by Paul Balndford
Constructing a better future
ARE CHANGING IN THE BUILDING INDUSTRY. ROBERT
MUSUMECI TELLS MIRIAM DUNN HOW THE
BUILDING INDUSTRY CONSULTATIVE COUNCIL, OF WHICH HE IS CHAIRMAN, IS
ASSISTING THOSE WORKING IN THE SECTOR TO MAKE THOSE CHANGES
BICC recently organised an important conference on health and safety
for the construction industry. What were the key issues raised at this
The conference on health and safety in the sector was aimed at a wide-ranging
audience, including architects, engineers and those with a "hands-on"
involvement in construction operations.
On a technical level, we discussed the guidelines we have issued for
architects to follow on excavation and demolition works, while we also
briefed those present on the European Unions health and safety
aspect, primarily its codes of practice.
The legal notice issued here last July means that we are very much adhering
to EU law and embracing its context already, although there is no doubt
that now, with the setting up of the Health and Safety Authority, our
arena will be better co-ordinated.
But, there are some EU directives that are specific and are related
directly to the construction industry, which will need to be implemented
and will have an impact on the industry.
Perhaps one of the most important is the directive covering temporary
or mobile sites.
The EU requires that a construction plan be drawn up for projects taking
longer than a certain number of days, so that is something we will need
Other issues covered in the directives include the manual handling of
loads and the use of personal equipment, which places obligations on
both the employer and the employee.
BICC is trying to promote these new concepts to the industry and, in
line with this, we are already undertaking on-site training and meeting
workers, to help them make the necessary adjustments.
You have been chairman of BICC for two-and-a-half years now. What do
you regard as your most important achievements?
We have made two steps forward, in tandem, which have given me considerable
Once of these was the setting up of a system for the registration of
contractors. This concept was first discussed over 20 years ago, so,
although it is only being introduced on a voluntary basis for now, its
implementation can still be viewed as a major and important development.
We know that the government plans to make the system of registration
obligatory for all contractors in the near future, but for now, the
rule is that all those intending to undertake works related to government
or public procurement have to be registered.
This allows committees or others evaluating tenders to make their evaluations
on more in-depth information than has previously been available to them,
such as details of the workforce, machinery available, health, safety
and insurance policies of the company and its past projects.
It should also help us to move away from the idea that tenders are only
awarded to the cheapest bidder.
BICCs other important achievement has been the important role
it has played in the drawing up of the new building regulations which
should come into place this summer.
As a consultative council, we will be issuing the regulations, which
we have worked on over a period of time, as guidelines.
But the governments intention is also to make them law, which
will obviously mean they can then be monitored and enforced.
The regulations update some old laws and also tackle other issues which
need covering at a legislative level, such as health, safety and hygiene,
energy conservation, structural integrity, site preparation and waste
The ultimate objective of the regulations is to have better, safer buildings,
constructed in better, safer conditions.
And what do you still hope to achieve?
There are some ideas that we have begun working on, but still need to
One example of this is the concept of public/private partnership, which
we fully support and believe could be expanded.
BICC has submitted a detailed analysis of possible public/private partnerships
which we have identified and which the government can pursue.
There are a number of benefits for the government in working in partnership
with the private sector. Apart from the fact that the principle generally
relieves the burden from the government, there is a lot to be gained
from the exchange of expertise, while it is also envisaged that projects
will get off the ground quicker.
BICC has urged the government to set up a task group to look at ways
of making it easier for interested parties to get public/private projects
off the ground, especially those on a reduced scale. We believe it is
important to ensure the right channels are in place for interested developers
to set up these kind of partnerships and that the present system needs
to be made less bureaucratic. There is no doubt that if the process
is made easier, more projects will get off the ground.
BICC has also set up an educational research trust, which focuses primarily
on research into the industry. We have published a number of documents
covering topics such as restoration and general construction, which
we hope will encourage architects and others who are interested to continue
expanding their knowledge on the subject. The ongoing conferences we
hold also help update architects on whats going on in the industry.
BICC would also like to see the government take some steps to help boost
the property market.
In the reports we have submitted, we have made particular reference
to the rent laws, which we believe need revising as a priority. And
we have also made it known that we believe it would be useful if the
government and the opposition could reach a common policy on the property
How has BICC worked at developing relations with the PA?
It has been one of our objectives to forge better links with the Planning
Authority and I believe we have made important steps forward in this
Over the past two and a half years, we have taken steps to ensure a
closer monitoring of the planning process and also submitted a number
of reports in this respect, including one on the Planning Authority
reform, both on a policy and structural level.
Since BICC has representation from the construction industry, it is
inevitable that one complaint commonly voiced is the problem of bureaucracy
at the PA and the length of time that permits take to be issued.
But the changes planned for the PA look to be tackling these problems,
which is a welcome development.
The new legal notice allows works of a minor nature to be done without
any delay, which should help minimise red tape, while also relieving
resources, allowing people to concentrate their efforts where theyre
Another important step forward which the new law is set to make is the
right of architects to ask the PA to review and make a decision on an
application within five days if it has not been decided upon after three
At the moment, although target dates are stipulated, no one seems to
care about a lengthy lapse. But the new proposal will give architects
much more ammunition to chase applications, leading to greater accountability
and a more efficient system.
Another recommendation which we view positively is the proposal for
more than one board to be set up to decide cases. This should speed
up procedures considerably, while also relieving current caseloads.
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What are your views on the shortage of workers in the construction industry?
This is a well-known problem which we have tried to tackle by liasing
closely with the Employment and Training Corporation, but admittedly,
without much success so far.
BICC set up a number of courses, both short and long term, but the response
wasnt that high.
The ETC also interviewed people who were registering, but not that many
proved suitable for construction work.
There are many reasons for the shortfall; obviously the nature of the
work means it is physically demanding and the fact remains that job
opportunities are diverse today, so people have a number of other options.
The issue of whether foreign workers should be brought over to make
good the shortfall is one that is very delicate at BICC and not one
on which we have a common stand.
BICC is made up of representatives from a number of entities and although
in general we reach consensus on issues, this is not one of them.
With a number of major projects set to kick off, the problem is now
becoming more urgent and with this in mind, BICCs Board took a
decision last week to extend talks on a ministerial level.
Since this issue may well divide the unions and the contractors, we
will also be trying to mediate to help find a solution to everybodys
And is the controversy surrounding building works in summer now solved?
Consensus on this issue has now been reached between BICC and the Tourism
Ministry, although there were admittedly some problems initially on
the contractors side.
Timeframes have been stipulated for building works, some of which are
already in place. Basically, the government is streamlining and consolidating
what is already there.
I think the key in this issue is striking a balance. Tourism is essential
for the country, but, on the other hand, you cant halt construction
activity, especially when so much of it is related to tourism anyway.
To progress in tourism, we need to create the infrastructure. What we
need to do is to ensure that this infrastructure is created with minimal
The new guidelines I was mentioning will help in this respect, since
they cover the issue of demolition works and site preparation, with
specific reference to safeguarding third parties, with stipulations
such as putting up fencing or boarding.
Luckily BICCs board members, although diverse, recognise that
striking a balance is in everyones interest, and this helped us
to reach our conclusions.