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News & opinion

27 MAY 2020

Site inspection app gives surveyors flexibility during pandemic

At Assent Building Control, we are using technologies to help us be the best we can be on the other side of the pandemic.

The firm has always been keen to develop and progress the use of new technology in the systems we operate; we pride ourselves on proactively enhancing our productivity by using technology to streamline operations. A key area where surveyors have seen the benefit of technology is the use of our site inspection app which dramatically saves time in writing up site reports.

Site inspections are a key element of any building control body’s function and this obviously presents a difficulty during social distancing. The Construction Industry Council Approved Inspectors Register (CICAIR) position is that building control performance standards, which is the benchmark for site inspection standards, should continue to be followed.

This does allow for remote inspections based on the professional skill and judgement of surveyors on what they need to see. However, the standard does warn that remote inspection techniques are not to be relied upon as a complete alternative for ascertaining the compliance of work on site. Some of our clients have temporarily closed site operations but most have continued to operate in some form; we consequently have been doing our best to service those sites while taking appropriate precautions.

At the outset of the pandemic we developed a risk assessment process which includes a flow chart to assist us in determining whether a physical inspection is necessary and if it is reasonably safe to attend. Surveyors have also been asking the following key questions prior to any inspection, to which if any answers are yes, then we would be unable to attend in person.

1. Is anybody who has been working at the property in the last 14 days self-isolating under the current government guidelines?
2. Has anybody who has been working at the property in the last 14 days tested positive for COVID-19?
3. Is anyone on site considered vulnerable in relation to COVID-19?

After this we then work through our flow chart to assess the need and risk of carrying out the inspection. CICAIR has defined critical inspections as commencement, excavations, structures, fire safety and completion. Through our risk assessment flow chart, we determine whether it is necessary and appropriate to attend a site. Critical inspections must be carried out physically so we are placing a great emphasis on the importance of communication, with site teams being critical to ensure social distancing can be employed.

Assent Building Control’s network is linked via our Data Collection Cloud (DCC) which enables all our staff to work remotely from home. Like many approved inspectors we already use an app for all our site inspections. This operates through our surveyor’s mobile phones and syncs instantly with our DCC filing system. The app has the ability to save photographs and has been upgraded record video conferencing.

A major change we have adopted as a result of the lockdown is the use of video conferencing for all meetings and for non-critical site inspections. This way we maintain our business activity and service to our clients. Virtual inspections are carried out, where appropriate, and are fully recorded on DCC to ensure a complete inspection record is developed. Our surveyor will direct the inspection through the conferencing software, asking the contractor to view specific areas, which enables a thorough and detailed inspection. Although remote conferencing was something we did use previously, it is definitely a technology we have embraced and will continue with as much as possible after social distancing is lifted. While face-to-face meetings are often necessary and have great benefits, video conferencing certainly has the potential to offer huge time efficiencies.

A major change we have adopted as a result of the lockdown is to embrace the use of video conferencing for all meetings and for non-critical site inspections.

Our surveyors are working to ensure client queries, plan checking and service delivery is carried out as usual. Our plan check report is produced in the form of a live tracker so all parties involved can have access, upload comments and check on progress. We are finding this is a valuable tool during this period with individual working patterns invariably altered to accommodate flexible working, clients are still receiving live plan check reports in a timely manner which they can access and work on at any time of day.

We are placing technology at the top of our priorities list to ensure client service delivery is uncompromised. We are sure technological advancements will help our company to continue delivering quality services, while helping to improve efficiencies and reduce overheads on our business.

While we expect to see great economic uncertainty for years to come, the building control and construction sector is also awaiting the government’s reformed building safety regulatory system. Approved inspectors have a vast resource of professional experts and are strategically well placed to be instrumental in delivering the changes necessary. Our DCC and inspection app systems already provide the level of service that the reforms require. Coupled with our extensive network of offices, qualified surveyors, and adaptability, we are confident approved inspectors will be at the forefront of the government’s plans. Although the future is uncertain, embracing technology is certain to assist us in continuing to deliver.

As well as the time efficiency savings this creates, we should also consider the environmental benefits that would occur if every organisation cut unnecessary travel and considered which journeys are truly essential. This would surely help in reducing town centre pollution and all the knock on effects on our health.

John Miles is a technical and business development manager at Assent Building Control and a member of RICS Built Environment Journal’s building control editorial advisory group