’s a culture of health and safety that new recruits find alien compared to elsewhere in the construction industry.
“People who join us have found it a very different atmosphere, where they can actually talk about a number of issues,” says Dr Pedley. “IIF is very much about cultural safety behaviour, rather than a set of rules. That does make it a more attractive place to work as well.”
Innovation is another priority for CFS and to that end it has created CFS Energy Piles. It’s a technology which, by circulating fluids through the piles and using a heat exchange system, cuts down on the amount of energy needed to heat or cool a building.
The company is looking at ways to reduce waste and is also helping to develop a new technology using optic fibres to measure stresses and strains.
Staff are encouraged to contribute ideas through an innovation competition.
Dr Pedley says: “Members of staff who identify something that we can take forward are winners of that competition and benefit themselves, but equally we see as a business that we benefit from an innovative culture.”
Winning hearts and minds on health and safety
A hard hitting video is being used at Cementation Foundations Skanska to win the hearts and minds of its employees on health and safety.
‘What IIF’ features interviews with staff who were involved in three company incidents. In one accident an employee fell from height. He had put himself in a position of risk and suffered a broken limb.
Dr Pedley says: “It was a very fine line between him potentially having a much more serious injury, but equally he could have avoided the incident altogether.”
The video shows a family photograph taken at a function, with the employee erased from the picture, to show the impact if the accident had been more serious.
The aim is to go beyond the hard and fast rules of a site and into the emotional side and impact on people’s lives.
“As soon as you get down to the level where an accident is a person rather than a statistic, then you’re going to place a huge emphasis on just avoiding that problem in the first place,” says Dr Pedley.
“It is very much about a culture change, that everybody who goes to work can be confident that they’ll come home safely. Unfortunately our industry has not got a great record and so we’re keen to try and change that.”
Cementation Foundation Skanska won the Exceptional Performance and Ground Engineering categories.