Construction Health and Safety Under the Microscope At FEM’s 2020 Health And Safety Awards

This year, the Federated Employers Mutual Assurance Company (RF) (Pty) Ltd (FEM) 2020 Health and Safety awards were held digitally for the first time in the award’s history, in line with Covid-19 precautions. The awards enable FEM to recognise member companies in the construction industry which have maintained high standards of health and safety (H&S) in the workplace.

Witty raconteur Dr Riaad Moosa was MC and kept the e-audience in stiches with his social commentary and impersonations. The comedian described how his comedy gigs had dried up in the face of Covid-19. He considered going back to medicine, but said he remembered nothing of medical school, and so considered a life of petty crime, which would prove impossible considering how well-recognised he is, even with a mask on.

Nico Maas, Board Chairperson, spoke about red tape at construction sites hindering productivity, thanked those behind the scenes making the awards event possible, and expressed positivity about the industry going back to normal due to the roll-out of Government infrastructure projects.

Ndivhuwo Manyonga, CEO, FEM, welcomed virtual attendees and nominees, highlighting their importance as the reason for the awards. She emphasised the timeliness of best practice H&S measures in construction, and spoke about how Covid-19 had further exposed the vulnerabilities of workers across the world in the context of job security, and health and safety itself.

Manyonga applauded health and safety officials in the construction industry for their efforts in keeping work sites virus-free, but reminded the audience that worker H&S was an issue before the pandemic. She cited the International Labour Organisation’s estimation that 374 million global men and women suffer non-fatal work-related injuries and illnesses annually.  A further 2,8 million succumb to their injuries.

FEM provides workmen’s compensation for the construction industry, under licence from the Department of Employment and Labour, covering more than 5 000 employers and 300 000 employees. FEM receives approximately 8 000 accident reports every year, many of which could have been avoided. Injured parties’ lives are forever changed as a result of their injuries, even if these are not fatal.

A number of H&S initiatives have been undertaken by FEM to promote H&S in the industry, including the loadings and rebates applied to clients based on their H&S experience, grants provided to industry associations, seminars and webinars with content based on H&S trends in South Africa (including the impacts of Covid-19 and motor vehicle accidents) and the distribution of 75 000 masks to construction companies requiring assistance.

“We believe it is important for us to celebrate, award and reward construction companies demonstrating H&S practices of a high standard,” Manyonga commented. ”We would like to thank these construction companies on behalf of their employees for showing us that zero harm is indeed possible. It just takes the right behaviour, attitude and focus, in spite of challenging circumstances, extra expense and effort. A safe and healthy work environment is a basic human right.”

Yusuf Bodiat, CFO, FEM, presented the awards, commenting that safety is not expensive, it is priceless. He added that FEM’s more than 5 000 policy holders work in different environments, geographic locations, have different numbers of staff, and work in different risk areas. For the awards, each policy holder is categorised into various groups, following a simple three-step process.

The first step is to recognise that each policy holder works in a different risk environment – high, medium and low risk, using premium assessment rates as a guide to categorising their risk ratings. Policyholders are then split further, based on the number of employees, because as the company’s staff contingent changes, so does the risk profile. These categories are a small, medium and high employee base.

The third criterion is geographic location, as different locations have different risks. Using regional FEM offices as a guideline, these are divided into Kwa-Zulu Natal, the Cape (in the broadest sense) and Inland (non-coastal areas). Each policy holder is assessed and ranked within their different groups, following the principles of accident frequency (the amount of employees who incur accidents as a percentage of all employees) and the claims loss ratio over a period of time (the amount of claims FEM pays in proportion to the premiums received over a period of one years.)

FEM then applies rules from a fairness perspective to ensure that all award receiving policy holders are entitled to their awards. All policy holders in each category are then subjected to threshold / minimum criteria measurements, and any policy holders with fatalities in the period under review are excluded.

Policy holders receiving awards comprise a small percentage (2,5%) of the total number of policy holders, a testament to the high standards of H&S protocols recognised by the awards. Award recipients raise the H&S bar.

The criteria for the Special Health and Safety Awards disclude risk, location and employee numbers, so all policy holders fall within the same category, and the period in which claims are assessed is 10 years to reward consistent H&S practices. The top four policy holders in this category receive either a Platinum, Gold, Silver or Bronze Award.

All FEM policy holders who receive the latter awards obtain bragging rights within the industry as well as additional financial incentives, getting rebates from FEM which are calculated based on the company’s most recent rebate.

Guest speaker, Lynette Ntuli, CEO, Innate Investment Solutions, delivered an inspiring speech in which she highlighted the lessons learned from 2020, and the resilience and size of the fight in each of us. Ntuli remarked that working from home has meant studies or home offices have turned into marketplace coal faces, and the sounding boards of corporate boardrooms.

Because of lockdown, rules, she said, have had to be rewritten as we navigated through unprecedented times. We were faced with an invisible, non-preemptable foe and Ntuli described the various emotional states we as global citizens experienced as the viral narrative unfolded, ranging from hysteria and anxiety to indifference. Group projects via Zoom have become the norm.

But, we have survived and have acquired new skills; learning new ways of working and playing.  Through collaboration and cooperation, many policy holders have been able to avoid accidents and injuries. Women are key contributors to health and safety – from home schoolers to heads of state.

Ntuli spotlighted the relatively lower Covid-19 death rates in countries headed by women leaders, who exerted timely control measures and actions to reduce population mortality. Citizens of these countries may also well emerge with better economic and social conditions than their global counterparts.

Ntuli concluded by citing transparency, truth, warmth, openness, communication, coordination, compassion, desciveness, agility and servant leadership as qualities exhibited by women leaders to lead their nations into healthier and safer societies after the pandemic, leaving no-one behind.

Well done to all nominees and winners for raising the health and safety bar higher each year! See you all in 2021.

Here follows the list of winners of the FEM’s 2020 Health and Safety Awards:

2020 – Winners List

Working At Heights: Understanding Suspension Trauma

By Neil Enslin, Occupational Health and Safety Manager

Those writing fall protection plans must understand the hazards of harness hang syndrome in fall protection. Working at height forms an integral part of the construction industry, and proper fall protection equipment is imperative when it comes to getting the job done efficiently and safely. The dangers of working at height do not stop once the worker’s fall-arrest equipment performs effectively to reduce the consequences of a fall from height. The worker may now be at risk of an equally life-threatening emergency; suspension trauma.

How does suspension trauma occur?

Simply put, suspension trauma refers to the loss of consciousness experienced by the hanging individual as a result of being held upright with limited movement for a prolonged period of time. As a result of the loss of consciousness occurring from motionless vertical suspension rather than physical injury, the term “syncope” is also commonly used when this type of accident occurs. The causes of syncope can be classified in various ways, including vascular, cardiac, neurological and metabolic.  Once an individual becomes symptomatic, several symptoms may start to appear, these include:

  • Light-headedness
  • Nausea
  • Tingling / numbness in the arms & legs
  • Faintness
  • Flushing sensations

These symptoms are often referred to as “presyncope” and if nothing is done to aid the suspended individual, they will eventually fall into in a syncope state. Suspension trauma does not occur as a result of one single factor; however, it is usually caused by a combination of a number factors. Commonly, it is caused by too much blood flowing to the legs which then becomes trapped, also known as “blood pooling”, resulting in the brain not receiving an adequate amount of oxygen.

As the human body is not designed to be in an upright position for long periods of time, it does not have the ability to “suck” blood up from our legs once gravity has pulled it down. To counteract this, the body uses four major methods in order to return blood to the heart and other parts of the body, which includes the use of veins and pumping muscles. When suspension trauma arises, a number of key factors are triggered which severely impairs these methods in returning blood from the legs back to the heart, and therefore impacts the amount of oxygen the brain receives. These are:

  1. Body weight in the safety harness compressing veins – Pinched veins result in blood not being able to travel back to the heart and therefore becomes trapped in your legs.
  2. A lack of movement – Due to the body being limited in its movement, muscles are unable to perform in the way they are needed to pump blood back to the heart.
  3. A build-up of toxins within the blood – Due to blood pooling in the legs, there is a lack of oxygen being delivered around the body; this results in organs and muscles releasing toxic waste products at dangerous levels of concentration in order to survive.

The brain has the ability to alter the body’s heart and breathing rates when it detects a problem such as blood pooling. The brain cannot tell the difference between blood pooling and blood loss, so the way it reacts is the same. When blood begins to pool in the legs, the brain increases the body’s breathing and pulse rates, resulting in more blood being pushed to the legs. With increased levels of blood now in the legs, the brain will eventually realise that its own supply is dropping and activates an emergency last-resort to induce fainting so that the blood can make then make its way around the body and back to the brain.

It is not possible to fall over when hanging in a harness, therefore an individual would become unconscious whilst remaining upright. This now places the body in danger as the airway is not safe in this position, which could result in suffocation. The brain still has insufficient oxygen but has no way of getting more.

How to treat suspension trauma

  • The longer an individual is left suspended, the greater the chances are of the above symptoms and resulting effects occurring. These are relieved when the individual starts to recline, so the individual should be removed from an upright position as quick as possible, especially if they are in a motionless state.
  • If the individual is conscious, they should be encouraged to gently exercise their legs in order to stimulate blood circulation and increase the lowered blood pressure.
  • If the individual is not conscious then it is preferable to elevate the lower limbs slightly.
  • If there is any doubt regarding the individual’s state or the period of suspension, alert medical agencies immediately.

How can you prevent suspension trauma?

As is the same with all accidents, prevention is better than cure. When working in an area or a job where the element of suspension is possible, ensure you have an adequate rescue plan in place in order to receive a quick and safe rescue. An important factor to consider is the type of safety harness that is used, as harnesses that restrict movement and tighten the legs when hanging can result in symptoms occurring much faster.

Trauma straps

Fortunately, there is a simple solution to protect against suspension trauma: personal protective equipment known as trauma straps. Trauma straps are a pair of straps, one strap with hooks in it and the other with loops for the hooks to attach to. They are coiled up in pouches and attached to the fall harness at the hips. When a worker falls and comes to rest, he would uncoil the straps, hook them together, and brace his weight against the straps. This allows the fallen worker to stand up in his fall harness, utilizing his leg muscles, taking weight off of his arteries, and restoring blood circulation until help arrives.

Conclusion

Suspension trauma poses a serious risk to workers at heights. The physiological response to the known symptoms of suspension trauma confirms that this hazard can be lethal. However, there are simple steps that can be taken to mitigate the hazard of suspension trauma, including trauma straps on all fall gear, a fall protection plan for all work at heights that includes a rescue plan, and training on the hazards within the use of fall protection equipment.

With greater knowledge of what suspension trauma is and how it affects the body, we can plan better for the hazards and continue to improve the safety of our workplaces.

References:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Suspension_trauma
https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2658225/ 
https://www.dynamicrescue.com/blogs/news/13262417-ask-a-pro-what-is-suspension-trauma-aka-harness-hang-syndrome 
https://www.rigidlifelines.com/blog/suspension-trauma-symptoms-and-treatment/

 

 

 

Extracts From “Opportunities and Benefits Through Social Housing” By Rory Gallocher, CEO, Social Housing Regulatory Authority (SHRA)

Income inequality

South Africa is becoming increasingly unequal. Income inequality is on an upward trajectory and has decoupled from the average for emerging markets.

Unemployment

SA’s overall and youth unemployment is significantly higher than the average for emerging markets.

Challenges

These comprise growing an inclusive economy, eliminating poverty, inclusive growth, qualitative transformation through a change in ownership patterns, building capabilities, enhancing the capacity of the State and promoting leadership and partnership.

Government’s plan

Government has introduced the Economic Reconstruction and Recovery Plan through Infrastructure South Africa, and has established the Infrastructure and Investment Office and a National Infrastructure Fund. Intentions are to unlock R1 trillion in infrastructure investment over four years, to increase infrastructure investment from the current 5,9% of GDP to 10% of GDP, and encourage a spending shift from consumption to investment in capital goods by growing this at 7,8% per annum.

As Minister of Finance, Tito Mboweni, said recently: “Subsidies of R2,2 billion will support the Social Housing Programme aimed at poor, working South Africans. We expect that the total investment from this programme will be R20 billion over the next 10 years.”

Transformation elements

Economic restructuring requires an institutionalised approach where organisations, semi-government institutions and private sector corporations ensure a prolonged period of sustained and inter-generational inclusion and empowerment (Iscor, SASOL and Eskom).

The current “race format” (ie fast-paced development) rewards short sprints, so turns the beneficiaries into competitors rather than teammates. Transformation must be a team sport, and competitors sometimes compete in too many fixtures rather than being focused. Institutionalised support is needed to take heed of the benefits of a longer-range career development approach.

The current Economic Recovery Plan looks beyond construction toward a maintenance orientation. Transformation needs to move beyond lobbying for “opportunity” and “benefit.” “Opportunity” is something created through having a consistent and sustained presence, and therefore a fragmentation of focus undermines the possibility of real opportunity. “Benefit” is the reward that materialises as a consequence of sustained and consistent training, practicing and competing.

However, many social housing projects are abandoned and left unfinished (Klerksdorp, Riverlea, Ekurhuleni and East London)  because of short-range thinking.

The Economic Recovery Plan looks beyond construction toward maintenance because long-term economic transformation needs a departure from the “short sprint” format to a sustained growth, in order to build strong organisations and businesses beyond this generation.

Corruption

The character of corruption in the social housing environment is a concern, as corruption can be a form of violence. Who hurts the most? The quality of governance at public institutions and agencies like SHRA is key. The effectiveness of the State and its policy implementers must be bolstered so that the state is an enabler.

 

 

Revolutionary Green Roofing

By utilising 98% waste material, Harvey EcoTile® is a 100% recyclable roof tile that provides superior functional benefits to concrete or clay roof tiles.

Roof tile design has seen minimal innovation in centuries. Thick, heavy concrete or clay tiles are simply stacked upon one another and held down by their considerable weight. This in turn dictates strong, heavy and expensive roofing structures to cope with the load. These heavy roof tiles are hard and brittle which results in up to 10% breakages on installation and further threat of damage from hail, wind and being walked upon. There had to be a better way.

Harvey Roofing Products sought to resolve these functional challenges by solving another pressing issue: sustainability. The breakthrough came in the form of Harvey EcoTile®

Harvey EcoTile’s®  technological design advantage ensures an interlocking, lightweight tile that is low on maintenance, weatherproof and virtually unbreakable in normal use.

The Harvey EcoTile® roof tile has the ability to eliminate 29 million, 2-litre used plastic milk bottles from landfill sites in South Africa. Each tile utilises the equivalent of 3.8 recycled bottles and is 100% recyclable. In addition, the product input does not require any water resource, an increasingly scarce commodity in South Africa. With recent focus on the effect that discarded plastic products have on ocean life and our natural rivers and dams, Harvey EcoTile®’s development could not be more timeous.

Harvey Roofing Products General Manager, Sales & Marketing, Albie Jordaan, says the innovative  product has been developed to outperform conventional clay / concrete tiles in every way. “Harvey EcoTile® is four times stronger yet three times lighter than concrete tiles. Combining these advantages makes it possible to transport four times more Harvey EcoTile® as opposed to conventional roof tiles, limiting transportation cost and on-site breakages.We estimate that breakages can be reduced by up to 10% in the full value chain. Most importantly, endless  maintenance on horizontal roof ridges will be a thing of the past.”

For more information on this innovative product, contact Albie Jordaan, Harvey Roofing Products on (011) 741 5600 / email  albie.jordaan@Macroofing.co.za

 

TCI Finalises Online Concrete Training Programme For Next Year

The Concrete Institute’s School of Concrete Technology (SCT) has finalised its programme of online training courses for 2021. Fourteen courses are planned, including the start of the pinnacle of concrete diploma courses: Advanced Concrete Technology.

John Roxburgh, Senior Lecturer at the SCT, says the SCT ran its last lecture-driven course at the end of March 2020 and was forced, due to lockdown regulations, to abandon lecture room training after that. “But we fortunately had experience in delivering e-learning courses through SCT41 and SCT42, the UK’s Institute of Concrete Technology’s General Principles and Practical Application courses, which the school has presented on an e-learning basis for several years. This proved invaluable for a fast conversion of all the more popular SCT courses onto an e-learning platform and within two months, the SCT could offer 10 different courses online. These courses, where applicable, have been granted the same CPD accreditation as the lecture room-based courses.”

Roxburgh says the SCT quickly learnt that the online course versions offer some surprisingly good advantages. These included:

  • Substantial reduction in costs (major online discounts will still apply next year);
  • Flexibility for the student with work or time-constraints;
  • No travel and accommodation needed;
  • More time available to study;
  • Better understanding of the subject through a three-pronged approach that includes self-study with tests, videos that can be watched repeatedly, and face-to-face contact with the lecturer on electronic meeting platforms.

“Because of these significant benefits, the concrete and concrete-related industries have welcomed online training and the school’s training has resulted in many satisfied students graduating and receiving online course certificates in 2020.”

The SCT is gearing to present its next Advanced Concrete Technology (ACT-SCT50) course for the Institute of Concrete Technology at the beginning of 2022. “As acceptance for this prestigious programme requires a pass in the SCT41 and SCT42 courses, it is advisable for prospective ACT-SCT 50 students to complete the SCT41 and SCT42 courses next year. The examinations for these will be written in May 2021.”

Roxburgh adds: “For those looking for a career in concrete technology, there are many opportunities available. South Africa has a massive need for competent concrete practitioners in admixture sales, laboratories, construction companies, ready mixed and precast concrete suppliers, concrete repair facilities, cement and aggregate production, and mining, to name just a few sectors. The SCT has structured a progression of course levels that will allow a prospective student to enrol at a level that matches his or her competency. There are no short cuts to becoming a good concrete technologist and study is essential. The SCT has all the educational requirements to help meet these goals,” he states.

For more information and the full 2021 online training programme, visit www.theconcreteinstitute.org.za or email sct@theconcreteinstitute.org.za or rennishas@theconcreteinstitute.org.za, or phone 011 315 0300.

 

 

Project Managing Construction Projects On Fully Operational Hospital Sites Is No Mean Feat

Major construction and refurbishment projects conducted on fully operational hospital sites lead to a host of challenges given the nature and sensitivity of the location, the complexities and intricacies of which become magnified when it involves a heritage building next to a busy maternity block and MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) building.

Global professional services company, Turner & Townsend, was appointed as project manager and principal agent for the recently completed refurbishment and extension of the UCT Neuroscience Institute building on the Groote Schuur Hospital campus in Cape Town.

The three-storey, u-shaped Cape Dutch Revival building was constructed in 1934 as a “Paying Patients’ Block” ancillary to the main block of the hospital, and had becoming increasingly visually separated from the campus due to, among other things, the construction of the New Groote Schuur Hospital block.

The project involved a combination of refurbishments, alterations and additions to the existing J-Block (Neuroscience building) of the hospital, with a view to consolidating various neuroscience-related departments into a single integrated and inter-disciplinary facility known as the Clinical Neurosciences Institute (CNI), while facilitating the flow and interaction between the centre and the entire hospital.

Says Jerome Alexander, Turner & Townsend senior project manager: “We were appointed at stage 5 into the project, namely at construction commencement, taking over from the previous project management firm. As Professor Graham Fieggen, Head of Neurosurgery and Director of the Neuroscience Institute pointed out, the single biggest challenge was undertaking a major construction project in the middle of one of the busiest hospitals in South Africa, on a building site surrounded by 24/7 ongoing clinical activity and patient care which could not be disrupted.

“Furthermore, access had to be provided to hundreds of workers, accommodating traffic and parking while maintaining security. All of this had to be done with as little noise and disruption as possible as construction continued apace in the middle of a typical cold, wet Cape winter.

“Being such an old precinct, we had no information regarding the underground services, therefore many trench excavations had to be done to identify underground services, resulting in the discovery of 11KVA electric cables, IT cables and water pipes. Without impacting the Radiology Centre in the building and the adjacent MRI building and maternity block – all with highly sensitive equipment and ongoing patient care, we relocated the exposed cables without a hitch – keeping them live in the process. Only once this was done could the lecture theatre be constructed. This involved excavations and lateral support about 7m down, removing 2 300 cubic metres of soil and materials. We also came upon asbestos, which had to be removed and disposed of following the correct protocols.”

Alexander says the Neurosciences Institute is a grand design and the first of its kind in Africa in terms of consolidating the different fields in neuroscience and neurosurgery, easily accessible in one location. “The facility also provides suitable social space, general workspace, canteen area, breakaway conference rooms and dedicated offices, as well as a newly-constructed 140-seater auditorium. The extra accommodation was created through the addition of a new, adjoining building to the rear as well as a further floor added to the existing building’s flat concrete roof.”

“The major challenge throughout was ensuring hospital activities continued uninterrupted, including emergency ambulance access. And as this was largely a donor-funded project, it was also essential that we stay within budget while meeting the differing expectations of two major stakeholders – the university and the provincial government,” he concludes.

 

Building a post-pandemic construction sector 

By Cyril Vuyani Gamede 

It is widely accepted that, the best way for the government to stimulate the economy, thus ensuring its quick recovery, is by developing and executing an infrastructure-led economic recovery plan. Job creation in the construction sector will be a vital indicator to measure the success of South Africa’s economic recovery plan.  

This was true prior to the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic but will even grow in importance as local economic activities emerge from the embers of the global meltdown. Thus, initiatives designed to support the growth, and survival, of emerging contractors, should attract greater public attention and draw the support from established companies.  

It is, indeed, possible to achieve the objectives of job creation, empowerment, and skills transfers through far-sighted partnerships between the public and private sectors and a collective commitment to transform the construction industry. 

A working partnership is already up and running and achieving results. Last year the Construction Industry Development Board – cidb – signed an agreement with the Jobs Fund and the leading black-owned infrastructure company, Concor, to support SMEs and individuals who seek to gain a foothold in the sector. 

The aim of the tripartite initiative by the cidb, the Jobs Fund and Concor  is to develop 195 small and medium enterprises, create 1 950 new, permanent jobs and train 2 050 beneficiaries over a three-year period. Jobs are to be created across the spectrum of construction activities – in plumbing, in building, in engineering, quantity surveying and project management. 

 Concor Construction, part of the Southern Palace Group, acts as the implementing agent to identify emerging enterprises who are well-placed to benefit from the initiative, to assist with training and mentoring and to monitor their progress. 

 It was quite clear from the outset that the biggest impediments to the growth of aspiring small ventures are access to capital and market opportunities as well as a lack of technical skills. Thus, the initiative focused on technical skills which will lead to improvements in the cidb gradings of participants and this will, in turn, enable them to participate in larger projects in the future. The aim is to mature small businesses into well-established companies that could operate and thrive in the mainstream economy. 

The participants in the initial stage of the partnership are primarily from Limpopo, Mpumalanga, the Eastern Cape and Gauteng with some experience in civil contracting for the building of schools, residential and commercial developments. The project includes a thorough analysis of their business skills to identify areas of strength, but also the needs for organisational reconfiguration, empowerment, and the skills development of employees. 

 Most of the initial targets have already been exceeded with Concor reporting that it accepted nine SMEs in the first six months of the programme and was on track to exceed the objective to create 40 jobs and train a further 40 beneficiaries. 

This is a three-year programme which will gather momentum as it reaches maturity and garners the support from the broader industry. Covid-19 may slow down this momentum over the short term but the national focus on infrastructure and construction as the driver of the post-pandemic recovery will ensure this initiative will survive and thrive. 

 The cidb is a natural participant in this project because of its pivotal role in the construction industry and its proven track record of supporting emerging businesses through regulation and access to opportunities. 

 We have also, through the years, built strong relationships with established players in the construction and engineering sectors and have long been involved in initiatives to link large-tier companies with black-owned enterprises, especially those led by women and the youth. 

 There is a growing recognition of the importance to sustain the growth of SMEs and develop them into sustainable businesses. They are the productive drivers of inclusive economic growth and they will continue to take root in unsaturated sectors of the economy. 

 Moreover, they play a vital role in technical innovation and the utilisation of local resources. This can be a potential gamechanger to determine the post-Covid-19 trajectory of the South African economy. 

 It will lead to increased participation of emerging companies in the 62 vital infrastructure projects that have already been identified and are expected to attract more than R360bn in investment. These projects are designed to unlock infrastructure investment in areas in which the cidb and its partners have considerable expertise such as transport, water and sanitation and human settlements. 

The cidb will continue to support this as a priority initiative. This will, no doubt, be a valuable contribution to our strategic objectives to grow skills in the industry, improve access to opportunities and create partnerships that will contribute to the transformation of the construction sector. 

 Gamede is the CEO of the Construction Industry Development Board. 

 

Stagnant Websites Are Weapons Of Self-Destruction

It is time the construction industry realised that proper marketing holds the key to growth and survival – particularly in the current economic climate, says Jan de Beer, professional writer and publicity consultant.

De Beer has extensive experience in journalism and has consulted on media matters to dozens of construction and engineering companies and associations in a long career, including MBA, The Concrete Institute, Castrol, SA Paint Manufacturing Association, KBAC Flooring, Gauteng Piling, Chryso SA, and Concrete Society of Southern Africa.

He says digital marketing has become a vital tool for companies, particularly as there are now few print journals in circulation. “Websites are vital to promote a company’s work and acquire more clients. An impressive, up-to-date website reassures prospective clients that a company is doing well and busy – but what does a website with a last posting of company news done, say, in 2012, tell you? It rings alarms bells indicating, for example, that the company lacks professionalism, has not had news to be proud of for years, and may well be on its last legs.”

He adds: “A website allowed to languish becomes a weapon of destruction. How are visitors to a website to know that ancient facts about the company are still relevant? If a website is not cared for, it is far better to simply remove it to prevent it driving potential business away.”

That “News” section – with news (blogs) professionally written and illustrated – on a company’s website is a powerful and affordable and yet often totally neglected aspect of marketing. Blogs should be updated once or least twice a month by a competent writer ideally working in liaison with a website administrator who can keep tabs on the performance and readership of a company’s website. “Companies simply have to ensure that their latest news get posted regularly – irrespective who handles the task: the receptionist, PA, or a professional web administrator.”

De Beer says Google also focuses on quality of the content on a website. Higher scoring is attributed to good copy and relevant titles, for example, and a regularly updated site will be ranked more prominently to assist the site owner achieve a spike in traffic.

News to post on the company website could range from a new product, new staff member, projects landed, or simply authoritative, informative copy along generic lines on the type of product offered by the company. “If you are selling a quality range of paint brush, for example, tell your website visitor what to look for in any paint brush. Subtle marketing can achieve remarkable results.

“Owners of websites who fear that they may struggle to find time to provide content for news blogs, should realise that an experienced writer could make their task much easier. He or she could simply work via emailed mini-questionnaires regarding the facts of a selected project or product, a relevant brochure to draw information from, or personal research,” De Beer adds.

www.jandebeer.co.za

 

Big boost for the production of engineering students

The decision to establish two new engineering degree programmes at the University of Zululand (UNIZULU) will greatly contribute to the success of the country’s efforts to prioritise infrastructure development as the driving force for economic recovery. 

 Mr Cyril Gamede, the Chief Executive Officer of the Construction Industry Development Board, says the two new programmes will bolster the output of engineering graduates in the country and provide opportunities for young people who want to make a career in the engineering and construction sectors. 

 “This is the culmination of a planning process that started nearly a decade ago,” says Mr Gamede who served as Chairperson of the UNIZULU Council from 2015 to 2017. “We recognised the need to graduate more engineers in South Africa in order to meet the needs of our developing economy. A concept was born to develop engineering programmes from historically black universities with UNIZULU as a test case. The new engineering programmes in historically disadvantaged universities will produce young professionals that can lead the country’s future investment in construction and infrastructure.” 

 UNIZULU Vice Chancellor, Professor Xoliswa Mtose says that the University will however require large scale investment in the development of the physical and laboratory infrastructure in the next ten years, to ensure that the offering of engineering programmes is a success.  

“Developing such infrastructure requires the adoption of an integrated district infrastructure development model which creates interdependencies and strong collaboration between UNIZULU, the Department of Higher Education and Training, the Department of Science and Technology, uMhlathuze Municipality, the KwaZulu-Natal Provincial Department of Economic Development, Tourism and Environmental Affairs, the Department of Works and Infrastructure, and private industries in Richards Bay.” 

From 2021 UNIZULU will offer Bachelor degree programmes in Mechanical Engineering and Electrical Engineering at its Richards Bay Campus. The closing date for applications is 21 January 2021 and prospective students will require an NSC qualification with Maths and Physics at level 5 and English at level 4. 

 “The construction sector is pivotal to the implementation of the Economic Recovery and Reconstruction Programme announced by President Cyril Ramaphosa,” Mr Gamede says. “Infrastructure investment projects to a value of more than R360bn have been approved covering initiatives in the fields of transport, water and sanitation, energy and human settlements. 

“These projects will drive economic activity and job creation in South Africa over the next decade. We, therefore, have to ensure that we produce a sufficient number of highly-skilled professionals who can lead these projects and deliver successfully on the expectations,” says Mr Gamede. 

 UNIZULU has steadily built its reputation as a centre of higher learning but this will be the first time that it offers graduate programmes in engineering. The process was conceptualised and led by Mr Gamede during his term at the helm of the UNIZULU Council.  The external team consisted of Mr TC Madikane and Prof Downing from UCT. An internal team of dedicated staff under the leadership of the Vice Chancellor Mtose made this project a success under very challenging conditions.  

The Minister of Higher Education and Training, Dr Nzimande, gave full support to this programme and provided future infrastructure funding for the faculty. Mr Gamede’s dream as the then Chairperson was to also see a faculty of medicine at UNIZULU. That will be a dream deferred.  

“There are countless young South Africans, especially in rural areas, who have the talent and ambition to follow careers in the construction and engineering sector but who are being denied because of limited opportunities. This initiative will provide opportunities for young people in the nearby areas to realise their professional dreams without travelling long distances to unfamiliar environments. This will also hopefully reduce the stress in students and hopefully improve the pass rate. 

“These new programmes will now expand opportunities at a vibrant academic institution and our entire country will soon reap the benefits,” says Mr Gamede, who is the outgoing President of the Engineering Council of South Africa after two terms of four years each. 

According to Professor Mtose, large scale investment in the development of the physical and laboratory infrastructure will ensure that land is allocated to develop the physical infrastructure.  Such infrastructure will include roads, bulk services, and the science and technology laboratory for the University.   

The infrastructure will also be used by local and provincial government agencies, the Richards Bay Industrial Development Zone, and local firms to generate research and development, and innovation solutions for economic development of the region. 

Are SMEs ready for SA’s economic rebound?

The Covid-19 pandemic and the resulting global recession handed a severe blow to South African Small to Medium Businesses (SMEs). According to a Mckinsey SME Financial Pulse survey published in July, 70% of SMEs were already cutting back on expenditure and retrenching staff. By the end of the second quarter, StatsSA reported 2.2 million job losses.

Trevor Gosling, Co-founder and CEO of Lulalend, says that within the SME sector a number of key industries were severely hit by the national lockdown, mainly; travel, hospitality, offline (non-essential) retail, consumer goods manufacturing and construction.

Gosling points out that SMEs saw a significant drop in sales revenue across all sectors. “Based on our SME survey data collected in July, 94% of businesses had suffered more than a 50% drop in monthly turnover, with 75% of our clients indicating that they had seen more than a  75% drop in revenue.”

In addition, during the peak of the lockdown, approximately 90% of Lulalend’s customers indicated that they only had a one-month cash runway.

“Most SMEs don’t have large reserves of funding to see them through extended periods of low turnover and cash flow. Without the necessary funds, many businesses have struggled to meet their payment obligations, including staff payroll, rent, essential support services, as well as inventory and supply chain payments,” Gosling adds.

At the onset of the pandemic, the government launched a number of relief funds with the intention to support SMEs with access to capital during the period when economic activity was negatively affected by Covid-19. But with more applications for relief than funding available, or slow approvals of applications, many businesses have been left in a precarious financial position.

Gosling explains that low or paused trading and limited access to funding over the lockdown period had a compounding effect on many businesses. In addition, many SMEs are now gearing up for the peak summer trading period. “Now more than ever, this is the time when a healthy cash flow is vital to be in a strong position to grow. Significantly reduced liquidity impacts SMEs’ ability to service existing debts and plan for growth.”

 In a report published by Deloitte on the impact of Covid-19 in SA, it noted that despite the negative impact on small business, there has been an increase in social cohesion and support for local businesses emerging from the shutdown.

This is something that Lulalend has seen across its customer base. Gosling says that the easing of lockdown regulations has contributed to a significant increase in SME confidence and business health, particularly in the retail and manufacturing sectors.

As the economy starts to recover and consumer demand starts to increase ahead of the holidays, Gosling explains that it is important for business owners to understand what their cash flow looks like over the next three to six months, and take action to strengthen it.

“Does your business have enough working capital to meet a backlog of orders or a surge in demand during the peak trading season? Understanding this and creating some predictability in cash flow allows an SME to plan ahead and invest more accurately for the future,” he adds.

Gosling says that having a healthy cash flow is critical for SMEs to take advantage of growth opportunities during this time. “A business needs to be able to make those upfront payments for inventory, fund marketing campaigns or invest in developing e-commerce capabilities’’.

An acceleration in tech development and changing customer behaviour has led to more businesses’ models shifting online. “The boom in e-commerce and online shopping that occurred during the pandemic is here to stay for the long-term. With businesses responding to this change, we have seen a 20% increase in the number of applications coming from online retailers,” Gosling points out.

There is tremendous value for businesses in going online. Across almost all sectors, SMEs who integrate digital technology into their operating models are more likely to grow, reach new audiences, increase sales and increase efficiencies.

While many businesses would normally go the traditional lending route to access working capital, Gosling says that digital lending platforms have been able to adapt quickly to the changing landscape, and respond to the urgent need to get funding in the hands of cash strapped SMEs.

“Fintech companies, like Lulalend, have developed advanced digital systems that are able to assess the true creditworthiness of borrowers and provide the appropriate loan instruments a lot faster and more accurately than the large banks, who have not amended their lending policies to enable more SMEs to access funding,” he explains.

“With the uncertainty of the long-term impact of the pandemic and recession, business owners need to be cautious and have contingencies in place, including building up their cash reserves to improve their liquidity,” Gosling says.

Recognising the importance to SMEs of access to cash during this period, Lulalend is providing its customers with a payment holiday that would allow them to access vital working capital at no cost over the peak season. Any business that takes out funding before the end of November will only have to start repaying from 11th January 2021.