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A plan for health and safety

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A new computer system for managing interactive health and safety files offers real potential for making life easier

Since the introduction of the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations in 1996, the preparation of the Health and Safety (H&S) File, which is supposed to be a responsibility of the fancifully titled planning supervisor, has become a laborious (and often unpaid) duty falling to architects and contractors alike.

Theoretically a useful coordination package of information, it more often than not only involves the stapling together of dated and irrelevant paperwork, vacuous documentation from subcontractors (who still don't get it) and the ubiquitous schematic wiring diagrams which bear little relationship to the actual layout, but are included because they bulk it out and look sufficiently technical. Often the most impressive thing about the H&S File is the flash ringbinder with its pastel dividers, albeit of erroneous headings.

The H&S Plan, on the other hand, was intended to be compiled by the principal contractor and maintained and updated as changes and progress demand; to provide a benchmark of good practice, risk awareness and hazard avoidance criteria. In reality, it is a bureaucratic litigation avoidance exercise with very little to do with health or safety.

The separation of the plan and the file - in the coordination roles, information involved and duties of various providers - has meant two distinct documents are prepared, each chasing and replicating ill-defined data.

Very often, because of the conflicting responsibilities at these stages, the parties ask for information up front and blame one another for any breakdown in communication. However, as they say, help is at hand.

Rubbish in, rubbish out SAMM (Systems Asset Maintenance Manager), a system developed by MPL Construction, has been devised for the end user - as the name suggests - as an asset management tool (see box, below). However, it also fits in to the spirit of the health and safety legislation in that it can coordinate a vast array of data in one location to be accessed as and when needed by various parties to the live contract.

Therefore, even though it is predominantly a programme for end of project use, it is able to incorporate and retain information during the schemeworks and could cut down on duplication of some data between Plan and File. Essentially though, it is an interactive tool to maximise the utility of the H&S File.

Brian Law of the Association of Planning Supervisors says: 'It is possible to prepare files and O&M [operations and maintenance] manuals in hard copy but the benefit of using software is so self-evident that the resistance and reluctance to using it baffles me.'

SAMM is a relatively straightforward computing system, arranged in a succession of windows, which display details and prompts about various building items. Currently, it is weighted in favour of services, operational manuals and maintenance procedures (developed as it is by building services engineers). This is a shame, although I am advised that this is being extended for more general use.However, since it covers most of the key O&M issues which are the concern of clients and their facilities managers - and hence affect the overall budgetary considerations of the scheme - even in its current state it would be beneficial to architects to show an interest.

Effectively, details provided by relevant parties can be added into the system at any stage in a project. In this way, there ought not to be a separation between relevant H&S Plan details and maintenance manual details, thus minimising some of the current duplication of material. Risk and COSHH assessments, isolation procedures and method statements for planned maintenance items, for example, can simply be transferred across.

While it is true to say that any system is only as good as its input data, SAMM is simple to use and nothing can eliminate the time consuming and bureaucratic task of typing in data (whatever happened to fast and reliable voice activated computer packages? ).

Cross-referencing The key to the system is a coded cross-referencing of assets that allows existing and proposed items to be inputted with location information.

Retrieval is quick and easy and, once itemised, additional information relating to each asset can be built up into a detailed database; from asbuilt drawings or even video footage from manufacturers to explain maintenance procedures.

As many architects can attest, explaining 'how to' procedures to clients is one of the most time consuming aspects of handover, and, in theory, providing the fullest package of self-explanatory information should pay dividends in the long run (SAMM developers will provide advice and training on how their own system works).

The flexibility of the system should convince the client of the benefits of more effective operations and planned maintenance scheduling possibilities.

SAMM can also be used as an H&S induction tool for new employees.

Replacing the static H&S File format will enable the client to have intelligent live information on important issues. Instead of having to refer to the paper file for the dates of guarantee renewals, for example, these can be flagged up as diary items in windows on screen, eliminating the possibilities of items lapsing or of missing maintenance inspection dates. Check-offs by services staff can be inputted into the network, with comments if necessary, so that any changes in service or maintenance personnel can be alerted to relevant points of information.

As Jon Oldknow of MPL Construction says: 'Systems such as SAMM could be used as learning tools when provided by the project team, with it forming an ongoing link with the client once they take occupation. Both parties can plan future developments based on real performance feedback. The future service to the client can only improve as paper mountains become a thing of the past.' He continues: 'The use of IT systems to conclude projects allows (the design team) greater access to historical information.'

The system also allows for the compilation and correlation of energy consumption data for continued analysis of performance and savings implications. This data can be transferred to other schemes or to compare with the client's existing asset performance.

SAP calculations can also be worked out using the system. Architects should benefit from the system in the sense that they too can build up a database of efficient, effective specification items best suited to a variety of circumstances.

The resultant H&S file, including drawings, O&M details etc, are delivered to the client as a CD-ROM, which is installed into the SAMM system on the client's hard drive. In this way, the CD is just a delivery mechanism, but the dynamic development of the files is built up on the computer - with CDs used thereafter for back-up purposes only.

In this way, it could be advantageous for architects to show willing and advise the client to take up more efficient means of scheduling their H&S information; reducing downtime and operating costs. It all sounds straightforward, but I believe we will have to work out who is going to do all the work and whether clients will pay.

lFor details contact Jon Oldknow of MPL Construction on 01283 566 176 or visit www. mplprojects. co. uk SYSTEM COMPONENTS lProvides the client with a detailed overview of each asset lEnables maintenance procedures to be allocated to each asset lFacilitates the assessment of current and future cost expenditure lProvides life-cycle cost analysis lLogs fault reports and maintenance schedules lLists manufacture and supplier details lStores drawings, operating and isolating information lStores digital video data for operational guidance or training purposes lProvides audit trails and detailed reports on assets lAllows the production and correlation of risk assessments, method statements and COSHH data, etc lFeatures multi-level security access lEnables analysis of energy consumption data

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