In the fourth in our series of Q&A articles with Darke & Taylor staff, we talk to Technical Division Services director, Julian Butler, about:
- working onsite during lockdown
- the importance of Health & Safety & RAMS
- unexpected benefits for the Technical Division from lockdown
Julian Butler has been with D&T for 10 years. As a director of D&T, Julian is responsible for the growth and development of the Technical Services Division. This division is responsible for all things local, including Schools, Colleges, Oxford University, Commercial and Domestic sectors, Blue Chip Companies, High-Net-Worth Individuals and Ultra-Prime Residences!
Q. How have the last 2 months been for you and your division?
It might sound a bit strange, but it’s been quite manic. When lockdown first occurred, towards the end of March, we immediately lost about 20% of our capacity, with 10 of our 43 engineers unable to work for a variety of reasons: e.g. site unsuitability or for personal shielding reasons.
However, our division has been working onsite throughout the pandemic – it’s actually been easier to access most of our sites without the normal flow of people around, but I’ll come onto that a bit later.
As at the end of May, we were back up to 90% of our working capacity, with only 5 engineers not physically at work. However, the rest of the division has made up for any shortfall in capacity by working overtime and fulfilling the needs of our clients, so I’m really grateful to all our workforce.
Q. What are you most proud of D&T achieving during the lockdown?
We’ve been undertaking a lot of valuable work for key workers, such as researchers in Oxford laboratories investigating cures for a COVID vaccine.
For example, when lockdown first occurred, we were kept very busy putting in temporary laboratories in order to comply with the new social distancing rules. This meant a lot of flexibility, working around people to reconfigure existing circuits, putting more supplies in…etc. With all of this, communication was absolutely vital.
I’m immensely proud of the fact that our engineers have been so pro-active, displayed so much initiative, and demonstrated all their problem-solving abilities for all our clients. It’s important to note that our first port of call has always been to Health & Safety (H&S) – so long as we could work safely whilst respecting the social distancing rules, we did.
Q. That’s an interesting point – what role does H&S play in your work?
It’s absolutely massive – it’s the beginning, the middle and the end of what we do.
Looking at it simplistically – and I must stress this isn’t to downplay its seriousness in any way, shape or form – COVID-19 is just another one of a list of H&S regulations that need to be complied with. What I’m trying to say is that COVID-19 has a mechanical effect on the way we do business – we need to try to rise above the hysteria and social condemnation that has surrounded working onsite during lockdown.
It’s important to note that D&T has its own, independent Health & Safety advisor – James Thompson – who is always our first port of call whenever we’re deciding whether we can continue with an existing job or take on a new one. The safety of our staff is paramount – even if we (theoretically) wanted to, we wouldn’t be allowed to take on a job if it in anyway affected the H&S of our employees – it’s all about checks and balances.
Q. So could you give an example of how H&S works in practise for you at D&T, during COVID-19?
Let’s imagine – for the sake of simplicity – that you wanted to have your office rewired. We’d already have visited your site, and – through a combination of our experience, talking with you about your needs, and using our onsite estimation software – issued you with a quote for the job.
James – our H&S engineer – would then need to visit the site, armed with our quote and a brief of what we’d be doing. He would need to go through the job with an expert H&S eye to make sure that every aspect was safe – e.g. working at heights, checking the asbestos register…etc. This would include compliance with the latest regulations, including social distancing and COVID-19. This is what I meant earlier when I referred to COVID-19 having a ‘mechanical effect’ upon what we do and how we operate.
James would then write-up, in real-time and whilst onsite, a project-specific RAMS ‘Risk Assessment and Method Statement’ on his tablet computer (note: the Construction Industry has been very pro-active in updating guidance in this respect during COVID-19 https://www.hse.gov.uk/risk/) . We would then review this RAMS and go through it with you (the client) for sign-off. It’s important to stress that EVERYONE who works on the job has to read and sign this RAMS – including any sub-contractors – so everybody is aware of their responsibilities.
Depending on duration of job, James (H&S) would visit the site about once a month, never telling anybody in advance when he’d be turning up – in this manner, we condition people to take H&S very seriously and to embed it into their daily working lives.
Q. Simon Newton (managing director, D&T) previously mentioned that getting people to site was often more problematic than working on site – what is your experience of this?
I suppose our division is quite fortunate in that the vast majority of the work we do is in or around Oxford city centre, so distance isn’t a major problem.
All of our qualified engineers have their own vans, but we’ve been pro-active and, where necessary, have asked people to use their own cars, with D&T covering all additional expenses such as mileage, wear & tear…etc.
A few of our engineers have been able to cycle into work at Oxford colleges, but it’s been a bit of a stretch for some of them cycling home…especially those that live uphill!
Q. Thanks Julian – so, in a nutshell, what’s been the key takeaway from working during COVID-19?
I’m really proud of all the people in my team for their hard-work, team ethic, and the fact that everybody’s had each other’s back, especially during the times when it hasn’t been easy, and we’ve come under some public criticism.
I think overall there’s been a real sense of teamwork at D&T, a mantra of ‘Let’s get this done!’ That, I hope, will be our lasting legacy post-COVID.
D&T will continue keep you posted on its response to COVID-19 through a series of Q&A sessions with its directors, project managers, and front-line workers.
If there is a topic you would like to see covered in a Q&A session, please leave a comment on this blog post below and we’ll get back to you.
Thank you once again to everybody for your support during these unprecedented times.