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The Week That Was – 3 September 2021

03 September 2021. Published by Ben Goodier, Partner and Sarah O'Callaghan, Senior Associate

Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

Welcome to The Week That Was, a round-up of key events in the construction sector over the last seven days.

RIBA announces South West award winners 2021

RIBA has announced the winners of the 2021 RIBA architectural awards for the South West.  Winners include Ney & Partners and William Matthews Associates, who designed the new footbridge at Tintagel Castle, and Grimshaw, who have repurposed a former industrial building into Bath Spa University's new schools of art and design.  

RIBA has also specially recognised four projects for their "excellence in sustainability, exemplary approach to conservation, inspirational Project Architect or design quality at a small scale".  Winners in this category include The Story of Gardening, by Stonewood Design, Mark Thomas Architects and Henry Fagan Engineering, and Windward House, an eighteenth century farmhouse transformed by Alison Brooks Architects.

Please click here to read more about the award winners. 

Contractor fined £40,000 following breach of duties

Peter Duffy Ltd, a West Yorkshire-based contractor, has been fined £40,000 by Leeds Magistrates Court for breaching the Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974, after seven of its employees were diagnosed with Hand-arm Vibration Syndrome.  The medical condition, also known as white finger, was diagnosed by a new healthcare provider brought in by Peter Duffy Ltd in 2016.  

The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) said that the company had provided inadequate health surveillance prior to 2016, which constituted a breach of the company's duties towards its employees.  The HSE inspector noted that companies must undertake "suitable and sufficient risk assessment" to identify the levels of vibration that employees are subject to, and put in place "appropriate control measures" to protect workers.

For more information, please click here

Civil firms in material supply jams

A new survey commissioned by the Civil Engineering Contracts Association (CECA) has unveiled a developing crisis in the availability of material supplies.  The issues range from limited availability of skilled operatives to increasing costs and tender prices.  

CECA chief executive has stated that the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and Brexit are still being felt by the industry, with poll results showing up to 73% of firms experiencing supply chain problems.  Whilst it is positive that the industry is displaying continued growth, the government is being called on to identify practical solutions to this situation.  

If the concerns are not remedied in the immediate future, the recent backlog may threaten the UK's already vulnerable economic recovery.  

To see the full article, please click here.

Clarity on liquidated damages

In the recent case of Triple Point Technology Inc v PTT Public Company Ltd [2021] the Supreme Court affirmed that if a contract is terminated prior to practical completion, the contractual claim for liquidated damages is not lost.  Despite the claim stemming from the IT sector, the principles transfer to the use of liquidated damages in construction contracts.  In this case it was held that the termination date becomes the end date for which liquidated damages can be claimed up to.  Following the date of termination the employer can instead bring a claim for general damages.  

This decision was quickly followed by the Technology and Construction Court in Eco World v Dobler UK Ltd [2021].  This case focuses on the application of a liquidated damages clause where partial possession has been taken.  This case also questions whether a liquidated damages clause would limit the contractor's liability for delay damages, regardless of the clause's enforceability.  It was held that the liquidated damages clause was enforceable and the defendant was held liable for the liquidated damages clauses on the whole of the works until practical completion.  

These recent decisions highlight how clear express contractual terms are required for reducing contractors liability following partial possession, as well as how beneficial negotiating clear caps on liability is for contractors. 

To read the full article click here.

Experts encourage flexible working to ease gender gap

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic experts have been debating the benefits of flexible working and whether such flexibility is in line with the nature of construction work. It is thought that if flexible working can be incorporated into the industry, it may provide some relief from the sector's current gender imbalance and long facing skills drought. 

A multi-year Build UK study has been carried out on the realities of flexible working, particular for onsite employees.  The results were mostly positive and found that flexible working encouraged greater team work, increased morale and commitment and resulted in projects being finished to a higher quality and ahead of schedule.  

One pitfall which was discovered was that if women are more likely to work remotely, they may inadvertently be excluded from key onsite decisions.  However, this is something which can be actively managed and is offset by the many benefits in respect of mental health and workforce diversity in the construction industry.  

To view the full article, please click here.

Thank you to Tom Westford and Lowri Evans for contributing to this week's edition.