UK, going forward in confidence

Here, Guy Edwards, CEO of Aggregate Industries, the UK subsidiary of Lafarge Holcim, advises on how the business continues to lead with confidence during this unprecedented time.

 
What was the business impact of COVID-19 and what’s your outlook for the UK?

As with the wider global construction market, it has certainly proven a challenging time for Aggregate Industries as we have sought to navigate the industry-wide disruption caused by a nationwide lockdown. However, during this time we have remained resilient and positive, ensuring we have continued to play a key role in helping to keep Britain running and thus support the government’s efforts to mitigate the impact of Covid-19 on the economy.

We were, for example, part of one of the UK’s largest infrastructure projects - Highways England’s A14 Cambridge to Huntingdon Road Improvement Scheme - which was opened eight months ahead of the official opening date on 5th May 2020. At a time when the pandemic was in full force this involved the adoption of a myriad of stringent measures in line with social guidelines, but through an incredible amount of planning and the sheer hard work of a dedicated team we were able to meet all requirements swiftly and safely.  

We also recently completed the surfacing works on the £164m M23 smart motorway project ahead of schedule - laying an enormous 52,000 tonnes of asphalt in just one month and breaking industry records. In this way, even in a difficult market we have managed to maintain our best-in-class capabilities and, in turn, deliver pockets of growth.

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Furthermore, Aggregate Industries has been incredibly proud to be involved in several major NHS projects supporting the development of critical emergency hospital facilities for coronavirus patients across the UK throughout the pandemic. This had included the construction of crucial facilities in London, Glasgow, North Wales and Manchester – in some cases of which we have donated part of the construction materials requirement.

Looking ahead, for us it’s about remaining optimistic, progressive and continuing to play our role in supporting the industry as it continues to adjust to what remains a fast-moving playing field. This will, of course, include resuming works in the numerous major UK infrastructure projects, all while adopting the same pioneering approach we have taken to remaining ‘COVID-Secure’. More than this though, we will continue to invest heavily in honing our future capabilities - with continued focus on sustainability and innovation. As a business which aims to be intrinsically sustainable, we are committed to supporting the UK's decarbonisation through our business practices and the products and services we deliver.

This is seen in a continual roll out of low carbon products and solutions such as ECOPact ( concrete) Lytag (Lightweight Aggregate), SutainaCem, Superlow asphalt along with the development of ground-breaking new construction practices. For example, our contracting division recently completed a low rolling resistance asphalt trial that helps reduce vehicle fuel consumption and emissions, while we’re currently planning a multi-million pound project at our main UK cement plant to reduce emissions.

Conversely, as part of our Innovation Strategy, for us it’s about thinking beyond products and focusing on potential digital applications which could bring benefits to our customers and also improvements to our own operations. Our launch of Loop, a paperless ticketing system, has accelerated during the crisis further improving safety.We have also recently integrated state-of-the-art Automated Intelligent Testing (AIT) within much of our contracting equipment, while we are using drones in many of our operations.This is a customer focussed and led approach.

 

“During this time we have remained resilient and positive, ensuring we have continued to play a key role in helping to keep Britain running.”

Guy Edwards, CEO Aggregate Industries
 

How have you managed to keep employees safe in our operations during the health crisis?

At Aggregate Industries we pride ourselves on our commitment to ensuring the health and wellbeing of our staff, so it goes without saying that we have left no stone unturned when it comes to keeping employees safe during this time. At the heart of this, we have introduced a five point plan which offers a holistic framework designed to keep our staff safe throughout this period - covering social distancing, hygiene, governance, signage and work planning.

Key measures within this include staggered start and break times, restricted site access and maximum occupancy levels, all in the aim of minimising the risk of contact. All sites are fully facilitated with sanitary stations, along with signage carefully guiding employees on the safety precautions in place. We also have an appointed Coronavirus Warden on each site, whereby a key employee will assume the role of the main point of contact for enquiries or support needed in relation to safety measures. In turn, our specialist Business Resilience Team continues to constantly review government advice, with any additional measures quickly adopted to make sure we keep everyone working with and for us, protected at all times.

Our goal is to build a healthier world. What contribution has AI made in the UK?

Fundamentally, we remain committed to curating a greater health and safety culture within our own team, one which places equal onus on physical and mental wellbeing. As such, in 2014 we introduced Healthy You, an ongoing initiative geared towards helping establish better wellbeing amongst our employees through various awareness campaigns, talks and specialist training.

Since its inception the programme has had a huge impact; according to our most recent data the number of different occasions of absence related to mental health issues alone at the business has decreased by 17 per cent. More so, from talking and engaging regularly with employees, what’s great is that there seems to be more of a sense of openness attached to personal health, both physically and mentally, and a willingness to talk about it.

We have also trained and deployed a number of Mental Health First Aiders across our whole business. On a wider level, our focus remains on helping to revolutionise the sustainability of modern construction practice by providing the products, capabilities and services needed to enable reduced environmental impact and create a brighter future for all.

How do you see the structural investments & the acceleration of £5bn of infrastructure projects, including hospital maintenance works and a school building programme?

This has certainly come as welcome news for the construction industry and is a hugely encouraging indication of the government’s commitment to continue to lead on delivering world-class infrastructure in a post-Coronavirus world. However, if we are to take full stock of the opportunity this presents, it is important that we continue to remain future-focused and adapt in line with the changing landscape.

After all, despite the hiatus coerced by the pandemic, it is important to remember that our industry is changing and the emerging new construction world will see the increasing use of digitisation, automation and artificial intelligence effectively transforming the way the industry operates and does business. At Aggregate Industries, our remit is to provide the solution, product, capabilities and support needed in this transition by continuing to lead the construction materials category with confidence.

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NHS Nightingale Hospital