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Written by
on 17 October 2018

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New technologies are set to revolutionise UK construction sites and solve the skills shortage crisis.

Confusion about Brexit is causing problems for the construction industry, mainly because no one is sure what will happen next. Of particular concern has been the reduction in immigration from Eastern Europe, leading to a drop in the number of bricklayers and skilled tradesmen available for UK projects.

Fewer people, greater risks

With fewer workers available, many commentators are concerned that projects are under-manned. So although nothing is changing in terms of health and safety law immediately after Brexit, there are suggestions that construction sites operate with fewer people than is required to maintain compliance.

Should this be the case, principal contractors will be forced to extend project timelines to reflect the reduction in workers – or to cut corners. And when corners are cut, health and safety is usually pushed a long way down the list of project priorities.

Here come the robots

With fewer human workers available, scientists are looking to technology as a way to plug the shortfall. And some are even suggesting that robots could be the way forward.

Common in other industries like car manufacturing and electronics, robots remain absent from construction sites. But that could be about to change.

Manufacturers are already developing construction robots. Early prototypes are apparently capable of laying 3000 bricks per day. The average human bricklayer lays just 300-600 over the course of a shift.

Science fiction, or science fact?

With robots offering 10 times the output of humans, principal contractors are justifiably interested in the technology. So much so that 47% of British firms expect to see robots deployed on their site at some time in the near future. Just 34% of the rest of the world share their optimism.

The use of bricklaying robots brings good and bad news. On the downside, robots could eventually take jobs from humans – but they could also plug the skills gap as recruiters struggle to find the people they need.

On the plus side, offloading risky tasks to robots should help to make construction sites safer by keeping employees out of the most dangerous situations. And because several roles are handed over to machines, the issue of under-staffing goes away.

One small issue…

It sounds as though robots could play an important role in helping the construction industry maintain headway in the post-Brexit confusion. But there is one important factor to consider – the effect on health and safety planning.

Introducing any new machinery to your construction site requires a review of your risk assessments to ensure that potential dangers are properly managed. And the same will be true of robotic bricklayers because of their size, weight and range of movement, they create new potential risks.

But the potential output boost will more than justify the minor inconvenience of updating your risk assessments.

For more help and advice on creating risk assessments – with or without robots – please get in touch

Now it’s your turn

Have your say in the comments section below.

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Chartered health and safety consultant. 20+ years helping busy people in construction and the built environment. David provides how-to articles, advice and guidance to help explain and make compliance easier for clients. A solutionist with a brain you can pick. And you can easily get in touch with David on social media Twitter, Facebook and Linkedin.

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