Some of Australia’s leading construction heavyweights have banded together to develop minimum best practice standards for site facilities, with the aim of improving the workplace for those working on-site.
Ricky Bridge, Group General Manager Environment Operations for Downer Group, says the initiative has come out of both the Responsible Construction Leadership Group and the Australian Constructors Association’s Sustainability Working Group. Together, the RLGC and the ACA Sustainability Working Group together looks at what requirements of the Green Building Council of Australia can be applied to modular buildings for work sites, Bridge says.
The ACA group sees tackling site facilities as a tangible and achievable initiative, Bridge says. He claims that some of its members, including Multiplex and Lendlease, have already undertaken initiatives around the energy performance, environment quality, and amenity of their facilities. Sustainable Site Facilities program lead by the RCLG has developed the standard developed for site sheds also aims to address a major gap in the construction sector.
The ACA group sees tackling site facilities as a tangible and achievable initiative, Bridge says.
“For 10 years, we have been building Green Star projects, with the tools expanding out from commercial office projects to cover multi-residential dwellings, schools, retail, industrial, and even precinct scale projects,” Joe Karen, Sustainability Manager from Built says. “Now, there is one tool, Green Star Design and As Built that covers every sector.
“What has been missing in the whole piece has been the quality and sustainability of the workspace for people building Green Star buildings,” Karten says.
The reason is the industry has always seen site facilities as temporary, as they are usually in situ for up to two years. However, they are manufactured to have a lifespan of 20 years or more, and for site workers, they are a constant presence at any job. So, if they are not built to an increasingly higher level of sustainability, there is a whole segment of buildings not making progress in terms of best practice.
“The industry is also missing an opportunity to provide the same level of accommodation for workers on buildings as it provides for workers in Green Star buildings,” Karten says, and points out that some workers are on site for up to 12 or more hours a day.
In an industry where fatigue is a real issue and may be a major cause of mishaps, increasing the visual comfort levels, indoor environment quality, and thermal comfort of site facilities is therefore extremely important. When to comes to elements of best practice, the RCLG has focused on including things, such as materials selection, toxicity of finishes, water and energy efficiency, thermal comfort, and indoor environmental quality.
The standards proposed that materials be chosen for sustainability credentials; that low- or no-VOC finishes, adhesives, and sealants be used and formaldehyde minimised; and that PVC alternatives or best practice PVC pipework, conduit, and cabling be used. It has also addressed the “window rattler” air-conditioning units that are standard for site sheds – which are usually not energy-efficient, particularly as the doors of the sheds are often open all day.
In an industry where fatigue is a real issue and may be a major cause of mishaps, increasing the visual comfort levels, indoor environment quality, and thermal comfort of site facilities is important.
“There is a real opportunity to improve the indoor environment quality for workers and increase energy-efficiency,” Karten says. One of the simple measures manufacturers are being asked to address are door closers on external doors.
The payoff for projects from having a better indoor environment in site facilities is a happier, healthier, and more productive workforce.It is about catering for worker health and wellbeing. After all, healthier, more alert, and less stressed workers can also mean fewer accidents, Karten says. VOCs for example, have been shown to affect cognitive ability and potentially cause a range of health impacts. By minimising them, workers become more alert.
Karten says that the RGLC has been working with site facility manufacturers to see standards improve.
Together, the RCLG’s tier one contractors comprise around 15 per cent of the modular site shed market, so they saw an opportunity to leverage their buying power to affect change.
The minimum standard the RGLC has set is one its members will insist on in terms of newly fabricated site sheds from January 2018, he says. “We can build momentum among suppliers to upgrade and retool to deliver [the standard] within their base offering,” Karten says. At the same time, firms can also go further towards leading best practice.
For instance, the roof of a site shed can be capped with solar panels, which can be an asset that can go from site to site. “I would love to see site sheds powering themselves,” Karten says.
Adding plants inside sheds also gives workers the cognitive and stress-reduction benefits that these kinds of biophilic elements have been proven to provide. Well-maintained plants also have proven air cleaning benefits, which is important given indoor air is generally five times more polluted than outdoor air, and on a building site, the outdoor air can also contain dust, fumes, and other contaminants.
Adding plants inside sheds also gives workers the cognitive and stress-reduction benefits that these kinds of biophilic elements have been proven to provide.
Green cleaning products should be used wherever possible, and recycling facilities provided. Bike racks are also beneficial. Facilities can include dedicated health and wellbeing rooms, and break-out rooms with items such as a pool table to build camaraderie.
Sub-metering of energy and water use can lead to reductions in consumption, and rainwater can be collected and re-used. Best practice site facilities could also provide filtered drinking water, so workers can refill reusable water bottles – cutting down on waste and the costs for workers of purchasing bottled water.
A coffee machine and reusable mugs along with crockery and reusable cutlery for meals also reduces paper and plastic waste generated on-site, and Karten says has a morale benefit in terms of making workers feel valued.It is something Built, a company where Karten works, is already doing.
Bridge says that the RCLG has supplied the baseline requirements to tier one and tier two firms so it can be embedded into procurement requirements. The standards are also being added as a credit to Version 2 of the Infrastructure Sustainability Council of Australia’s Design and As Built tool, which is soon to be released. The GBCA has also incorporated them under an Innovation Credit.
“It’s easy points,” Bridge says.
He says feedback from the manufacturers to date has been sustainable facilities may cost a little more, but that contractors will make back the difference in reduced operational costs, including energy costs, worker safety and wellbeing, as well as productivity gains.
Check out the standards and supporting information here – http://www.responsibleconstruction.org/sustainable-site-facilities.htm