Exoskeletons, cyberattacks and bans on combustible cladding were among the main headlines this October. Read on for the latest news and highlights from the UK construction industry.
Willmott Dixon trials high-tech exoskeleton
Wilmott Dixon has teamed up with robotics firm Ekso Bionics, a leading developer of exoskeleton solutions in the US, to trial a high-tech exoskeleton vest to support the arms during heavy lifting at Cardiff West Community High School. The project worth £31m, aims to provide a new school for 1,500 students.
Holding an “Ultra Site” status from the CCS (Considerate Constructors Scheme) the new school development was chosen to trial the new technology due to the range of technical activities required to complete the build.
Dubbed the ‘Eksovest’, this upper body exoskeleton vest, worn like a backpack, can provide 2.3-6.8kg of vertical lift per arm when lifting tools or materials. The £5,650 device, which weighs 4.3kg, was funded by Wilmott Dixon’s central research and development fund, Eureka. With aims to rolling out the technology nationwide, and potentially setting the new standard for the construction industry, Neal Stephens, Managing Director for Willmott Dixon Wales and South West, stated “The Eksovest technology should lead to teams on site feeling less exerted, meaning improved wellbeing and productivity. This investment also demonstrates the development of our new Eureka fund in supporting technology and innovation that will drive change in our construction industry into the 21st century.”
Government bans combustible cladding
Following the heart-breaking events in June 2017 at the Grenfell Tower, the government commissioned a review of the current fire safety and building regulations. Published in December 2017, the initial review led by Judith Hackitt proposed no bans on any building products, recommending performance specifications for the construction industry instead.
However, having found that cladding heavily contributed to the damage done to the Grenfell Tower, the government was left with no choice but to establish more specific rules and regulations. In particular, concerns were shown against the widespread use of non-compliant cladding by the construction industry across multiple buildings in the UK.
It has now been confirmed that the government has banned combustible cladding on all high-rise buildings including hospitals, flats, student accommodations and residential care premises that are above 18 metres. However, since the Grenfell Tower incident, an astonishing 454 high-rise residential buildings have been identified as containing external cladding that doesn’t comply with current fire safety regulations. With only 32 of these having had it replaced yet.
To conform to the new fire safety regulations, work has already started to replace the non-compliant cladding on most of the affected buildings, in the public sector. However, the private sector has proved much slower to take any action, failing to have even started any work on 88% of the affected buildings.
Reports show shortage of young female apprentices
The latest statistics published by the Department of Education show that 88% of apprenticeships started in the construction industry in 2016/17 were male despite initiatives to encourage young women to join the construction industry.
Karen Jones, Director of Human Resources at Redrow, stated that there needs to be more opportunities and better careers advice for young women on the possibilities of working in the industry. She explained that with the inevitable skills shortage brought by Brexit, an equal effort to reach out to young people of both genders should be made to ensure that they are being educated in the different career paths offered by the Construction sector.
The most recent reports show that just over half (56%) of young women had received careers advice on apprenticeships, compared to 70% of young men, and it is now more important than ever to break the gender stereotype and show that construction offers an equally rewarding career to both sexes.
Construction in top five sectors affected by cyberattacks
A new report by cybersecurity expert eSentire has placed Construction as the sector experiencing more confirmed ‘phishing’ attacks than any other in Q2 2018.
Cybercriminals used shipping invoices as bait to target industries using DocuSign, a service that facilitates electronic exchanges of contracts and signed documents, when handling digital invoices and quotes. The construction industry, found to be the most frequent user of DocuSign due to the nature of having remotely based business relationships and employees, reported the highest number of alerts.
The sector was also victim to a large amount of ‘Drupalgeddon2’ attacks (the name given to an extremely critical vulnerability in the web-content management application Drupal that maintainers patched in late March). According to eSentire, exploitations continue due to organisations refusing or hesitating to update or patch internal systems for fear it will break or change the UI, current processes and or cause the loss of any data and important documents.
The volume of attempts demonstrates a general unawareness for the significance of patching software and a gross underestimation for the gravity of failing to do so. A problem that lingers for many businesses today, despite being easily rectifiable.