Environmental Monitoring: Priorities for Construction Managers

Environmental Monitoring: Priorities for Construction Managers

CIF DigiCon 2020

Last week, the Construction Industry Federation (CIF) DigiCon 2020 aired live online for the first time. The virtual conference consisted of virtual sessions, remote keynote presentations, panels and round table discussions. There was a discussion about all the ways in which the construction industry has been impacted by the pandemic and about the role digitisation will likely play in accelerating the vital recovery. In his opening address, Director of Communications with the CIF Shane Dempsey acknowledged "We're at a fascinating crossroads in this industry. Even before Covid-19, we were facing multiple disruptive waves of digitalisation".

Some of the keynote speakers involved in this conference included Hubert Rhomberg, Futurist and CEO of The Rhomberg Group; William Hynes, Founder and Managing Director of Future Analytics Consulting Ltd and Danielle Dy Buncio, Co-Founder and CEO at VIATechnik.

Round table discussion

Sonitus Systems hosted the round table discussion on 'Environmental Monitoring: Priorities for Construction Managers', led by our own Bartley McElroy who was joined by NVM Ltd's Noel Carr, Michael Durnin of Murphy Surveys and John Campbell of Campbell Associates in the UK.

NVM Ltd is an environmental monitoring company, specialising in the provision of bespoke monitoring solutions to the construction industry, local authorities, mainstream services sector and the pharmaceutical industry. Noel and the team provide geotechnical, hydrological and environmental monitoring products and services.

Murphy Surveys is a firm of global consulting surveyors and specialist engineers, which has grown from a small, family-run business in the early 1980's to the largest survey company in Ireland.

Campbell Associates is a family-run provider of sound and vibration measurement solutions, trading successfully for more than two decades. John and his team of 32 people are based near Stansted airport, north of London. As exclusive distributors and a nationwide service centre, the core business of Campbell Associates is to sell, hire and calibrate sound, vibration and air quality monitoring equipment from a variety of manufacturers, including Sonitus Systems.

The main topic up for discussion was the immediate priorities for construction managers and how these might have changed in the context of Covid-19.

Michael kicked off by confirming that, for Murphy Surveys clients, remote access to verified and validated data that reflects site conditions is key. Construction managers need data that aligns with current works and, of course, the ability to communicate decisions that are informed by verified results.

Noel pointed out that the details that are most relevant at the moment are those included in the project Construction Management Plans, that is, what is required for any given project from the Environmental Manager including reporting frequency, consultants on outstanding issues, data collection, moving of instrumentation, etc.

John and Bartley both agreed that - as a priority right now - construction managers want to get on with construction! And a key part of getting on with construction is meeting the requirements of regulations and permits with minimal disruption and cost. In the context of the pandemic, construction managers need to minimise the number of site visits and the length of time people spend on site, which is also a good way to keep costs down.

In the context of extended working hours, the UK has provided for discretion on projects until 2021 whereas the Irish approach, which empowers local authorities to show similar discretion, is only in place until November 2020 (correct as of July 13th). Noel explained that derogations from planning for construction hours onsite are common in Dublin City, however, they are not so common outside of the city yet. He also shared insights about the growing importance of water quality being monitored and this monitoring being enforced by the local authority, particularly on road projects.

John confirmed that the City of London has very strict guidelines, noise will only be permitted at certain hours of the day and this is quite strictly policed so any activity that exceeds permitted noise levels will be shut down.

The discussion then moved to air quality and the monitoring of construction dust. Bartley explained that dust is often monitored using Bergerhoff gauges, which sound high tech, but these are basically jars that are left at the boundary of a site for 30 days and the dust is then weighed. This method does not give construction managers or councils effective control. An issue may have occurred weeks before the measurement, the construction manager is then in trouble with the council and their neighbours and even may have to halt some activities when, in practice, it is too late to do much about it. He remarked on a trend towards real time monitoring that can flag any issue while it is happening and allow something to be done about it (such as spraying more water). In addition to construction managers wanting it, real-time monitoring might become a requirement from councils on more sites. Bartley is well placed to make predictions on this; together with the team at Sonitus Systems, he has spent the last two years developing a dust monitor and the company is currently building a dust lab on their premises.

Given the theme of the day - digital construction - the role of technology was another key point of discussion. All participants to the round table discussion agreed that the automated collection of accurate, verifiable data is an important part of the environmental monitoring solution and it was interesting to hear how solutions can be more efficiently implemented on a range of sites.

Michael remarked that sensors, particularly IoT sensors, have an important role in the management of an existing asset or structure, not just for the protection of the public and works onsite but to help make informed strategic decisions. He cited examples where Geospatial data such as models from drones and imagery from cameras onsite can interact with the output of vibration sensors, allowing managers to change the position of temporary traffic management for vehicles and pedestrians on sites. Having multiple data sources interact allows for analytics in a construction project that can yield positive results.

Bartley pointed out that the technology - any technology - needs to make life easier in practice for the construction manager. He remarked how important it is that the right information gets to the right people at the right time. For example a construction manager is unlikely to want a table of sound levels at 15-minute intervals during the day. What they probably want is advice from people like NVM and Murphy Surveys about what is required for environmental compliance on their site and equipment that is plug and play, without requiring much attention. They want alerts if something is going wrong and occasional summaries showing either all is good, or highlighting issues in a user-friendly way.

He also shared some insight about the Sonitus Systems development process:

"One interesting thing that we have found about presentation of information is that most of our team, including me, have an engineering background, and the engineers are usually good at presenting information that is technically correct, but just not that user-friendly. The person in charge of our software has a background in media studies, and he keeps us all focused on clearly presenting the information people want and no more (e.g. just a red or green traffic light), and the detail is available with a click when people want it."

All in all, it was great to be involved in this inaugural virtual conference and to facilitate such a lively discussion at what can only be described as an unprecedented time for the industry.

Main conclusions from the round table discussion

The main priorities for construction managers right now appear to be:

  1. To get back to work
  2. Access to real-time, accurate data - As Noel reminded us: "Data is no burden"
  3. To know their sites are fully compliant. As Bartley succinctly put it: "Know you're compliant, show you're compliant"

The Sonitus team would like to thank the CIF for taking a chance and running this important event virtually and thank you to attendees for making time to attend and participate.

Particular thanks to Bartley McElroy and our panelists Noel Carr of NVM Ltd's, Michael Durnin of Murphy Surveys and John Campbell of UK-based Campbell Associates.

Sonitus Systems supply robust and reliable sound level monitoring equipment globally from their base in Dublin. Their award-winning products and services allow users to easily monitor and assess noise levels in any scenario to ensure compliance. For more information, call the team Sonitus Systems on +353 1 6778443 or email info@sonitussystems.com

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