Posts Tagged ‘Construction

23
Nov
17

productivity

With much talk about productivity here is a week in the life of a External wall Insulator in the South West, 2017.

There is a house to insulate in Bristol, front and back only as it’s a terrace, so not many metres. The materials should be there already. On the Monday morning bright and early the gang of three set off for Bristol. It’s a seventy three mile journey, door to door. They are all on a labour only contract, with a price for the total job. On arrival the material can be seen on the properties driveway, but none of it is covered, so the bags of render are all soaked after a weekend of rain. As on all jobs, one of the first things a Plasterer will look for is water. They find the rear entrance up a cat mess ridden overgrown lane, and on inspection they notice there is no water tap. Next door either way, have no tap either. They bang on the door front and back but the house is empty. One has found a Fire Hydrant connection at the far end of the cul-de-sac. They phoned a line manager at home, as it’s only eight fifteen, to warn him of the situation. He checks they have tried the door and the neighbours. His last suggestion is a local Petrol station, apparently they all have outside taps. With only two buckets to hand, one would need to be on a constant water run, they shelved that idea as ludicrous. On his arrival in the office he promised to send a van up the Motorway, with a Hydrant key and tap, but it would get there too late for that day, so they set off home, after earning nothing and using 150 miles worth of fuel.

Day two, on arrival the key can be seen on top of the material. They dig out the Hydrant box, the chamber is solid with road grit. The key they had been given didn’t fit, it was too big. They phoned the office, moaned about losing two days and spending money on fuel. The boss agrees to pay them a day rate for all days that they are delayed, where it’s not their fault.

Day three, they bring their own key from home and a resident van driver had left another one to try. Oddly the van driver could have checked he’s, and phoned in to say he’s didn’t fit. On checking, theirs didn’t fit either. They phoned in again to give the boss the bad news. Go to a different house tomorrow, he says, leave that one for now.

Day four, they arrive at the new address, the Scaffolder’s are just finishing. On giving it the once over, they notice the Scaffold doesn’t reach the party line between the two properties by a metre. They mention this as the Scaffolder writes out the Scaffolding tag and slips it on a tube. Apparently he’d said to the boss, £300 wasn’t enough for the houses on that street as they where longer than normal front and back. The boss had told him there was only £300 on the book for Scaffold, take it or leave it. Sliding the ladder onto his shoulder he chucked it onto the lorry. They asked as to where their ladder was, considering for a moment that it might be on the rear for safety as many get stolen.  Apparently, leaving one, would have took the bill to £360, so he wasn’t leaving one. They phoned the office, the boss was livid, he’d ticked the box on his Spread sheet, Started, so he could plan on getting paid four days later, I’ll get him to drop one off, he says. After waiting for three hours they assumed Scaffolder was having none of it. They phone in to say they are leaving site. There’s no ladder. The boss says he’s got a nice little job they can do for him, on Friday.

Day five, they wander up to Bristol again, to another postcode. It’s just a coat over, keep it tight back he says as there is only four bags of material. On arrival, the front elevation is pebble dash and the mortar is letting go of the stones, really it needs taking off, back to the blockwork. The four bags is looking slim. As they climb the Scaffold they see the resident on the phone, down below in the lounge in a Housecoat (who wears a Housecoat?). As he’s facing them, they assume he’s ranting about them, he was. He was arguing with the Salesman who had been in his house two days earlier, he’d definitely said they would take it all off before rendering. By now the four bags had been mixed and applied, even mortar that had dropped on the floor had been saved and applied. For such a knobbly wall, six bags would have been tight. At no time did the householder speak to them, so they cleared up and left, twenty metres at £5 a metre, minus 750+ miles of fuel.

On pay day the boss made no mention of his agreement to pay waiting time, they had wondered how he could have paid it, as there is only money in the pot for fitting the Insulation, nothing else. He also failed to mention that he hadn’t been paid for the recoat on the Pebbledash, the resident refused, it wasn’t thick enough and they had left the stone on. It was with some luck that they had been paid for it.

The Insulated render industry has been invaded by chancers, charlatans, blagger’s, call them what you want, from the coal face and up through management. Lots saw the Green Deal as a bandwagon apart from those doing the work. The boss who they had been working for, previously owned a sweet shop locally before jumping into the render game. Within a week most of the kids at three schools had been off with the shits. On the big jars of sweets lining the shelves, you could read with a magnifying glass the warning about diarrhoea. Within a few weeks the shop closed down, I did laugh.

Only the other day I saw the old boss sporting a full unkempt beard, a disguise probably, as running up accounts to the max at local suppliers before closing your business, is seriously frowned upon in these parts. The productivity of those three men had kept his company afloat, he never understood how unproductive rendering from the bottom up could be, the country as a whole will be better off without him at the helm of anything bar a razor blade.

A different gang of three, a different week and a different county, Cornwall.

One hundred and four miles door to door, requiring an early start. If you’ve never been to Cornwall you’ve missed out. If you’ve made it over the border you’ll have noticed the shortage of roads in the middle, if you know anything about maps you’ll quickly notice a lot of the inner roads are not major roads. Travel off the main drag needs to be kept to a minimum if possible. You will get used to the regular Post Code Satnav scenario, the Satnav says you’ve arrived but the house is nowhere to be seen, it’s actually above you, up that donkey track, or your on top of an hill and its down through that Bramble track that your vehicle won’t fit down. The other extreme is it’s in the middle of a fifteen house terrace, carved into a mountain and built out of the stone, no rear access, everything has to go through the house, can’t have your van outside the house as it’s Duchy land, and it’s not allowed, there’s a car park on top of the mountain. The workers wonder how their boss gets such shit jobs. This house is to be insulated inside so as not to disfigure the stone work. The resident makes it clear from the start that they weren’t expecting this intrusion before Christmas, they certainly won’t want the mess.

Day one, after speaking to the irate resident, they retire to the van and consume their lunchbox, as Ten O’clock sneaks up on them with no sign of any materials. They phone in, it’s coming by a big National carrier. The boss phones back, they’ve spoken to the driver, he’s close by, expect arrival, shortly. Lunchtime arrives, there’s not much left to eat. They phone in again, the boss phones back, it’s close by. They look out of the window at the weather battered cars that had their own tyre impressions in the tarmac. No lorry, nothing. They phone in, the boss phones back, they don’t know where it is, they’ve lost contact with the driver. They wander down to the house, it’s lashing down, no materials there. At two thirty they set of home.

Day two, they announce their arrival to the resident, and at Nine O’clock they phone in. Nothing changed, they reckon they still have no contact with the driver, so at two thirty they set off home.

Day three, they do exactly the same again, they are leaving their own impressions in the Tarmac now. The boss phones to say it’s been delivered. Where though, it’s not in the car park, or on the Terrace. At Two Thirty they set of home.

Day four, by chance they speak to a different boss, your where he asks, you shouldn’t be there until January, but the materials been delivered somewhere, what, who told you to go there? apologies to the resident and come home, I’ll work something out for you, for tomorrow.

Day five, the boss never phoned back until Nine O’clock and that was to say sorry and see them on Monday, luckily they hadn’t set off. Four hundred miles of fuel with no monies earned and Productivity nowhere to be seen.

 

22
Nov
15

SAY HELLO TO your new robot

traveller

I first became aware of the Spread sheet and it’s use in Construction projects in the Thatcher glory years, when Company’s where floating on the Stock Market, daily.  Everyone was becoming a shareholder, bar myself and I still haven’t joined in, today.

I was on a Refurbishment job, in Wincanton, Somerset. My company had recently floated, a vast proportion of staff, had bought in. New Business managers had been taken on. The job had been priced and everything had been assigned a little coloured box within an Excel document. It was going to be done for that price in that amount of time. One price i remember well, was the price payable to fit a door.

A deal had been struck with Travis Perkins, i presume so prices could be fixed,, and volume buying could be worth a discount. Our discount at the time was better than a senior member of Travis Perkins was. All materials for the refit of the door could be obtained there.

My Carpenter and his team came from Yeovil, not too far away. The price for a door fitment, complete with frame, lock, hinges, door handle  and Architraves was £15. I had phoned the person responsible for the price, who had rustled some paper around, “ah yes, the door, i presume he has power tools, he continued,  the door, three hinges, routed, three screws, three minutes, door lock, routed”. He went on and on. “it comes out just over 45 minutes, i have been generous and paid for the hour”. I was enlightened, and dismayed. I informed him the house was old and the door didn’t fit. The frame was easy to alter, the door not so. The price didn’t alter.

The document above is part of another Refurbishment project.  It involves External Wall Insulation and render and as such it should involve the weather. Seeing as the weather is an unknown element there is no space for it on the sheet. The price payable for the system install was the lowest i had expected.

Houses where expected to start and finish on a set day. Partly running through the winter months, i’d mentioned the weather, holding a printed out Excel sheet for the first time in my life. Next Wednesday we would be starting Number 34, but they give a storm coming in. I voiced my opinion, not possible, and was duly stitched up and sacked. My first warning regarding the lengths managers will go too, to protect the spread sheet, even if it’s wildly wrong.

Last week Peter Hansford the Government Minister for Construction issued his recommendations, we/ I await any response. Part of the document mentions training and pay. I have asked for the price to be set by the supplier of the system, like buying a VW car. Sto Track and Rail system costs £? per metre to install to this standard, Alsecco Adhesive free system costs,  £… per metre, to install to a standard. Make them responsible for the training also. You can still add in the price for labour on your sheet, the figure can be obtained from them over the phone or by mail, easy peasy, it will come in an un-editable box.

 

list2All the ECO, Warmer Homes, Green Deal projects have all been guilty of this practice, hence the lowest price ever paid, and the lowest quality, and deviation from the specification, displayed on every street in the country. Hence my arrival on the list, partly shown here. Looking at the list a lot have had correspondence from myself regarding the spread sheet  and it’s operation. Real life excerpts off the shop floor, some in the list like BRE.co.uk went out and had a look, so alarmed where they and others, is why this report is out.

The suppliers need to step up their game, it’s their product on show, after all. Training needs to be in depth, where ever it’s practiced, none of this half a day and home, or NVQ’s on the doorstep. A proper visible achievement, visible by eye. Noted STO.co.uk didn’t have anything to do with any of the subsidised EWI, SWI installs over the last ten years.  They where protecting their quality standards.

Where are we at the moment?, every boss i have had since Wincanton has been looking in the boxes, shaving a bit here and there, none stop.  I’ve been fuming about it since that day. To achieve the required quality, we need to be Robotic in our attempts, the weather needs to be ignored, illness and public holidays. More often than not, it’s un-achievable, set by someone with no  idea of the job involved or just plain greedy/ tight. As we are not going to be saying hello to a Robot just yet, I’m hoping Peter’s report has some effect. I’m rubbing my chin trying to imagine, what..

On the shop floor, speaking to an ex boss (ex Green Deal and Eco warrior), only last week. “You can’t do it for £24.50 a metre” he says. He knows that, as I and others have been telling himself and others, since Wincanton. Along the way I’ve had a boss who reckoned he could get EWI/SWI done for nothing, his rendition of the Art of Plastering would have flummoxed any game of Charades. He wasn’t responsible for the Initial figure during Green Deal and ECO etc, the Government department DECC or Suite’s as I call them, where. Now we are left with that price. It was odd how his tone suggested it was a recent event, on the trowel it’s been a ten year slog at least. He had been alarmed at my suggestion of him loosing control of wages. I tried comforting him, “it’s just a box”. I can only try and imagine what the other boss would have thought about my ideas. It didn’t go down well. But it would be a box DECC and others couldn’t alter. He also dumbed down the skills needed. He actually said “it’s not Plastering” I begged  to differ. All in all, not a good chat, estimations of people dented.

Now they are having trouble getting people to do it for the amount they have left in the box. Most fully trained operatives have left the Industry, long ago. I thought this would be the outcome in Wincanton all those years ago after the phone call, luckily an influx of cheap labour has helped bosses shave the box ever tighter, but now they are training up, they want more money. For those who are already trained, this isn’t enough money and hasn’t been for sometime, I Brian (note the Capital) “The Individual” say so.

One other suggestion i have put forwards is bringing back the Clerk of Works on Retrofit projects. Put an end to the in house assessments. The cost of this can go in a box. I will let you know if any of these measures come in too play.

28
Jun
15

Workmanship

IMG_1956IMG_1955 IMG_1957

Three pictures from a roof in Bristol. The resident had lived there for 20 years. When they moved in they had a new roof put on, and the insides where totally ripped out and re designed. The first smell i had on entering the house was drains, followed by damp.

On entering the rear garden i noticed the rear of the Georgian property had been pebble dashed, on the far corner it had let go completely, one tap and the whole corner section would have fallen off. The area under picture one was also in a bad state all the way down. The resident had picked EWI mainly to cover it all up. I warned her the EWI would be trapping any damp in the wall, ventilation through the summer was imperative, i hope she was listening.

Originlly the 4” white trim in picture three wouldn’t have been there, it has just been installed as a top cover for the External wall insulation under the Green Deal. The occupant mentioned a wet patch on the floor outside her back door, that hadn’t been there before, so i climbed the scaffold for a look.

Picture one with the damp tile explains the damp patch. The tiles don’t overlap the guttering, (bad roof setup on install) there is also no felt until picture three, where you can see it’s perished. I could have taken a better shot of it but was wondering how the area on picture three was going to be made weather proof by the EWI installers, as their remit ends at the back of the 4” trim with a mastic joint. I looked at the junction between the top and bottom trim, what hope is there that that will do the job, none in my mind.

On picture one with the wet tile, the water was going behind the guttering and running over our trim and down onto the floor below, an improvement on the original setup, where it ran down the wall.

Back inside the house to show her photo one and two, she took me into the kitchen where big damp patches where evident at both ends of the room, one relates to picture one and the other to picture three. Stood there for a minute and the smell  of drains took over, part of the EWI remit is to extend all pipes by 100mm on the outside. On opening her sink cupboard i could see a push fit sink trap system, with all the joints twisted. Push fit connections rely on the pipes being straight, no side stresses or it will leak.

IMG_1962 Imagine if you can how you would connect the white pipe to the original grey exit pipe in the wall without stressing joints. Add in the fact the grey pipe is running uphill out of the wall, which means the system is holding more water than it should, thereby increasing the likelihood of leaks and its 50mm out in two directions. An impossible task. The smell of drains was so bad i wondered how wet the floor was under the unit. On studying the fittings dried on food particles told me it had been leaking for ages. In what was an immaculate house, shoddy workmanship had ruined her brand new kitchen walls and possibly the floor,and possibly upstairs was the same in the bathroom and bedroom. With picture three in mind, i’m unsure if the problem will be totally solved anytime soon without the help of a roofer. A Romanian fake EWI installer won’t be good enough. I say fake as in picture three is not to specification, that 100mm upright bead should be on the trim by centimetres at least. Aluminium expands and shrinks with the weather, in full sun by an alarming amount. It can split a mastic joint in a morning.

Years ago there wouldn’t have been any white trim, we would have extended the roof to cover the EWI and some. A dumbing down of the EWI trade to enable bus loads of untrained low paid foreigners to help the big company’s rinse as much money out of the system as possible before it gets closed, means house holders are not getting a good deal. The Green Deal is a bum deal for so many.

02
Dec
13

Mondays on Plymouth community Housing’s Eco ewi project

Saturday morning my son received a letter from work, he was hoping it was his wage slip so he could check to see if his boss had messed about with the figure. It was a letter from the boss N routed through a new member of the HR team in Wales instead.

It started with “you have been identified as an operative with a wage agreement set up by a Boss B, this will be coming to an end on the 1st of January. It then warns him there will be no price per metre work only hourly rate from then on. Any question’s call Boss N. His hourly rate is a measly £10 and he would find it hard to get up at 5:30am and track down to Plymouth to work in all weathers for that. The trouble is it won’t be just that, we have to read between the lines, add in the fact that this particular boss is trying to remove all connections left in the company after Boss B’s demise. When he was offered the job Boss B said he tried to get him £16 an hour but Boss A had said no. Being downgraded to an operative was the final kick in the teeth. So as an operative you can be asked to do anything, you are no longer a tradesman, especially by Boss N who doesn’t like it when the client sends in an email glorifying my son’s work and mentioning he would like all his houses to be of this standard, this has so far been impossible with the immigrant labour on the job, whether they are Albanian, Lithuanian, or Polish. Some houses have been re-coated three times, never mind the amount of Riddors they have generated. How much crap work has been covered up will surface when the cold sets in, hopefully. Luckily for the company as a whole, Riddors generated after my false demise have so far been covered up, all five of them. They would have been stopped and closed down by now.

When i asked said boss what he thought of the email he replied “i don’t read drivel like that” and gestured it away like it was rubbish.

Boss A from the Welsh office came down in the week, my son and his mate heard his Welsh tones over the hedge, talking with an ex Connaught PLC boss. So this is the work done by the two that John (Site manager) was arguing to keep on his work stream he say’s. They walk in the gate, say nothing to my lad and his mate, instead barge past them and wander around the perimeter of the double block. They are discussing the quality as they come back around the front and exit the gate, i think it’s fantastic he says, i haven’t seen quality like that for years, i want it all to look like that. They get in their car and leave. They have  been clearing just over £400 a week working like dogs to achieve this. This possibly could be bettered as the winter is apon us and renders take longer to go off between coats, plus the Van driver who delivers materials every morning has been told to leave my lad and his workmate until the last. My son will be bringing home £300 +/- on hourly rate. Hi earnings where £28,000 last year and close to it for many years before.

When they swap over an to hourly rate his earnings will be more like £15,600. This is what makes me think the letter is telling him to look for another job, the boss doesn’t want you in his face. The boss has no idea what my son does for a living, he his from Kitchen and Bathroom replacements, i kid you not.

He arrives in Plymouth this morning, his Site Manager is fuming at the letter along with his number two. One of the Sub Contractors, Clyde, who pays his immigrant workers £40 a day tells him he knew last week my son was going on hourly rate. Another Subcontractor my son has worked for before when this Sub contractor was just a member of staff offers him a job which my son is looking on as a last option safety net. This Sub contractor employs a mad off his hinges bully that my son and his workmate spent two years complaining about to no avail. Finally working on the bosses own house brought it out in the open as his wife was in the kitchen horrified at what she was listening too. He kept his job though, he just got moved sideways. Going over to them will mean travelling to work with him as he lives in our town, but at least the boss will appreciate his work.

30
Nov
13

Youth unemployment

Is running at 24.4% . Firms are running on spread sheets, the likes of Amazon time you on the toilet, how can they take on unskilled labour?  Unskilled youths don’t fit in to the little boxes. My lad has two youths with him at the moment, the firm says they won’t cost him. That will change the minute they think my lad is earning too much. My lads company’s spread sheet has so many boxes to colour in per house, if you are not doing what the box says on the day, the boss wants to know why. “why haven’t you started no 15, the lady in no 17 is dying, but why haven’t you started, she’s dying and we are wary of the noise from drilling on concrete shelled houses, but you still haven’t answered my question”, why haven’t you started no 15?”

One is a family man and he’s the one with the most energy to get on. I was chatting to the younger one some time ago. He had done a construction course at college where you do a bit of everything, i asked him to take his mind back to college, “which section looking back did you think, i don’t mind this, i could do this day in day out”. He answered with Electrician, i laughed and asked him what the hell was he doing in the EWI industry, working outdoors in all weathers, treated like the scum of the earth. He had no answer for that. He thinks he will be earning £500 a week very soon, even though my lad has told him from the beginning “i don’t earn that working here, and if i did the management would cut my money.

The boss has a pen and it takes him very little time to cross out something on his timesheet with “i’m not paying for that”. I constantly badger my lad to lodge a complaint but he his wary of loosing his job. The youth’s mind is so far off the job he leaves tools everywhere and in a few short weeks has lost all his kit, the slightly older one has been spending a percentage of his wages on tools every month, albeit cheap one’s but his earnings are dire. Tools make the job quicker and easier, the youngster will offer up a board mark it with his saw and then be amazed it doesn’t fit, so cuts another and another, the other one measures it with he’s tape and it fits like a glove. The youngster will have gambled and drunk his months wages away by the end of the first week.

In reality the youngster spent £400 on a tattoo of Father Christmas on his shoulder which looks like Alan Sugar.




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