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PROSPER MAGAZINE: DIGITAL EDITION

BLACK COUNTRY 2.0

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BUILDING SAFETY ‘SHOULD NOT BE NEGLECTED AS JOURNEY BACK FROM LOCKDOWN GOES ON 

Earlier this month Prosper spoke to Black Country Chamber Platinum Group member, Lord Combustion, the commercial and industrial gas heating and hot water specialists in Oldbury, about building safety as companies journey back from lockdown.

 

With the country making its gradual way out of lockdown restrictions following the Covid-19 pandemic, building and site owners cannot ignore safety, Stuart Smith, Managing Director of commercial heating specialists Lord Combustion Services told us.

 

The rolling out of vaccines and the lifting of restrictions around social distancing have meant businesses and facilities managers are plotting the course back to “normality” after more than a year of homeworking, closures and mothballing. 

Maintenance and safety standards still apply and should remain a priority for building operators, even though many sites remain unoccupied or are operating with significantly reduced capacity while staff work from home. 

With the Black Country now entering its rebuilding phase following Covid, safety should be high on the business agenda ahead of autumn and winter.

 

Based at our Oldbury HQ, Lord Combustion Services serve more than 1000 customers every year, including landmark buildings such as Edgbaston cricket ground, numerous NHS sites, schools and other public buildings. 

As a leading commercial heating specialist serving the region, we are seeing businesses brought back to life but also some worrying signs that owners and managers have not switched on to the impact of months of stagnation. 

Building usage is continuing to be disrupted by Covid restrictions, even as the country hopes better times are ahead. The level of people gathering in schools, shops, offices, public buildings, hospitality venues, hotels and every other structure used for communal use has been at “once in a lifetime” low levels. 

Consumption levels for electricity was among the early indications of how quickly life changed. Compared to the week of March 9, 2020, total electricity demand for the UK fell by 24% in the week starting April 6. 

By April of this year, approximately 11.5 million jobs, from 1.3 million different employers had been furloughed in the UK in total through the government's job retention scheme, peaking at 8.8 million in May 2020, which has impacted building usage across the country. 

Of those who have worked throughout the pandemic, the Office for National Statistics showed that for the employed population, 35.9% did some work at home in 2020, an increase of 9.4 percentage points compared with 2019. 

Education sites saw students and staff kept at home between late March and July last year, then again for January and February this year, with further local drops in attendance when pupils were kept at home due to positive tests. 

People are starting to gather in groups again, with building managers and owners now playing “catch-up” on their safety requirements. 

The knock-on effect of lockdown means budgets and spending remain under severe pressure, but organisations must not look at delaying or cancelling statutory safety checks to save money.  

The Government gave the public the chance to delay vehicle MOTs while the “stay at home” message was enforced. The same grace was not extended to gas safety. 

As the Health and Safety Executive has consistently stated, landlords and site owners may have had “difficulties” during the pandemic, but their responsibilities have stayed the same. Its website states: “You have a legal duty to repair and maintain gas pipework, flues and appliances, do annual gas safety checks and keep a record of each safety check.” 

The Gas Safe Register website is even clearer in explaining how checks are essential: “Landlords should not suspend all gas safety checks at this time as it will unnecessarily put tenants at increased risk, particularly as people are spending most, and in some cases all, of their time at home.” 

A recent fatal domestic gas explosion has reminded the public of the dangers around gas. It is not just a case of getting checks done for gas systems. 

Facilities managers must ensure safety inspections are carried out to prevent the risk of legionella spreading in building water systems, increasing the risk of occupants contracting Legionnaires’ disease when the site reopens. 

During a recent visit to a commercial building, we raised concerns with the owner around legionella, which multiplies in stagnant water. When usage drops, pipes and tanks can become bacterial breeding grounds. Immediate steps were recommended, and water quality regimes were developed. 

Here are some tips for ensuring your business gets its safety record right: 

  • Treat your heating, hot water and ventilation installations like cars: Make sure they are safe and serviced and runs as efficiently as possible. You would ensure your car was safe for a long trip, so your systems need the same consideration before the winter. Just as you might plan ahead to factor in when your vehicle needs to be traded in, so you should be looking ahead at the new technology available to see if moving to a newer system will bring savings over time. 

  • Now could be the time for a system overhaul: We regularly see plant rooms that are outdated and could fail at any time. The location of these rooms can often mean they are out of sight and out of mind, even more so while staff work from home. Using the downtime to replace legacy systems will ensure you have efficient set-ups when occupancy levels go up again. 

  • Plan a phased return to higher usage: For some premises, people walked out of the door in March last year and have still not returned. Getting work done now while occupancy is low could ensure you meet the demands of your returning site users as they come back in phases. 

  • Put heating and safety on agenda for acquisitions: Mergers and acquisitions are being planned by businesses as they adjust to the post-Covid environment. When you plan to take over a site, ensure heating and water are among the priorities to give you full sight of your new purchase. 

  • With the impact of COVID-19 continuing to be felt, it is clear we will not be back to “everyday life” for a period of time to come. 

We would encourage every business owner to engage with a trusted specialist to ensure your site is safe for staff and occupants as people continue the journey back from lockdown. 

For more information, go to: lordcombustion.co.uk

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MONEYCORP EXCITED TO ANNOUNCE NEW PARTNERSHIP WITH MHA TO BOLSTER SERVICE OFFERING 

Black Country 2.0 business partner moneycorp have announced a new partnership with the Chamber Platinum Group member, MHA, one of the UK’s top twelve accountancy networks.

 

The partnership will see moneycorp, a world-leading global payments expert, provide insight and guidance to another top accountancy firm, supporting clients in developing their currency risk management strategy whilst bolstering international business growth.  

This partnership sees moneycorp emerging as the accounting industry’s expert of choice, as they partner with a second accountancy firm in the UK’s top twelve, in addition to multiple firms listed in the top 40. The partnership will give MHA clients access to moneycorp’s expertise by providing individual support with their international payment needs, as well as guidance on currency risk management strategies.

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