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Uncertain times hold no fears for trussed rafter manufacturers

21st May 2019

In the face of Brexit and other challenges this year, leading trussed rafter manufacturers and timber engineering firms learned to tackle fear like a Marine Commando, at a high energy TRA AGM and conference on 2 May.

More than 70 directors and business leaders within the sector met in Warrington this month to discuss some of the key issues creating uncertain times.

This included presentations on changing legislation regarding wood dust, changing Building Regulations and testing requirements on fire safety, and a continuing skills crisis across construction.

“Prepare now to demonstrate professional competence in everything you do,” warned Barry Turner, director of technical policy at LABC. This was the main issue that all firms, big and small, should take seriously in the post-Grenfell era, he explained, while also making clear his concerns regarding the new ‘clarified’ Approved Document B on fire safety which is due for publication this month.

Similar warnings to prepare for new legislation came from occupational health expert Alan Ballard from ELAS. He broke the news of reduced softwood dust workplace exposure limits by the HSE coming into effect in 2023 – a health and safety change which is going to demand innovative solutions from the industry and its cutting machinery suppliers.

Mental health is continuing to be an issue within construction. “Construction has the highest suicide rate of any industry in the UK, America and Australia. This is a statistic that needs to change,” said Bill Hill, chief executive of the Lighthouse Construction Industry charity.

In light of this shocking statistic, The Building Mental Health campaign has been launched to support construction workers at all levels, with a free Employee Assistance Programme (EAP). Other support tools are also available via their website.

How do you market your company and its career opportunities to Generation Z? That was the question posed by Liz Male, managing director of LMC, the TRA’s PR and marketing agency.

As the skills crisis escalates, attracting and retaining talent is becoming an increasingly urgent issue. Liz’s description of Generation Z and what engages them really resonated with the TRA members and highlighted the need for much more face-to-face communications and involvement with local schools and colleges in the battle for talent.

A big technical innovation also had its debut at the TRA’s conference. The Cullen Gable Restraint Bracket allows for a complete system to connect timber gables and masonry walls to the roof structure in order to resist wind loadings.

Scott McAndrew, R&D manager at ITW Construction Products explained how the system has now been accepted by the NHBC as meeting its technical requirements and how it delivers a robust structural fixing for timber gables. Site testing with housebuilders had gone well, he said, and the new connector will be adopted by the TRA in its forthcoming Gable Panel Guide.

Housebuilders in Ireland can also have more confidence in the fire safety of the homes they are building, thanks to a successful metal web joist fire testing programme carried out by the TRA. This was off the back of Irish Government’s decision to move to Eurocode test standards.

An update on this fire safety project was presented by Julian Marcroft of MiTek. TRA Ireland has already issued guidance to its members who produce metal web floor joists, to assist them with designing and constructing products which are compliant with fire safety in Part B of the Ireland building regulations.

Finally, back to the Commando reference. A tour of Afghanistan taught former Marine Commando, Ben Williams, a lot about fear and how to manage it. He brought this experience to the AGM but with a business spin on it.

Fear can stifle creativity within a company, he explained, before talking about how all businesses – including those in this industry facing an uncertain future – can build up resilience and overcome fear and anxiety to perform in the most gruelling of circumstances.

Ben is now a leadership coach and mentor working with premier league footballers as well as business leaders in VW, Travis Perkins, Keyline and Oneserve. His wisdom was the perfect end to the conference and left everyone feeling positive and reinvigorated for the year ahead.

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