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Some safety risks can be designed out at planning stage

Paul O’Shea, Managing Director, Ashview Consultants, speaks with ROBBIE COUSINS about his company’s development, and how Covid-19 is resulting in more contractors looking to improve the mental wellbeing of their workers.

Ashview Consultants is a health and safety practice with main offices in Dublin and Newry. It was founded in 2006 by managing director Paul O’Shea. “I have always had construction in my working life,” explains Paul O’Shea. “I emigrated in the early 90s, worked on three continents, ending up in Australia, where I started my career in safety. In that time, I was lucky to have worked with a tier 1 contractor on some of the most prestigious projects in the southern hemisphere.

Paul O’Shea, Managing Director, Ashview Consultants.

“I returned to Ireland in the early noughties and took up a role as a safety officer with G&T Crampton. After a few years with Cramptons, I founded the consultancy, when I saw an opportunity to provide safety consultancy services on projects in the south-east of the country.”

Specialist services

Ashview Consultants specialises in construction safety management and has over 200 years of construction experience across its teams.

“We advise on all matters of construction health and safety, and assist clients in assessing the safety needs of their projects from initial concept through to design, construction and future maintenance,” Paul O’Shea explains.

“We provide project supervisor design process (PSDP) and project supervisor construction stage (PSCS) services to the industry on a broad spectrum of projects. We operate across commercial, residential, student accommodation, data centres, logistics centres, retail, shopping centres, civils and infrastructure projects. We have provided health and safety support to some of the industry’s most well-known clients, sometimes on the most challenging projects.”

Paul O’Shea explains that the starting point for safety on any project is its constructability.

“Constructability is one of the most important factors in construction safety,” he explains. “During the concept and design process of the project, clients and designers are generally concerned with maximising lettable space and let-ability or how appealing the building is to the market. At these early stages, the ‘how’ of the project is not generally considered. As in ‘how will it be constructed’ and ‘how will it be maintained in the future’. We assess projects at this early stage, including an assessment of the design, construction and future maintenance, to complete our safety risk register to determine how the scheme can be developed more safely. This enables us to identify and address possible safety issues and determine practical solutions as to how the buildings should be constructed, which can also save costs and reduce risk over the duration of the project.”

Covid-19

Ashview Consultants has used the Covid-19 disruption to reevaluate how it operates, which resulted in it ripping up its blueprint and starting again.

“Working from home was the first thing to affect how we operated. As we are based across two offices, this became our biggest early challenge. But, we adapted quickly, installing home offices in everyone’s home to ensure staff could work safely.

“Simultaneously, we looked at our systems and how we could work smarter,” he continues. “We have now moved to an integrated IT management system, which has allowed us to move everything to a central location so that we can deliver services of the highest standard from remote locations. We also looked at upskilling our staff across a number of areas to ensure we are ready for the next phase of economic development.”

Traditional risks

“Covid-19 has shown how agile the construction industry is. The CIF’s C-19 Pandemic Standard Operating Procedure document and its quick integration into operations is one example of how quickly Irish construction firms can move. As the situation evolved and as more information became available, Covid-19 was managed in the same way that other on-site risks are managed. Furthermore, we must all ensure that in managing this risk, we do not lose sight of other risks, such as falls, slips and trips; falls from height, traffic management, excavations, and so on.

“Ashview Consultants brings an extra layer of safety to every project we work on. When clients are bringing in safety professionals/risk managers such as ourselves at concept stage on projects, this early attention to safety ensures that some risks can be designed out of the construction process. It’s essential that early engagement of a safety professional is seen as a benefit to the overall project. We take pride in the fact that when a client sees an Ashview Consultants employee on a project, they know that our staff will deliver for the project from start to finish.”

Wellbeing

Wellbeing is putting the health back into health and safety, according to Paul O’Shea.

“All too often, we concentrate on the safety part of our role in the industry. But this has been changing. Workers are being encouraged to talk more, with a platform for discussion around mental wellbeing more readily available with most contractors,” he says.are some great charities in Ireland that support the construction industry on mental health and wellbeing, with contractors embracing the topic through the use of campaigns, initiatives and programmes,” Paul O’Shea says. “‘It’s good to talk’, but, unfortunately, getting guys on construction sites to talk is hard. However, it is a process, and we are heading in the right direction. One thing that Covid-19 has put back on the agenda is having a proper work-life balance, and how important this is to staff wellbeing. There is no silver bullet, but we have to start in small steps.”

Skills shortages

Paul O’Shea says that construction safety professionals are in high demand across the sector at the moment, and finding the right person is always a challenge.

“In our profession, competency is everything. Competency is a combination of knowledge, training and experience. The trick is finding someone with all three attributes.

“About six years ago, we changed our approach to taking on staff that have the right attitude and are the right fit for our business. Once a professional has the right attitude with a mix of competencies, we can teach the rest. As skill sets improve, their responsibility and workload are increased, thus giving them greater ownership of their role and the jobs in their portfolio. In a world where everyone is looking for perfection, looking for ‘readymade’ staff is aspirational. Looking for people with the right attitude is critical. We also have a strong mentoring programme in Ashview, which has been very successful in helping our people expand their skill sets quickly.”

Construction Safety Week

“Construction Safety Week has been a great CIF initiative,” Paul O’Shea comments. “Construction is continually changing and challenging us to perform at the highest level. Construction Safety Week has been embraced by the whole industry and is seen as a time to focus on the hazards and risks in our industry. In our role as client representatives/PSDP, we feel that it is vital for us to show support on site by getting involved and getting out on the ground and promoting the message that safety is critical across the whole development team.

“Over the past few years, we have been lucky enough to have been involved with some great initiatives in Construction Safety Week. This year, we moved online to show our support and give our experience of this year’s topics through several different media.”

Outlook

Speaking about his business’s outlook, Paul O’Shea says that while he and his teams have been focused on surviving 2020, he is optimistic about the future.

“Surviving 2020 has been our immediate concern. In 2021, we will continue to improve the performance of Ashview Consultants; we are constantly looking to do what we do and do it better. This might sound cliched, but we ask questions of ourselves every week; so that we don’t ever stand still. We will continue to upscale and upskill our staff. This is the key to moving forward in construction safety. We have been developing integrated IT systems to manage our workloads more effectively. Work-life balance is also very high on our agenda, with the introduction of flexi-days for all staff, to allow time off to recharge and be better at what they do,” he concludes.

To learn more about Ashview Consultants, visit www.ashviewconsultants.com