'Simple Brexit visa system needed for construction workers', says FMB

A SIMPLE, flexible migration system for construction workers post-Brexit is essential if the Government is to meet its housing and infrastructure targets, says the Federation of Master Builders (FMB) in response to the Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) research report ‘Migration and Construction’ published today.  

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The CITB report is absolutely right to highlight the barriers facing construction employers needing to employ non-UK workers. The Government needs to look again at its post-Brexit immigration system to make it easier and simpler for small building companies needing to recruit non-UK labour.

"There is currently a serious skills crisis in the building industry which explains why 9% of the construction workforce is made up of EU workers. Given it takes many years to train a high-quality tradesperson there will, in the short term at least, continue be an urgent need to recruit non-UK labour. Without this labour the industry will not be able to deliver the homes and key infrastructure projects that are needed to underpin the UK’s national productivity and growth."
“The current non-EU migration system is exceptionally difficult for small employers to engage with taking as long as eight months in some instances to secure specialist tradespeople to come to the UK to work on sites. Most small businesses simply don’t have the time and resources to take that on.

"It would be very damaging just to extend this system to EU workers without seriously reforming it. Extending ‘low skilled’ visas from 12 months to 24 months; allowing non-UK born workers the opportunity to transition to a ‘high skilled’ visa; and the creation of an ‘umbrella sponsorship’ scheme would help ease concerns about how construction companies are going to fill the skills gaps.”


A successful demonstration sparks new business at D K Plant Hire

D K PLANT Hire of Aberfeldy, Perthshire has opted for a brace of Volvo compact excavators for the first time, following a successful demonstration by SMT GB’s utility dealer, CS Machinery Sales Ltd.

The machines chosen by the company include a zero swing, two and a half tonne ECR25D and the smaller one and a half tonne EC18D following a competitive demonstration and comprehensive machine evaluation, according to Proprietor Danny Kirk. “We established a very good relationship with Calum Shaw at CS Machinery and opted for the Volvo excavators for the first time, as part of an overall package for equipment,” says Danny. “They certainly have quality built in and, so far, I’ve been delighted with their performance and reliability,” he continues.

Both machines join a comprehensive range of equipment, including; site dumpers, rollers, excavators up to sixteen tonnes in operating weight, tractors and ancillary equipment, which is deployed on either non-operated short and long term hire, or for groundwork and landscaping contracts undertaken by D K Plant Hire.

The ECR25D is the smallest zero swing model in the Volvo compact excavator range, and is powered by a 1.1 litre low emission engine, developing 21hp. With an operating weight of 2.5 tonnes, the ECR25D is available with a choice of short or long dipper arm, giving a reach of either 4.48 metres or 4.77meters, and a dig depth measuring from 2.67 metres to a generous 2.96 metres.

The zero swing excavator design provides exceptional stability, and is ideal for working in confined spaces. Simultaneous control of slew and offset movements provides faster, more precise performance. All hydraulic functions are also performed in total independence, for more control and less delay when handling multiple tasks. An added bonus is the ability to operate the wide range of hydraulic attachments using proportional control, if required.

Both machines feature automatic two-speed travel, automatically shifting gear from high to low, according to the travel load. The EC18D also has a hydraulically extendable undercarriage as standard. Hammer/shear lines are also a standard feature on Volvo compact excavators.

Established eight years ago by Danny Kirk, DK Plant Hire offers comprehensive machine hire, together with a full ground working and landscaping service covering the whole of Scotland, based at Aberfeldy in Perthshire.

CS Machinery Sales Ltd is headed up by Managing Director Calum Shaw, based at Longman Industrial Estate Inverness, and is SMT GB’s utility dealer for the whole of the north of Scotland.

SMT GB markets Volvo Construction Equipment products, which include; wheeled loaders, articulated haulers, hydraulic excavators, Volvo utility equipment and Volvo road equipment products in Great Britain. There are eight strategically placed Customer Support Centres, a dedicated National Used Equipment Centre and a network of utility equipment dealers, to ensure high quality customer support is maintained throughout the country.


Construction input needed for Brexit preparations, says FMB

CONSTRUCTION should not be overlooked by the Government in no-deal Brexit preparation says the Federation of Master Builders in response to the construction PMI data published today showing that output in September declined at second-sharpest pace since 2009.

The fall in staffing levels was the sixth in as many months and the strongest since the end of 2010.

Brian Berry, chief executive of the Federation of Master Builders, said: “The construction industry accounts for seven per cent of the UK’s GDP and over three million jobs. Today’s figures, which show the second-sharpest fall in output since 2009 and staffing levels since 2010, should be a concern for us all. With ambitious infrastructure and house building targets, the Government can’t afford to lose any more capacity in this industry.”

“The PMI data picks up on material shortages and bottlenecks already, even before leaving the EU, and this is likely to be a major concern in the event of a no-deal. I urge the Government to work with the industry to ensure that key construction products, critical to the building work this country needs, such as timber, are not held up at ports across the country in a no-deal scenario.” 

Berry concluded: “It is encouraging to see the industry is more optimistic for the next 12 months and I hope that if the Government is able to secure a good exit deal with the EU, then client confidence will rebound, and the industry will start growing again.”


Centurion improves its offering of ratchet straps

CENTURION Europe Ltd, one of the UK’s leading independent distributors of DIY and trade products including, hardware, ironmongery, gardening, plumbing and electrical has launched an improved, own-branded range of ratchet straps.

Paul Kantecki, managing director of Centurion commented, “As part of our range reviews we invest in research and development to ensure we offer the best products for our customers and the end user. We were seeing a lot of low quality ratchet straps out in the market, yet they play a vital role, not only in the haulage industry to ensure safe securing of loads but also leisure, farming, construction, storage, travel and transport. This means they have to be able to stand up to the job at the hand.”

Securing any load safely is also a legal requirement. According to the highways agency, in 2015 there were over 4,000 incidents involving ratchet straps. Not using ratchet straps or using old and unsuitable straps can cause loads to fall, which not only causes long traffic delays but also can cause injury and death.

Paul continued: “We worked hard to work with a manufacturer to provide us with a quality range of ratchet straps that would stand up to the rigorous strapping and securing they are designed for. Our range is tested up to load and features the test label which is a legal requirement, clearly detailing the straps' capabilities. We are proud to now have this range of ratchet straps added into the Centurion brand.

Centurion offer four grades of ratchet straps, Light Duty, Medium Duty, Heavy Duty and Commercial. These are all made from strong quality polyester webbing and provide widths of 25mm – 50mm, strength ratings from 750kg to 5,000kg and lengths from 4.5m to 10m. So, whether it be a large object that needs securing to a pallet or keeping your possessions attached to your car, Centurion's range offers a ratchet strap for any application.

As with every product launch, Centurion has also introduced POS and merchandising options for their retail customers, as they understand merchandising the product right in store is important to grow sales.

Centurion also offers a selection of products to complement this range including luggage straps and tarpaulins.


Simply Business launches campaign to Stamp Out Tool Theft

SIMPLY Business has launched a campaign to Stamp Out Tool Theft once and for all, after research reveals one in three (37%) tradespeople have had their tools stolen, costing a combined average of £3,005 each in lost earnings (£870) and replacing stolen tools (£2,135).

The small business insurer, which protects over half a million SMEs across the country, is calling on the government to implement greater fines for those convicted of tool theft, as well as tighter regulations on the selling of second-hand tools. The insurer has launched a petition with the aim of attracting 100,000 signatures for the measures to be debated in Parliament. The petition can be viewed here.

To mark the campaign, a mobile billboard was driven to the front door of parliament at 8am today, laying bare the issue of tool theft to the government. The mobile billboard, announcing the petition on behalf of the thousands of victims of tool theft, then travelled to some of the capital’s biggest building sites across Battersea, Nine Elms and Wandsworth. It also stopped off and visited well-known businesses on the way, such as Pimlico Plumbers, Screwfix and Plumbase.

While the on-going Brexit debate has been taking government’s focus away from pressing issues at home, tool theft continues to have a serious impact on the lives of millions of tradespeople every year. 

Well over a third (37%) have fallen victim, while 65% also know someone who has. On average, tool theft costs £870 in lost earnings each. Almost a fifth (18%) lost more than £1,000 in lost earnings.  

Adding to this, the average tools stolen are worth £2,135, costing more than a month’s average real-time earnings. This means the average tool theft costs victims a combined £3,005 on average, taking into account lost earnings and replacing stolen tools. 

Over a quarter (26%) of those surveyed couldn’t work for a few days, while just under a tenth (8%) were unable to work for over a week. 

One in three (33%) had their tools stolen from the building site – either from their van or from the site itself. Almost a fifth (16%) had tools stolen from their van while parked in the street or in a public car park.

Is the government doing enough?

A staggering 84% of tradespeople don’t believe the government is doing enough to prevent tool theft. Just under two thirds (60%) surveyed believe there needs to be greater sentences for thieves, while more than half (55%) believe there should be greater fines for those convicted. 

Over a quarter (28%) of tradespeople believe the sentence for tool theft should be five years in prison, and over one in 10 (15%) believe a £10,000 fine should be imposed.

Half (50%) of tradespeople also believe there should be greater funding for police and police presence on the streets, a third (32%) want to see greater restrictions on the selling of second-hand tools, and a further third (30%) believe there should be more CCTV in place. In addition, one in five (20%) want to see more street lights installed to deter thieves.

Bea Montoya, chief operating officer at Simply Business, said: “Tradespeople are the backbone of Britain, but they’re being stopped in their tracks on a daily basis due to the ongoing tool theft epidemic. Tool theft rips through the lives of thousands of tradespeople and their families every year, with victims losing out on over £3,000 each on average – through lost earnings and replacing stolen equipment. Having their tools stolen doesn’t just impact their ability to work, but it affects their livelihoods too.

“Brexit is having a paralysing effect on British politics, but there are pressing issues at home which urgently need addressing. This is why we’re calling on the government to Stamp Out Tool Theft once and for all. We want to see greater fines imposed on those convicted, as well as tighter regulations on the selling of second hand tools which, because of their high value, are often stolen to sell on the black market.

“Putting these two measures in place will go a long way in combating tool theft, protecting the lives and jobs of millions of tradespeople up and down the country.”


Morris Site Machinery makes key appointment

LEADING manufacturer and distributor Morris Site Machinery has appointed Keith Godfrey to the new role of Key Accounts Manager to strengthen links with customers throughout the UK.

Focusing on large, multiple national hire companies and other key customers, he will promote its range of innovative equipment from lighting towers to generators, welders, pumps and pressure washers to show how it can benefit their businesses.

Keith, said: “I’m excited about the challenge and pleased to join a long established family company with a deserved reputation for quality products and customer service. I’m looking forward to getting to know existing customers, developing new ones and building on contacts I have made in the industry.”

Before joining Morris Site Machinery Keith held a similar role with professional cleaning equipment company Karcher UK Ltd, running accounts in the hire and industry sectors.

Keith said: “From my base in Oxford, I will travel around the UK to keep customers up to date on the range of equipment we offer that is built to perform and designed to meet their business needs.

“We are a trusted supplier to major national and independent hire companies, along with rail, events and welding industries and are committed to giving 360 degree support and service. My role underlines the importance we place on delivering the best for our customers.”

Morris Site Machinery is part of a fifth-generation family business group. It manufactures and supplies world leading site machinery brands and products to serve the hire industry across a range of sectors. 


The Hultafors Group acquires Custom LeatherCraft

THE Hultafors Group, which owns Snickers Workwear, has acquired Custom LeatherCraft (CLC).

The leading brand in the USA since 1983, CLC is North America’s premier designer, developer and marketer of ‘work gear’ for professional tradesmen and women. It’s a product range that includes softside tool carriers, nail bags, tool pouches plus personal protective equipment.

Custom LeatherCraft (which is more commonly known as CLC in the USA, and as the Kuny’s Leather brand in Canada) prides itself on developing high quality ‘work gear’ that combines innovative design and functionality as well as great value for money.

Peter Dumigan, managing director of the Hultafors Group UK said: “We are delighted with this acquisition given that the CLC ‘work gear’ range complements the Snickers Workwear, Hellberg Safety, Hultafors Tools, Solid Gear and Toe Guard safety footwear product portfolios perfectly." 

"We will now be able to offer the discerning tradesman and woman an even more extensive range of top quality premium brand products, ideally suited to the work they do on site."


New construction minister to receive divided Brexit message at UK Construction Week

THE new construction minister Nadhim Zahawi MP is set to make his first industry appearance at UK Construction Week (UKCW), the UK’s largest built environment event, at the NEC in Birmingham on Wednesday, 9 October.

A survey of over 900 construction professionals conducted by UKCW asked respondents what their one request to the Construction Minister and the Government would be.

The results of the survey revealed an increasingly impatient industry still focused on Brexit, but split between those who want the Government to ‘Get Brexit completed’ (37%, with the vast majority of those favouring a “no ifs or buts” approach), and those who want to ‘Cancel Brexit altogether’ (32%). 

Within the industry itself, the research reveals that it’s mostly architects who are Remainers, with 57% of those respondents choosing to make ‘Cancel Brexit’ their number one request, compared to 15% choosing ‘Get Brexit completed’.

This swaps over when it comes to contractors, with 44% of those respondents choosing ‘Get Brexit completed’ compared to 20% choosing ‘Cancel Brexit’.

Other political and policy issues came much further down the list. The alternative number one requests from respondents were for the Government to speed up initiatives in construction to tackle climate change (9%), the cancellation of HS2 (a surprising 4%, mostly from consultants), and reform to planning laws and policies to make it easier to build (3%).

Nathan Garnett, UKCW event director, said: “The splits in the construction industry’s views simply reflect what’s happening in society generally. But it is a really difficult time for this sector at the moment, a sector that absolutely hates uncertainty.

"The Minister will hear this very clearly when he attends this year’s event – whether it’s deal or no deal, or cancelling it altogether, we just want to know how to prepare for the future.”

Despite the uncertainties, and to help the 30,000 or more industry delegates expected at the show, UK Construction Week is hosting a wide range of CPDs and keynote speeches to explain what can be done to prepare for the post-Brexit future.

For example, a major debate on the UKCW main stage will take place on Wednesday 9 October, on Brexit Boom or Bust? Industry Economic Forecast 2020. This features Professor Noble Francis, economics director at the CPA, Tom Hall, chief economist at Barbour ABI, and Lord Digby Jones, cross bench peer and businessman.

The Office for Product Safety and Standards will be holding workshops on timber regulations and the impact of a no-deal exit on timber importers.

The Department for Work and Pensions will be advising construction professionals in the UKCW Careers Centre and HMRC is in the Civils area of the show (stand C21). In addition, the Department for Education will be promoting apprenticeships and talking about educational options in the UK for EU nationals post-Brexit.

Nadhim Zahawi MP was appointed in July as the third Construction Minister so far this year.  He will be giving a keynote address on the UKCW Main Stage on day two of the event, at 2:15pm. Pre-booking is strongly advised.

UKCW is one event with many sections, including Build sponsored by Easy-Trim, Building Tech, Civils, Energy and HVAC, Surface and Materials, and Timber. It also features Concrete Expo (8-9 October only) and Grand Designs Live (9-10 October only). Single registration gives free access to all areas of the show. Pre-booking is also strongly recommended for the extensive seminars and CPD programme.


Optimaxx Woodscrews: Modern design and maximum performance?

I HESITATE to say this again because it makes me sound positively ancient, but in the world of screws (as in tools generally) we have never had it so good, writes PETER BRETT.

I can still remember the days in my youth when putting in a simple woodscrew involved using a hand-powered drill to drill a pilot hole – sometimes two – for the shank and the thread, then drilling a countersink for the head and then screwing in the screw with a wooden-handled screwdriver that really tested how much torque you could apply with your hands. Some old timers even recommended putting a dab of fat onto the screw thread to ease its passage into the wood. It was also said that, when using brass screws, that a steel screw should be inserted and then removed to make a track for brass screw because of the potential danger of breaking a brittle brass screw.

Some years later (1980s/1990s?) saw the widespread use of the cordless drill driver in the trades. In retrospect, their peculiar banana shapes and 1.3Ah battery packs don’t seem so great, but it was the start of an explosion of innovations that came with the extra torque available at the press of a trigger.

Soon the slotted screwdriver head became old-fashioned and even Phillips head screws were outdone by the invention of the Pozi. More recently the Torx, hex and square drives have hit the market, giving end users a wide range to choose from.    

Making the old conically shaped woodscrews was difficult, even for machines – in England, woodscrews were still being made by hand in the early 1900s! Modern screws are all machine-made in their millions with straight shanks, sharp points, parallel threads, etc, and are so easy to use that modern trades think nothing of using several hundred screws a day on a job. Progress? I would say so.

The Optimaxx design

Unsurprisingly, not all the screws we buy are the same. Although they may look superficially similar in shape there are many subtle variations and I have found that I do choose certain brands of screws for certain circumstances. For example, some manufacturers use slimmer designs with sharp teeth on the threads that work better to prevent splitting when used near the edges of boards.

The Optimaxx screws I was sent follow a strong general purpose design that can be used on timber, man-made boards and other materials like plastic and insulation. My use tests found them to be very strong screws – I tried often to break the heads off by overdriving into the timber but I didn’t succeed once. More often, they would just drive through the timber – especially if it was softwood. I think they must be case hardened because I tried cutting off a screwhead with a multi-tool but it was hard job because even the TCT blade struggled to make inroads into the steel.

The strength and driveability of these screws are clearly plus points so time for a closer look at the basics to see why.

The first thing that I noticed is that there are some differences between the screws of different lengths. For example, the 50mm long screws have a thread that goes pretty well all the way to the countersunk head. The longer screws at around 80-100mm long have the thread finishing about two thirds of the way up the shank. This makes sense because the sharp thread has done its work after the first third or so of the job and having a thread all the way to the top would just increase friction, heat generation and the torque needed to drive the screw. It also helps to reduce ‘jacking’ – where timbers being screwed together tend to separate as the screw is being driven through rather than being pulled together.

To appreciate the subtle thread designs of modern screws it is actually necessary to examine them with a magnifying glass.

Under magnification it is clear that the points of Optimaxx screws are VERY sharp. The points are as low an angle as 20 degrees; your fingers may have noticed this when getting them out of the box…

The sharp point helps the user to push the point into the timber to get a good straight start, and the second feature of a cut-out on the point acts a razor edge for speed of cutting and clearing of material.

With the magnifying glass, it is clear that the next section of thread has what seems like mini saw teeth cut into it. It is self-explanatory that these cut into the timber making for a speedy drive of the screws. The thread finishes with a simple deep and wide formation that is quick to drive and also has a lubricant added as part of the coating. It is clear when using the screws that the design actually does what it says it should do – the screws are easy to start and drive quickly, sometimes too quickly if you are being ham-fisted and overdoing the torque setting on the drill driver.

Countersunk heads

I am a fan of the next bit of the design – the built-in countersink ridges that make possible a good, neat setting of the screw just flush or slightly below the surface of the substrate. (I can never understand why some people drive the screws deeper into the timber leaving a hole – unless you are going to fill them.) The deep countersink also makes possible a deeper - and therefore more secure - Pozi drive slot and a stronger head that will resist snapping off.

The marketing bits

Optimaxx screws have the benefit of being highly visible with the blue, black and white boxes that stand out in a retail environment. The Optomaxx logo is clear as are the sizings - they are big enough for me to read without my glasses, so job done.

In the retail environment, despite the clarity of the sizing on the box, unfortunately, customers still open the boxes to check them against the screw they brought in to match. Under these conditions strong boxes are an advantage since they will be tough enough to withstand the treatment. On site too, strong boxes that are easy to seal up again and do not split or come undone are a necessity for me. Optimaxx boxes are actually good in these respects but I have noticed that the screw companies are looking more closely at packaging to solve some of the issues. So maybe we can look forward to a redesign in the future?


Ledlenser iF8R Worklight: Modern, compact and bright

WITH our dull, short winter days, work lights are a necessity on most work sites. Over the years I have used a variety of corded and cordless ones so I have come to appreciate their virtues as well as their downsides, writes PETER BRETT.

Modern corded LED lights are often bright, come with an adjustable stand and run cool. They are perfect for flooding big areas with light when painting, for example. But they often have clumsy fittings for adjusting the angle of the lighting heads. I hated the now defunct (maybe not everywhere!) halogen lights that generated so much heat that you had to watch how you handled them. And they also needed cooling-off-time at the end of the working day before being packed away.

Smaller cordless lights using main brand cordless tool batteries cast a good controllable light and usually have more features, like Bluetooth, decent tripods and phone charging USBs, but more features equals a bigger price.

But the ones I have seen the most of cost £12 - £35 from the ‘sheds’ under an own brand. They usually are quite compact and will last a whole working day provided you slow charge them overnight. The light quality is good enough, but my quibble is that they are a bit bulky and sometimes hard to place for maximum effect if you don’t have a handy flat surface or joist on which to hang them because of the way that the frames are made.

My ideal light would be fully featured with Bluetooth etc, compact, powerful, easily adjustable, easy to place or hang for optimum lighting and quick charging.

Quite by coincidence I had just picked up a small job laying some flooring and building some shelves in a loft. Since the Ledlenser iF8R had just arrived I slipped it into my toolbox (still in its packaging), hoping that it would help me out, because surely the loft would have a mains light in it…? It turned out that the loft had no such thing, and I was forced to rely on the iF8R for the whole job. Fortunately, the Ledlenser didn’t let me down and I came to quickly appreciate its virtues.

It doesn’t look like a site light – and that’s good

It is hard to describe the Ledlenser iF8R – the closest I can get to it is: like a mini-briefcase, but longer rather than wider, with a briefcase-type handle. It is just over 30cm long, 14cm wide and just 4cm thick – so it can easily be described as very compact. It does weigh in at about 1.74kg, including the battery, so it feels like a quality piece of kit. The matte black case is made of a strong nylon/plastic material and there is a large finned alloy casting behind the big LED light that helps to dissipate any heat that may be generated.

Switching and controls are on the opposite face to the light and operating it is simplicity itself. A big yellow button invites the forefinger to switch the light on and it is done with a single push.

The on/off button is surrounded by four other controls. A plus and minus sign on either side can be pushed to increase or reduce the brightness of the LED in five steps from 100%, to 75%, 50%, 25% and 10%. These are indicated by small red lights. The third control selects Bluetooth mode, which enables the user to remotely control the switch via a smartphone. A small blue light tells you it is on. Finally, a control marked with a battery enables the user to check the battery levels. If all is well, the lights light up as green, but when 10% battery level is reached, a recharge is going to be necessary sooner rather than later.

The simplicity of the controls is a good feature making for quick and easy information, and even with gloved hands they are easy to use.

For charging, a simple hinged rubber flap needs to be lifted to insert the jack plug. Initially, I charged the battery overnight so I didn’t take note of how long it took to fully charge, but to ensure a steady supply of light it will be necessary to recharge whenever the 10% battery capacity light shows up. Even a fill-up charge while you eat a sandwich and have a cup of tea will give a good run time.

The specs say that at full 4500 lumens power the battery will last about 75 minutes, while selecting the lowest setting of 400 lumens, it will last up to 12 hours. My experience of the 1F8R confirms this, but to ensure a full day’s work it is a good idea to get the Bluetooth operational so that it is easy to switch on and off and adjust the lumens when necessary.

Behind the jack plug is a USB slot into which the universal onsite smartphone could be charged from the i8R’s battery pack. Weather sealing is up to IP54 standard so occasional damp and rain on site should not be a problem.

Ways to set up

Despite being slimline and compact I did manage to stand the i8R on its side and base on the floor and beams of the loft where it seemed reasonably stable. But for more stability the robust carry handle folds back to form a supportive leg that is very stable even on a not-so-flat surface. It can also be held from a nail or screw driven into a joist via the handle. Six powerful magnets in the handle enable it to be stuck on a scaffolding pole or radiator as well – versatile non?

The shape and size of this Ledlenser light are the clinchers for me. It is so compact that I was able to slip it easily into my toolbox ready to take on site – something no other sitelight (to my knowledge) is capable of at the moment. Add to this the powerful and adjustable LED light that floods the workspace and the ease of use either via the switches or Bluetooth, which makes it a pretty perfect light for many users. Registering the product soon after purchase will get you a seven-year warranty too.

Ledlenser clearly has oodles of confidence in the product and I am not really surprised. I anticipate my sample will get hours and hours more use especially as winter draws in.



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