Tuesday, 14 April 2020

Coming Out The Other Side?

In these uncertain times we are all looking at how we work differently, and perhaps/hopefully a lot of these changes will remain in place for longer regardless of how much normality returns.

Working from home has in all honesty been so much nicer than working at an office, and there is so much at the office that we really don't need.  We are lucky in the sense that there is space at home to work without getting under someone else's feet (or someone else getting under yours).  There are only three real pains in the scenario:-

1) Whilst we can back up data to an outside server, we are not set up to back up to our in-house server.
2) Most of our equipment is the same for each Surveyor so they can be solo teams, but there are a few items where we had to introduce a 'dead drop' leaving at least 24 hours between drop off and collection, along with good wipe down!  At least in the early stages - now it is more a case of remember how the kits works!
3) We are still paying for office space - which is in essence a fancy lok'n'store now!

Hardly difficult problems to overcome if we decided to follow this working style long term as a matter of choice.  Software at the moment works well thanks to the consideration of Apps In CAD to provide 30 day license free of charge to supplement our existing license (on a dongle!).  This might be something that stays in future, or we revert to an on-line license only.  There might also be a few new laptops in the offing to make working remotely easier, but these are relatively small costs for a company to bare.

The situation has also provided the gift of time to train on something new, or enhance existing knowledge.  The cost of this gift is yet to fully ascertained, but the removal of financial worry (in the short term at least) makes a massive difference and we can only hope those who can use any surplus to invest in companies who might need that little bit more support.

Looking at the books currently with the option of furlough & small business grants we are still in good financial stead, and there will be a tipping point between coming out with the books better than when we left them, and carrying a small financial burden ourselves for the good of all the staff.  This in itself seems wrong so as company we will commit to ensure any financial benefit we have gained as a result of circumstance is redirected to those who need it most - we'll put that one down to a staff vote with a couple of options!

As Covid-19 progresses, and we see glimmers of hope in Italy and Spain were limited persons/companies are allowed back to work, there is the start of consideration about our return to work - whilst Surveying is part of construction there has never been any doubt that ceasing site activities was (and is) the right option.  Regardless of Government advice this was a MORAL decision - whilst 'we could' the debate was whether 'we should'!  Some thought they should continue so you must respect that decision if it can be justified, but the majority knew they had an obligation to the wider community not to continue.  Whatever your decision there is no wrong or right answer as there is no way to tell what might have happened if things were done differently.

What will you do differently once this is over (or under some semblance of control?)

Work Less - Spend More Time with the Family - Stop Putting Off Those Jobs Around the House - Expand the Business - Promote Home Working - Spilt Your Profits more between Investments/Savings/Dividends to better cover the 'What If Scenario' - Build Up an Emergency Kit Supply - Read More Books - Take More Walks - Waste Less Food

The silver lining here could be a better and strong sense of community, and appreciation for the world we live in.  What will you do differently?

Thursday, 9 April 2020

Finding a Different Perspective

First Day back after the 2019 Christmas break......always important to remove the out of office assistant (set for a few days time just in case you fancied a few extra days!) and check your calendar for the coming weeks before starting your first survey of the year...…..

...and of course got drenched, even at my size!  The water droplets are massive, and the kit takes just as long to dry out!!

 Sometimes we have to set up some unusual places to get our work done, but whenever you think you've gone far enough there is another challenge - keeping your feet dry!

But wherever you end up, you could always do with the helping hand and a slightly more elevated vantage point.

There are always days when a better vantage point makes absolutely no difference at all, you just have to knuckle down pull out the slasher and get on with the work at a much slower pace!

Unfortunately we have yet to invest in a 'mini' laser scanner so it is back to the tried and tested ways for me, but being this height makes the higher observations even harder to get in position for!

And of course no matter wherever you are or whatever you are doing someone always asks you to take their picture!! But from a safe distance of course!

Stay Safe People!

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

A World Gone Mad?

There is no wrong answer to this question - which comes first Business or Britain? (Sorry to Northern Ireland you are included but Britain sounded better in this instance!).

Over the past few weeks I have seen numerous posts showing companies doing all they can to maintain their business activities but with a difference. Adjusting their SOP's (Site Operating Procedures) to include Hand Sanitisers at all entrances, 2m personal working zones, scaling down operations where possible but maintaining a workable site, offset shift patterns....these are all laudable activities and fit nicely into the Government advice that the construction sector should continue where possible...of course there is an underlying moral issue of whilst we could you have to ask if we should.

Amending SOP's is great within that site bubble, but companies do also need to consider the wider picture, of which I have seen scant little of.

Bigger picture

Whilst a site might be isolated, and social distancing can be easily achieved, there is more to consider:-

1.  The site might be isolated but the journey to and from won't be. On that journey they might (for example) breakdown, need fuel, or have an accident. Automatically isolation has gone and social distancing is more of a concern.

     1a: If they breakdown someone has to go and recover them - so it's not just one person taking a risk now it is a second, and all the people that person interacts with.

     1b: If they need fuel that means going to a busier location, and touching metal surfaces which are likely to be have been touched by hundreds/thousands of people over the past few weeks. Yet another point of risk.

1c: God forbid they have an accident but that is likely to involve recovery, police and an ambulance. You can see this snowballing already...

2.  Once you're at site it is virtually impossible to spend the day not touching anything, and who knows whom might have contact with any of the surfaces in the past few days/weeks. Yes, a construction site is generally enclosed but as Surveyors we often arrive before the construction site to land open to the public. Whilst protection can be provided it will have its limitations, and will rely on everyone doing their bit. However, we are there, on a remote isolated site. What could possibly go wrong?   -Well,  our risk assessment does include death & broken limbs, so worst case scenario that happens and you have to call in help - putting more people at risk, and adding to the burden of the NHS, would you want to make that choice? Treat those who have fallen ill through no fault of their own or the worker who went to site and has an accident?

3. Your site has been very prudent in the hand washing and sanitising, then I go onto to site with all my equipment.....In error that hasn't been sanitised since my last job because upon getting home I had to go straight out for the weekly shop, and drop a prescription off for an elderly neighbour! Someone moves the survey pole to a safer location, or carries some of the kit...….infection is spreading!

4.  Survey complete - see point 1 on the return home!

5.   Do you self isolate for the a fortnight now, or will you have to go out shopping at some point, or collect a prescription?

It isn't just Surveyors doing this, I have seen ads for Architects suggesting now is the time to build the swimming pool or outside office you have always wanted and are now in need of....  How exactly is this essential and do they not know that to achieve these ideas numerous people will have to visit the properties to map, design, approve, and build?!  A hashtag doing the rounds seems like a pretty good one in these circumstances #covidiots.

There is a clear duty of care, and 90% of our clients have accepted our decision and are willing to wait. R L Surveys are no longer undertaking site works - any existing jobs which have been postponed will be given priority once lockdown protocols are eased or rescinded, all other jobs are being ask to take a number and will be completed in the order instructions are received (13 and counting!!). At least our staff have the piece of mind that once we are through to the other side (what ever it may look like) the work will be there...and to be honest they are going to need to be well rested given the amount of work we have ready to start!

If your company are promoting your safe working systems - highlighting that your staff have all started to work from home - please respect & SUPPORT those people who work on site, and don't ask us to do something your own company is not willing to ask you to do - take the risk.

#StaySafe #Protectthenhs #Savelives

Tuesday, 28 January 2020

We've All Done It - haven't we??

I'm pretty sure it is safe to say we have all hard our fair share of 'problems on site', and since the last millennium I've had a few but I'm big enough (and old enough) to share a few with you without fear of (too much) embarrassment and retribution. **This is not a how to do guide, or best practise guide.  In fact quite the opposite is true!**

Surveying Problems (mostly mine but there are a few I was only indirectly involved with)

1) Arriving on site without the instrument, the cardinal sin for a Surveyor.  This was on the one occasion my Assistant had told me that the batteries were on charge so could I grab the kit before I left the office....did you spot mistake number one?  Asking me to remember something when I was plotting the fastest route from my office desk to the car!!  Well as I'm sure you have guessed the instrument remained in the office while we set off early the next day to North London.  Imagine the dismay when we arrived on site and opened the boot!  As luck would have it we didn't waste the trip as there were a few jobs to be done which didn't involve the instrument - but the phone call back to the office was not pretty!! And I'm fairly sure the return visit which had not been priced for did not go down well!

2) Next day (oh yes it gets worse!) tasked with returning to North London via a small site in South London.  Kit all loaded, checked, and checked again.  We headed off to the first site, nice and smooth finished quickly and efficiently.  Packed up 'most' of the kit and went on to North London to complete yesterdays work....slight problem, this was in the days when the data was recorded on an external logger and not on board.  It seems my Assistant (not me this time!) had left the logger on a wall in South London with all of the mornings work!!  Calling the office was not an option (I fear a P45 would have been the result!), so we duly set about hand booking all of the observations over the next few hours (did I mention it was a high precision monitoring job?).  Job done, so back to the first site as the eternal optimist, and this was pre phone or fleet tracking so no one would know what happened.  Luck was back with us, the logger was still sitting on the wall where it had been left!!  Over the course of the next hour we took a very slow drive back to the office as the my Assistant hand typed all of the data from the note book into the logger..... got to the office downloaded and everything was right in the world again.  It could have been soo  much worse, and until now the then boss never found out!  (If you are reading sorry - it was only once and I'm sure it made me a better Surveyor in the long run).

3) Make sure you close the boot of the car!!  Car packed and ready to go, the Senior Surveyor backs out of the parking spot and slowly pulls away.  We reach a road junction and he decides to drop the clutch and speed away....the resulting forward motion shifted the equipment against the boot door which in fact hadn't latched shut.  Open springs the boot and off goes the instrument down the road!!  It's a testament to the instrument and the box, no damage done to box or instrument when we checked it and it's calibration before starting work the next day.  They don't make them like they used to!

4) Surveying 101, always attach the tribrach to the tripod before turning away.  In the days of vertical plummets it was fairly standard to separate the tribrach from the instrument while setting up.  You centre and level the tribrach before putting the instrument on top to start work.  So tripod set, tribrach levelled and centred.  You turn around to get the instrument and lose your balance slightly.  The only thing close by to grab for balance is the tripod, normally not a problem just a pain having to set up again.  On this occasion I had management level and centre without actually screwing the tribrach back on, so said tribrach slides off the tripod, clips the legs and...…..oh did I mention I was working on an oil jetty half a mile out at sea...….falls off the jetty into the sea!!  The boss was not amused when I start my recount of this incident with....funny story but.....

5) Health & Safety - you are joking.  Before the days of fixed 360 prisms, we had circular prisms sitting in a plastic housing (often wedged with paper to stop them spinning).  Carrying out the survey you are constantly checking the prism is pointing the right direction and hasn't twisted in the mount to look downwards.  On this particular day I was in a dry suit surveying a structure on a tidal river (yes the dry suit was the health & safety), this involved a large amount of clambering and climbing on a wooden structure which, being in a tidal estuary, was prone to slippery patches.  I had circumnavigated this structure (and others) during the day without any problems.  Last few points and we were done home and dry, carefully placed my foot onto a cross beam and as I shifted my weight I slipped, reaching out I grabbed a support, clattering the detail pole against the structure in the process.  Quietly smug that I'd styled out the slip I carried on across to the next point, set the base of the pole, checked the level, and them the......oh shit where was the prisim…...during my antics the clattering of the pole had knocked the prism out of it's plastic holder into the flowing river below...RIP.

6) Seen one field, seen them all.  A lovely survey on a warm sunny day.  Knocked off the work in a morning, headed back to the office, processed the data, and handed it over for checking.  Next day the boss commended me on an excellent survey, but asked why I had surveyed the field on the opposite side of the road to the site - much to his amusement!!

7) It is important for the Surveyor to keep his assistant in their place, so when the opportunity for a wind up occurs it is too good to miss.  Arrive at the office as usual, the Assistant loads the equipment for the day, while the Surveyor gets the job file (makes his coffee) and a quick briefing if needed.  On this day I made a quick pre site comfort stop before going out to the car.  My Assistant told me he was ready to go, and went out to the car, so I nipped to the little boys room, and on my way out noticed my batteries were still on charge in the office...….so safely stashed in my pocket off we went.  Reached site and had a quick look around, before I knocked in the first nail and ask the Assistant to set up the instrument and get ready to start while I installed a few more stations.  Usually only a quick job, but on this occasion milked it a little longer than needed before returning to the station to find an Assistant (only his second day) looking very worried with half my boot out on the floor.  A little sheepishly he admitted he'd forgotten the batteries, and would need to phone someone to get them brought out.  Well why leave it their I told him the only person at the office was the boss, so he could call him and ask him (colour disappearing from his face fast)....or use the batteries still stashed safely in my pocket.   A tough life lesson but he never did it again.

8) Another fine mess - again messing about on the river happily working our way down the river mapping sections with two poles and a  prism while the Surveyor stayed dry on land with the instrument and fourth assistant.  Seemed to be going far to smoothly, and it turns out it was our progress had been rapid and efficient.  It turns out the progress was in somewhat assisted by the tide which was really starting to show it's effects as we reached the end of the survey area.  Job done though time to paddle home....or not as the case was.  Regardless of how hard we paddled we were still going the wrong way, and not one person and thought to bring a rope!!!  After half and hour or nothing we decided Plan B was the only solution, and I don't know if you have every tried it but pulling an inflatable against the tide using the thick reeds and your bare hands is neither fun or rewarding.  On the plus side we never made the same mistake again...we got someone else to do the boat work!!

9) Setting your alarm when working a spilt night/day week is a must, and these days with Alexa (others types do exist) an easy task!  Well it turns out the only thing better than Alexa is a phone call from your boss at 10am the next morning asking if I had planned to work today is very effective - it did mean I missed all of the morning traffic, and thankful it seems this was a very regular thing for people just into the night/day system.  Mistake made, embarrassment done, time to move on.

10) Spray paint is a necessary evil.  It might look unsightly but for a Surveyor it is a god send, and you only realise how much when you forget one day, hammer a peg into the ground for your next station, walk back to the instrument to finish up.  Then you lift the instrument and turn to walk to that peg you'd just put in, that timber coloured peg flash with the light brown dirt on the ground.....I never did find the station and had to reset on the previous station and put in a new peg!  Lesson learnt always mark your stations somehow.

11) As every good Surveyor knows it is important to get a good feel for the site, how you are going to approach certain elements, where the difficulties might be, how to positions your stations and close your traverses.  On the way to site it is in the back of your mind, but as you get closer to start looking out for possible benchmarks (yes pre GPS), parking places, the site.  Then once at the site you are looking at everything.  One important lesson I was taught (whilst in the passenger seat) is whilst the site is important hitting the bollard as you drive into the car park is a definite no no....on the plus side it was one less thing to survey.

12) We've all been there, right?  Tracing a drainage system through an oily rail depot, lifting ever cover you see to follow the route of that all important surface of foul run.  Gone through the first ten covers of the run no problems managed with the resonance (or hitting a hammer on the previous cover) and buckets of water.  We then ground to a halt, every possible route we could hear the hammer echoing and see water flowing...time to crack open the tracing dye.  Non toxic but bright green, what could possibly go wrong.  Add a small amount to the water and pour away, sounds simple.  Ten buckets later and still nothing!!!  We were literally pulling our hair out....nothing else for it, had to be lunch.  Cleaned up, grabbed our lunch and wander up the embankment to sit in the sun overlooking to beautiful bright green river....oh yes we had found the final exit point for all of that green dye slowly turning a Welsh river green!!

I'm sure over time I will come back to this little number, and add others as I remember them (or they happen!)

Tuesday, 7 January 2020

Authors of Our Own Downfall

You know we're sitting on four million pounds of fuel, one nuclear weapon and a thing that has 270,000 moving parts built by the lowest bidder. Makes you feel good, doesn't it? - Armaggedon 1998

OK not quite the same scenario, but the meaning can equally be applied to Land Surveyors, it is a race to the bottom in terms of price to win the work regardless of what we are told or advised.

You buy that fancy new piece of kit which the salesman has told you will save a day and a half on a two day job.  So based on standard surveys and 1000 points a day a survey that would have taken 4-5 days, instead takes 1-2 days.  Big difference in price, and the quandry.  Price at 1-2 days win the work but don't get the real benefit of the kit, price at 4-5 days to get the cost benefit of the new kit but risk losing the work.  Either way the office time remains constant.  It is a problem faced by all survey firms at one time or another, and whilst we'd all like to say we held firm on price and pocketed the time saving it never  happens because there is alwaus someone willing to slash their prices to win the work...the race to the bottom.  If all survey firms toe the same party line and reap the benefits of a fast survey time then everything is fine but in an increasingly competive industry you'll never get everyone on the same page.  So to coin a phrase - 'the choice is yours'.

This keep it cheap or lose the work mentality is now leading to great industry wide problems.  The demand for Surveyors is increasing, but firms cannot pay their Surveyors more because the price squeeze from a competitive market means the cuts have to be made somewhere.  The resulting cost saving often comes at the expense of staff training or pay rises.   Eventually we will be doing jobs at cost, with no room for error just in an effort to win the work and stay afloat.....

Now fast forward ten years, you have a little more grey hair and a lot more wrinkles after battling to stay in the industry, whilst maintaining a solid work/life balance, and ensuring the standards you've set yourself haven't dropped.  How has the industry changed?  There are a few more 'independent' survey firms out there along with a usual number of high profile names, and a wide selection in the medium size companies each within their own little bubble.  The big difference is the age of the Surveyors, the industry is evolving, technology is changing, but the people in that industry are just ten years older, the pool of new talent coming in is slowly evaporating as people look to more lucrative careers in other areas within the sector, or in a totally different sector, or a completely different country .  Our talent pool has been supplemented with skilled overseas (mainly European) workers who are more than able to take on the work and succeed.

Wham (no not the group) Brexit happens, does this mean the European talent pool will soon be harder to access, and that slowly evaporating home grown talent pool has got even smaller?  What will it all mean - answers on a postcard to 10 Downing Street!?

For those of us in the industry on the wrong side of 40 it probably won't be an issue, but you might see your fees go up as the demand for Surveyors far out strips the available supply...happy days.  The knock on effect of this supply/demand issue is higher fees, therefore higher salaries, thus that evaporating talent pool will start to fill up again as Land Surveying looks to be better financial proposition.....and the cycle starts all over again!!!

Ride out the strom, good times are coming faster than you might think.