Much work to be done with politicians to achieve lofty RMBA election manifesto aims

RMBA president Johnny Calley.
RMBA president Johnny Calley.

RMBA president Johnny Calley was heartened to hear some of the policies outlined by the politicians who attended the recent RMBA-led 2023 Constructive Forum. But, elsewhere, he’s struggling to understand why hard hats are not worn in all sectors of the construction industry.

Led by the Registered Master Builders Association (RMBA), the 2023 Constructive Forum was held in Auckland recently.

It’s an industry-led effort to enhance collaboration, build resilience, and ensure a vibrant and sustainable sector that delivers what New Zealand needs now, and for the future.

Ahead of this year’s upcoming election, the RMBA released its election  manifesto for action, outlining recommendations for Government policy and focus.

Government must urgently work with the sector to address the boom-bust cycle to improve housing, lift productivity, and manage the impacts of climate change.

So, with that in mind, there was much anticipation from delegates as they heard from both political key speakers, Minister of Housing, Building and Construction Dr Megan Woods, and Opposition Spokesperson for Housing, Urban Development and Infrastructure Chris Bishop.

The RMBA’s manifesto outlines three critical areas where we think there needs to be bold and consistent action:

• Smoothing the boom-bust cycle to ensure a sustainable sector and workforce able to deliver the affordable housing and critical infrastructure the country needs.

• Improve productivity. Consenting and procurement are two areas which are currently impeding the building process, and costing the sector and the country time and money.

• Climate action, a non-negotiable as we are all experiencing the impacts. Government must work with the sector on where we build, how we build, and how we can recycle to reduce our footprint.

It’s fair to say there is a lot of work to be done with our politicians to achieve those lofty goals.

But without tackling the issues head-on the sector will continue to have unfavourable cyclical peaks and troughs, while being subjected to policy implementation that interrupts productivity and puts more pressure on building costs that are already considered unachievable for most.

Building and Construction spokesperson for the National party Andrew Bailey also attended Constructive, and delivered the National party’s construction policies.

With a strong focus on improving the consenting system, virtual inspections, reduced CCC time frames, freeing up and de-monopolising the supply chain, the audience was encouraged, and applauded those sentiments.

By freeing up the regulatory system and encouraging competition in the supply chain you are on the right track towards efficiencies that improve cost outcomes.

Hard hat policy — why does it differ between residential and commercial sites?

We have seen heightened activity from Worksafe NZ across all construction sites around the country.

While there is observation on general construction safety behaviours, there is a stronger focus on less notified risks such as dust mitigation and mask wearing.

Dust control is obviously important, given many of the materials used in all aspects of construction are toxic and have fine airborne particles that disperse into the air — or the lungs of construction workers.

Evidence is mounting that this can cause environmental damage and delayed lung conditions.

The industry needs to take the lead on this and look at implementing good dust mitigation protocols in residential and commercial construction.

Dust control is easier to achieve for manufacturing businesses that operate in controlled factory environments that have large extraction units.

But this is not the case for most building sites that are open to the elements, and face other physical hazards preventing good dust control.

Like waste management solutions, the industry needs to continue to innovate to eliminate the risk.

Interestingly though, when it comes to personal safety in construction there is one element I can’t seem to understand — and that is the topic of hard hats.

Hard hats are an essential piece of personal protective equipment (PPE) in the construction industry. They are designed to protect workers from head injuries caused by falling objects, electrical shocks, and other potential hazards.

Yet it is widely accepted that in the residential industry they are not required.

Even more interesting is that WorkSafe doesn’t seem to police this at all in residential construction, yet will provide infringement notices for small scaffolding breaches or advice on wearing a dust mask.

Masks and hard hats play pivotal roles in the safety of construction workers, but in the residential sector hard hats are hardly seen.

This is in stark contrast to commercial construction sites where there are strict hard hat policies, and it would be uncommon for you not to see a commercial site with mandatory hard hat-wearing protocol.

My own view is that residential sites pose the same risks as commercial ones, and head injury prevention needs to be implemented across the entire industry, not just in the commercial sphere.

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