Fatigue is the Phantom Menace

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The construction industry is a major engine of GDP (over 100 billion in economic output) and employs over 2 million people in the UK. However, it suffers more than many industries in terms of accidents and injury. With more than 43 fatal accidents in 2017 (4 times more than the average across all industries) and over 5,000 non-fatal accidents it is no wonder that this industry more than others is regarded as high risk.

Add to this the other 65,000 work related illness (Stress, Depression, Musculoskeletal Disorders, Respiratory and Skin conditions) and it is clear that Health and Safety needs to be embedded at every level of the organisation and especially integrated into the planning process.

Clearly there are unique and challenging circumstances with construction sites; the dynamic and changing environment and the lack of inherent infrastructure all combine to frustrate the best safety plans. What was safe yesterday may not be as safe today. An unoccupied area yesterday may be occupied today. Multiple activities concurrently taking place create varying risk each day.

Add to this “P&P” (Pressure & Penalties) that now pervade the industry to deliver to tight deadlines or face a financial hair-cut and mitigations that incorporate a 6 or 7-day week and/or long hours for workers and there is little wonder that injuries are higher.

But beyond the hard hats and high vis what can be done to reduce this blight upon the industry?

The first is the recognition that Fatigue is your greatest enemy. Fatigue impairs your ability to process information, slows your reactions and decreases awareness and attention. In short it reduces your ability to accurately estimate risk. In fact, 20% of major road incidents are the result of fatigue and many of the most publicised accidents (Exxon Valdez, Herald of Free Enterprise, Chernobyl, Clapham Junction, Texas City and Challenger) have been linked to tiredness.

To put it simply in many cases fatigue is a predictor (“lead” indicator) to an accident (“lag” indicator).
The maxim “you can’t prevent what you can’t predict” is very pertinent here. If you can understand the causes and drivers of accidents (fatigue) and you can assess likely fatigue in shifts/patterns, then you can reduce fatigue and prevent the associated outcomes (accidents)

The second is to recognise that long hours/weeks are not the friend of tight deadlines but its nemesis. Accidents create downtime and lost productivity. They CAUSE delays. However, because there is not a 100% correlation between fatigue and accidents, there is a tendency to roll the dice when pressure and deadlines encroach. But you cannot build an enduring business or industry upon this strategy. It is not a replicable/repeatable route to success. You may dodge the bullet more than most but sooner or later it will hit and may create not only contractual or financial strife but also long term reputational damage.

The solution lies with new technology and software that ensures you have the right people in the right place at the right time with the right skills. These planning systems can build in cover for absence/training and holidays, so you can ensure both and safe and optimum levels of resource to meet deadlines without the need for overtime/extended work periods. The benefit of planning effectively also delivers dividends through reducing fatigue, overtime costs, absence and accidents. Indeed, some solutions such as hfx already have fatigue factors built into the system to reduce risk and provide assurance.

Another risk factor within construction sites is keeping track of who is on-site and where they are. Again, technology has come a long way with mobile apps that allow supervisors to register staff onsite, fully self-sufficient clocking terminals that are solar/battery powered with 3g for data transit, and beacons/tags that allow the site manager to know exactly who has turned up and exactly where they are in real-time. These solutions are the next generation “high visibility” tools allowing the site manager to know who is where without the need for line of site or audio contact.  If there is a situation the site manager can instantly view the location and presence of his team and act immediately.

The ability to Plan and Track workers in real-time can not only reduce accidents but also provide a constant feed-back loop to enable planners to constantly improve their planning based on outcomes. This process is not only critical to ensure health and safety but also though analysis, improve quality, productivity, delivery and reduce downtime, accidents and delay.

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Alpha6: Complex Rostering Reduced to Six Steps

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Defining the problem:

In many organisations business activity comes in ebb and flows based on demands from their customers. Whilst this can be forecast to some degree based on orders, shipments, contracts and seasons of the year etc, there is a high degree of complexity in ensuring sufficient staff are rostered to reflect the level of activity. This complexity arises from the working rules, policies and practices that limit staff assignments; Union Rules, Health and Safety Rules, EU working time rules, breaks between shifts, maximum shift lengths, holiday rules and internal policies all constrain the ability to map the right number of staff to achieve the right level of activity at the right time.

The result is that many organisations tend to roster to meet a constant somewhere between the ebb and flow of the activity levels (if indeed they have measured these). The problem is compounded as managers often do not consider absences (such as holiday entitlement) when they device the roster.

The consequence of these omissions is that often staff are over-rostered – e.g. present when there is little or no work to be done and absent (under-rostered) when there is a high demand of work. The result is that overtime and agency workers are deployed to meet the demand or else the organisation maybe damaged in terms of reputation, Service Level Agreement or in terms of financial penalties.

One way of avoiding the risk is to factor in the costs of overtime and agency work to avoid delays but this makes the organisation uncompetitive and risks losing customers or failing to acquire new business as a result.

Fool’s Gold:
in the past electronic solutions have been developed that attempt to map shifts and rosters to demand through complex algorithms and brute force mapping. The solutions have often been expensive, highly complicated with only IT personnel able to tweak rules and parameters and often long delays between each attempt to identify the correct pattern. The systems often return unworkable rosters that will not meet union rules and are based on a singular fallacy that there is such a thing as a perfect roster. An optimal roster can still be an unworkable one based on the internal preferences and policies of the organisation. These preferences often cannot be codified in a fully electronic system and the missing element is the human factor.

Alpha6 Methodology
Alpha6 is a methodology and process that has been developed and honed over 20 years to create optimal rosters that both meet the requirements of the business and the written and unwritten rules around staff working times. But most importantly it also includes the human factor in guiding the process from each step forward. Alpha6 done manually is not pain free; it requires training, skill and collaboration from other team members.

Alpha1: Demand to Requirements
The start of the process is to identify the demand levels and translate them into requirements. Demand are the activities that need to be completed over a week broken down by between 15 and 60-minute intervals. The activity could be building a widget or packing etc. The important element is when these activities need to start (e.g. when the shipment arrives) and be completed by.

From this Raw business level view of demand, you can with knowledge of the duration each activity takes, and quantity translate these into a requirements grid. Again, this is by 15 to 60-minute intervals over each day for a week. You know have a set of requirements of how many staff you need by each 15-60 segment of the day and week.

However, there is an immediate sense check to do on the requirements grid. Staff do not come into work for just 15 minutes so we need to look at how sensible the requirements and apply some annealing – softening of the requirements.

So, for example, your faithful transposing of demand into requirements (say by 15 minutes) may show as follows: 8:15 = 5, 8:30 = 1, 8:45 = 5 – you will not be sending 4 people home at 8:30 so amending the requirements to 8:15 = 4, 8:30 = 4, 8:45 = 4 will iron out the undoable without impacting significantly either on cost or productivity

Alpha2: Constraints
Understanding and documenting the constraints will save you huge amount of time.
These include the contracted hours of staff, their holiday entitlement, average time off work due to training or sickness, the minimum and maximum shift lengths that have been agreed internally, the number of shifts that can be worked in a row, the minimum and maximum off duty days that can be used.  There may also be rules around how many nights can be worked in a row that is different from how many earlies or days.

Alpha3: Shifts and Requirements
With both the requirements and constraints identified the next process is to select a number of shifts that fit within the constraints identified that can satisfy the requirements. Without an electronic system, you will need to narrow down these shifts before you attempt this stage. In general, the process of mapping shifts to requirements is a two-way process where adapting shift start/end times and durations becomes a learning process. At the end of the process you will have identified the number of shifts and the type of shifts that meet the requirements. By aligning the shift durations and quantity you will be able to calculate the number of staff required to full fill the requirements.

Alpha4: Planning for absence
Whilst Alpha3 provides the number staff to fulfil the requirements it does not consider staff holiday, absence and training. If you need 60 staff to fulfil the requirements, then you must also factor in their holidays and cover. If staff have 20 days holiday a year then that is 1200 days holiday which is an additional 5 staff required (because cover staff also get holiday). This cover needs to be spread over the period of a year and applied to any “tension” days or shifts (e.g. it may be that staff are more likely to take off Saturday and Sundays as holiday or night shifts). You may also factor in things like training or sickness. The main calculation here is how much to plan for versus how much to deal with through overtime. In some cases, your calculation might reveal you need 4.5 people for cover. In this scenario, it might be more cost effective to roster 4 more people and deal with .5 as overtime.

Alpha5: OFF DUTY
With your completed staffing level you now start with a pattern, one week (row) for each staff member. Thus, if you have a requirement for 67 staff the pattern will go for 67 weeks and there will be 67 lines in your pattern (with columns Mon to Sun). Obviously, staff do not work 7 days a week but given the requirements we know how many staff are needed on any given day and subtract that from the number of staff calculated. At the bottom of the pattern we know the total number of off duties for each day of the pattern. The process now is to plug in the required number of off-duties on each day for each row of the pattern. However, in general the 2 golden rules are that staff prefer weekends off and want a minimum of 2 off duties in a row. A roster that has off duty/on duty/off duty is likely to be rejected by staff.  The best approach is to start from Saturday/Sunday and work backwards/forwards ensuring that all off-duties are included. Be cognisant of the period between off duties and the rules about how many on duty shifts employees should work in a row. The key point here is that staff generally care more about when they are NOT working than when they are working. Getting this right is a critical stage.

Alpha6: ON DUTY
With the Off-duty roster completed the next step is to plug in the on-duty shifts. Based on the previous steps you will know how many of each shift need to be done on each day. However, an early typically cannot follow a night shift and you need to be cognisant of any rules about how many night shifts can be worked in row.  You now have an optimised pattern that meets the business needs whilst also being employee friendly.

HFX Imperago Workforce Design incorporates and automates the Alpha6 process reducing this process from 3-5 days to 15 minutes. 

Contract Cleaning – cut Costs not Quality

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The market for contract cleaning has increased over the last 2 years but that is where the good news ends… The increase in demand has created an increase in competition (some estimates put this at up to 40,000) putting already slim margins (averaging 4%) under pressure.

Safeguarding that 4% is the over-riding concern among many charged with leading the business whilst balancing this with the need to win contracts and grow the business.

Many in the sector have already been burnt by the vanity of growth over sanity of profit and recognise the need to keep a strong handle on costs but with strong competition are struggling to find anything left to save and are in danger of cutting too far and risking Quality and Reliability which can turn into a spiral of cancelled contracts.

The secret to many within this and other sectors is to borrow some of the lessons from Amazon (their international margins are not very far off from contract cleaning) who relentlessly focus on efficiency whilst providing excellent customer service.

The focus is never about cutting the service they provide, but the internal focus on simplification, automation and efficiency of the internal activities that deliver the service.

Automation though technology enables organisations to eliminate much of the administration and paperwork whilst enabling them to get real insight into their organisations performance and profitability -or otherwise- of contracts. It provides real-time information enabling quick decisions and adjustments to be made to keep the business on track.  The impact of this cannot be underestimated, it enables early intervention, not a retrospective post-mortem. This is not just simply about profit or efficiency but also tracking quality and outcomes. The importance here is that poor quality or reliability will at some point turn into customer attrition and is therefore lead factor and you cannot prevent what you can’t predict.

However, the rush to implement IT systems should be kept in check. Software solutions will deliver enormous benefits, but not by themselves! Software isn’t a miracle cure nor a mind reader for your organisation. You need to invest not just money but critically time to ensure that the software delivers to your objectives.

Before rushing there will be a need to review the processes being automated; A key objective should be to simplify these processes and methods. Simplification and clarification of processes is a precursor and will yield positive returns. Often organisations are unaware of the growth in complexity of processes and contracts as there is very little visibility (often as paperwork creates “data islands”).  Secondly if you do not understand in detail your processes then you have no hope of any software replicating them. Thirdly complex processes will impact on the solution, the cost and the implementation of the solution.

Start small. An expensive ERP solution might seem attractive, but will it really address your key pain points or just replicate or – worse – make operations even more complicated.

Be focused. What’s your greatest cost? In most organisations your greatest cost is your people. Automating pay through Time and Attendance will significantly improve efficiency, accuracy and savings by removing payroll errors, fraud and overpayments.

But there is more to be gained by Time and Attendance than simply automation, the ability to track employees at each client site enables quality of service by providing real-time updates. With real-time attendance information you can mitigate non-attendance by deploying other resources ensuring that the customer is not impacted by absence – this level of quality assurance keeps you at the top of the contract pile while others are discarded through poor reliability.

Avoid IT complexity. Many organisations are going lean and demanding cloud/SaaS solutions to avoid the complexity and overhead of managing the solution internally. SaaS also brings its own financial rewards as well by spreading the cost and providing Pay As You Grow payment models.

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