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BRICKS AND WATER

29 January 2015

The construction industry appears to be drinking more bottled water. This article looks at the experience of construction giant Skanska.

The £112m UK cooler market has been boosted by an increase of nearly 2% in one of the major growth sectors, according to market analysts Zenith International. There is a marked increase in bottled water consumption from water coolers at construction sites, reflecting a recovery in the building sector, according to Members of the British Water Cooler Association (BWCA).  The construction giant, Skanska, has experience that bears this out.

With about 50 mains-fed (point of use - POU) machines and 150 bottled water coolers across its offices at sites, all supplied by a BWCA member, Skanska’s staff are heavily dependent on water coolers. Onsite, where convenient access to mains water is limited or non-existent, bottled water coolers have proved ideal.

According to Phil Sefton, procurement manager for Skanska: “Water volumes can be enormous but often storage is limited. On our Highways Maintenance M1 Junction 19 scheme, we have the challenges of a large number of people, limited storage and high fluid requirements, so flexible and frequent delivery is essential as the project scales up and down. Just the other day, (the cooler company, a BWCA member) managed to deliver 1,200 litres in a 24-hour period and on that particular site that quantity will only last a week.”

Skanska has a strong ethos of being environmentally aware and also of being very health conscious. Asked what the criteria were for selecting the supplier in 2010, Phil Sefton explains: “When I arrived in the job I asked the business how they found the incumbent supplier and we decided to put the opportunity out to tender inviting several companies to take part.

“Of course the price has to be right but the things we were looking for were green credentials, which all our suppliers have to demonstrate; a wide geographic spread to be able to serve our sites across the country; strong CSR credentials; and being conscious of health, safety and excellence. One question was membership of a professional body and choosing a BWCA member was certainly a consideration. I visited the BWCA website to understand exactly what they do to audit the companies that are members.”

Skanska publishes the BWCA method statements on its intranet so any questions about hygiene and maintenance can readily be understood by users and managers.

Skanska says it encourages good health among its 5000+ directly employed staff. There are vouchers for gyms, encouragement to drink and eat healthily, yoga sessions in the offices and people can often be seen rushing through the office in their running gear to fit in some exercise in the lunch-hour. Healthy hydration fits well with the healthy atmosphere of the 11 offices, including the Maple Cross HQ.

Water coolers are situated around the offices and in every meeting room and are of course not only convenient – and free for Skanska staff – but calorie free and tooth-kind as well. The BWCA member also supplies energy-saving hot water boilers for making warm beverages.

In addition to the mainly POU units in the fixed offices, Skanska is supplying essential refreshments to thousands of workers on sites up and down the country. “Apart from storage and delivery, a challenge is the particular sanitisation needs on building sites,” says Matt Hemming, who manages the Skanska account for the BWCA member concerned.

“Building sites require that we keep coolers clean and water stored correctly. Our adherence to the stringent BWCA hygiene guidelines is essential to us and to our customers. We are proud of our excellent record when we are audited and we usually share this achievement with Skanska and other customers”.

Although there is a fixed term contract the business relationship is ever evolving. Phil Sefton explains: “We were keen to encourage (our supplier) to opt into FORS (Fleet Operator Recognition Scheme) accreditation. Because they are delivering large quantities of bottled water, on behalf of Skanska, I wanted to ensure that carbon emission impacts were minimised as this is an important aspect of our company-wide ethos. FORS contributes to that guarantee. We were very conscious however that for this supplier there is a cost attached.

“All credit to them, our chosen supplier went for it and we believe it is the only cooler company in the UK that has a FORS medal. It really set them apart and gives them an edge. We like this kind of flexibility.” Matt Hemming agrees: “We’re so glad we pursued FORS now as it’s a selling point, like our membership of BWCA and the best practice audits this provides.”

There are strict service level agreements set by Skanska, not just in terms of bottle delivery but also replacement units if a dispenser fails and servicing requirements. “Every supplier signs up to the Skanska code of conduct,” says Phil Sefton. “We never have to check the terms of business as everything runs smoothly. We have a great working relationship with our cooler supplier.”

The familiar image of rows of construction workers sitting on a wall during breaks downing sugary soft drinks from 2l bottles is fast becoming a thing of the past. Research by Zenith shows people who have water available to them and who drink a lot of healthy water during hot weather continue the water habit long after the sun has gone in, if the experiences of last autumn and winter are typical.

Hemming says: “The hot summer in 2013 saw a massive uptake in volumes of water consumed. It was as if people suddenly rediscovered – or perhaps discovered for the first time – the refreshing nature of water.” Working efficiently isn’t just down to the supplier, though. Hemming is quick to point out Skanska is an ideal customer – demanding but supportive and never onerously prescriptive. “They just expect us to get on with the job having made the requirements clear from the outset. It’s a great working relationship,” he says.

Phil Sefton says: “Our supplier is agile enough to keep up with us and that is greatly appreciated.”


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