Being served with a Section 60 Notice can be a very costly scenario for many demolition and construction contractors. However, if you get environmental monitoring wrong, you run the risk of facing this outcome and the associated costs.
Here, Richard Booth, Environmental Monitoring Manager at KP Monitoring, draws on over a decade of experience to outline four of the most common mistakes project managers make when carrying out environmental monitoring on the worksite.
Viewing monitoring as a box-ticking exercise
Monitoring is often a requirement of the local authority, so people begin with the mindset that this is an inconvenience that they are being forced to comply with. While treating monitoring as a box-ticking exercise is not a cardinal sin, it helps if the client understands the fundamental reasons for carrying out monitoring properly.
Firstly, there is a significant commercial risk if you do not monitor properly. If your works generate complaints to the council, you can be quickly served with a Section 60 Notice forcing you to stop work until the problems are addressed. Every day work has stopped you are losing a lot of money – significantly more than the price of an affordable monitoring service from a quality provider. In addition to this immediate cost, there is the reputational damage to be taken into consideration.
Secondly, and I would argue more importantly, the main reason to carry out monitoring, and to do it correctly, is that it is simply the considerate thing to do. Everyone has the right to a clean and healthy living and working environment. Do you really want to be responsible for causing stress to local residents because you are making too much noise, or causing air pollution near the local school? Do you want to be wasting time and money dealing with those disgruntled neighbours and their complaints?
Seeing the bigger picture and understanding why environmental monitoring is important is the first step and should hopefully make you less likely to make some of the common mistakes below.
Most monitoring packages will involve automatic alerts, via SMS or email, when a parameter has been breached. Unfortunately, many clients wrongly see the alerts as a form of punishment when they are intended to inform.
For example, if you are alerted that vibration generated by your site has exceeded a limit of 1mm/s, you are not going to bring somebody’s house down. However, this alert informs you that you are now in the area where you are likely to start generating complaints from residential properties. There are situations where you might not be able to change what you are doing, but it is still useful to know what is going on. In this scenario, you can always have a chat with the local authority and determine the best way to continue without having too much of a negative impact on residents nearby. It is also worth noting that people are far more tolerant of noise and vibration if they are aware it is happening in advance, so increased correspondence with the local area may avoid potential complaints.
In some scenarios, someone on site decides to interfere with the equipment to avoid receiving alerts. Examples include contractors putting plastic bags over dust monitors, or workers on site cutting the cables next to a monitor when they know they will be breaking concrete. If you understand that alerts are meant to inform and not punish, it is easier to exercise courtesy and deal with the situations above without damaging equipment or running the risk of generating complaints. Ultimately, alerts are there to ensure that you are completing your works to Best Practicable Means and with the least impact on the surrounding environment.
Monitors in the wrong place
You know you need monitors, but where do they go? If you’re working with professionals, and you care about the impact of your project on the surrounding environment, you need to ensure any monitors are deployed in a sensible location. I’ve encountered many situations where monitors have been incorrectly installed, with dust monitors placed inside a building for example. In case you’re wondering, dust monitors should almost always be outside and above any hoarding line to measure dust escaping a site. If in London, it typically needs to transect a site west-southwest, because that is the predominant direction of the prevailing wind.
It is not always possible to locate monitors in the ideal position. You need to balance the need for an optimal monitoring position with what is practical for a particular site, and a good monitoring services provider should be able to advise accordingly. For example, noise monitors are most effective if placed near to the windows of a neighbouring resident, but in practice, the neighbours won’t want microphones attached to their property. Locating noise monitors as close as possible to sensitive receivers ensures that you are measuring the potential impact on that receiver.
Too few monitors
A similar and more common mistake is having too few monitors to do an adequate job. Some monitoring services will try and undercut the competition by offering to do a job with a smaller number of monitors, where we know that more monitors are necessary to do the job properly.
For example, to return to the dust monitoring scenario described above, you typically need two monitors for the purpose of comparison. With one monitor, you could be fooled into thinking that dust from an external source, such as particles carried from the Sahara, was in fact dust from your project, a scenario that has actually happened on a number of occasions! With two monitors strategically located at different positions relative to the site, you can compare both to determine who or what is responsible for elevated levels.
As with the location of the monitors, a monitoring provider would advise on how many monitors would be ideal, but of course, it is ultimately up to the client. If the client wants fewer monitors then that is their choice, but a responsible provider will advise them so they understand the risks.
Misunderstanding monitoring trigger levels
You need to know and understand what parameters you are monitoring to and why. For example, let’s say you are carrying out vibration monitoring to a residential property and decide to measure to 5mm/s. We know that when you exceed 1mm/s, you are likely to generate complaints. When the level reaches 12.5mm/s, we are getting close to the level where cosmetic damage to buildings needs to be considered.
If we wanted to measure to avoid complaints, we would set the parameters to 1mm/s, while if we were only worried about cosmetic damage, we would set alerts to say 10mm/s. Anything in between is potentially pointless and not going to provide any meaningful information.
Similarly, the requirements will be different in different areas. For example, 5mm/s may be tolerable for commercial properties but not residential, yet a cheaper provider might decide to monitor only to 5mm/s in a residential area, simply because they did not understand what they were monitoring for.
Conclusion: do it right
Monitoring should not be seen as an inconvenient box-ticking exercise, but is instead an important way of ensuring demolition and construction works do not negatively impact surrounding residents or the environment. If you fail to monitor properly, you risk causing unnecessary stress and inconvenience for people in the local area as well as facing a Section 60 Notice and its resulting commercial implications. Choosing to monitor your project correctly with a professional company ensures that you can avoid these pitfalls.
KP Monitoring covers every type of environmental monitoring need, including noise, vibration, dust, pollutants and structural monitoring. Find out more by visiting kpacoustics.com or contact our team on +44 (0)208 222 8778 | firstname.lastname@example.org