By Jeffrey Plummer

Windows have long been a point of weakness for energy efficiency in commercial buildings, but in an age when senseless bombings, natural disasters and crime combine to pose an ever-increasing risk to people and property, facility managers and builders face a host of new window vulnerabilities to consider. An often overlooked solution to help mitigate these threats is window film.

Window films, also called solar control films, can mitigate the sun’s damaging rays without interfering with building aesthetics. The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that one-third of a building’s cooling load is from solar heat gain through windows, and nearly 75 percent of existing windows are not energy efficient. Window film can block up to 75 percent of solar heat gain through glass. While many variables impact energy savings – including the property’s climate zone location and other building envelope materials – energy saving window films can achieve as much as 15 percent energy savings annually with improved HVAC efficiency and reduced carbon emissions. It is not unusual for the film to pay for itself in savings within three years of application. Not only is the film beneficial for the property, it can also help block up to 99 percent of UV radiation that contributes to damage to furniture, carpets, woodwork, and occupying tenants.

Safety window films can help reduce property loss and damage in the event of a burglary attempt by making it far more difficult for criminals to penetrate the building through glass doors and windows. When windows have a layer of safety film protection, they will likely break upon impact but the film helps holds the broken glass in the frame; making it much tougher for an intruder to gain access. While not fail-safe, the difficulty in breaking through the filmed glass will often lead an intruder to give up on his efforts and flee the scene empty-handed.

Safety film is a more permanent, passive protection that does not need to be installed prior to an oncoming storm. It provides a level of protection 24 hours a day even to windows that are difficult to protect with other mitigation methods such as shudders, such as is the case in many large commercial properties.

Storms and natural disasters are difficult to predict and impossible to prevent and can cause significant damage to commercial property. Objects carried in devastating storm winds are often traveling at 120 to 175 mph. When even small objects, like pieces of wood, rocks or sea shells, get transported toward glass windows or large patio doors at these speeds, they can break the glass with relative ease. Safety window films not only offer a measure of mitigation from the hazards of flying glass fragments which can cause occupant injuries, they also help prevent wind, rain and other debris from causing severe internal property damage.

Jeffery Plummer is the senior vice president of sales, marketing and distribution for Madico Window Films based in St. Petersburg, Florida. He can be reached at:

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By Thomas Carroll

Construction is inherently a risky business regardless of the size of your building operation. In the construction industry, 13 workers for every 100,000 are killed during the course of their work, compared to the mortality rate of five per 100,000 across all sectors. With this heightened level of risk, it is essential that thorough health and safety training be a core principle of every building firm, no matter how big or small. From back pain to cement burns and asbestos exposure to hand-arm vibration syndrome, the potential health risks of working in the construction trade are plentiful, which is why health and safety training is essential before the work begins.

The potential risks and hazards – The construction industry is unrivalled in the number of potential risks workers face on a day-to-day basis. Almost every job they undertake harbours an element of risk. These potential risks include:

  • An accident with a vehicle
  • A fall from height
  • Receiving an electric shock
  • Exposure to asbestos
  • Handling heavy materials
  • Being struck by a falling object
  • Hearing loss from persistent loud noises
  • Contact with dangerous substances

What are your legal obligations? – By law, smaller building firms are required to fulfil a number of obligations:

  • Manage hazards and risks: any work undertaken should be carefully planned beforehand and managed and monitored whilst in progress to ensure it is being carried out safely and with no risk to the health of workers.
  • Train and inform your workforce: provide workers with the information and health and safety training they need to perform all tasks safely.
  • Work with the client: working closely with the client or home occupier to ensure the work is carried out safely and that both party’s legal responsibilities are met.
  • On-site Health and Safety Management  It is the responsibility of the on site manager, with the help of their project supervisors, to protect the health and safety of all those working on a project. This can be achieved by:
  • Identifying and avoiding any unnecessary risks,
  • Evaluating those risks which are inherent in the work,
  • Combating and nullifying risks as much as possible,
  • Implementing measures to protect workers,
  • Establishing effective and universal working practices,
  • Creating standardised procedures in the event of an emergency,
  • Informing workers how to control and minimize risk, and
  • Developing checks and measures to ensure workers are meeting the legal requirements.

Most importantly, it is essential that small building firms only accept work that they can perform safely. If you do not have the required health and safety competencies, then rather than take the risk, concentrate on those jobs you can perform safely.

Thomas Carroll is one of the UK’s leading providers of health and safety training for those working across a broad range of industries. For more information, email  

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By Kevin Kerridge

No matter what the project, as a professional in the construction industry, you understand that every project has unique challenges and risks. One mistake, miscommunication or misinterpretation can cause costly delays, accidents or even injuries. The good news is that the right insurance coverage can help construction professionals mitigate these risks and avoid costly and time-consuming lawsuits, even if they are frivolous. Proper coverage allows professionals in the construction industry to focus on what is most important: building structures, and their businesses. Although professional liability and general liability insurance are not a 100 percent safeguard against risk, having one or both of these types of policies can help provide you peace of mind. Below are three scenarios that, regardless of fault, can result in damaging lawsuits:

  • Misinterpretation of renderings: You’re nearing the final stage of completing a job with a challenging client – you know the one we’re talking about – and you’re just waiting on a final piece from one of your suppliers. Your client has unique tastes and has requested a custom, special order item, which you’ve assured them can be done. Unfortunately, your supplier misinterprets your request and delivers a costly item that will not work with your plans. In turn, your angry client sues both of you for professional negligence and demands that you reimburse him for lost time. You do not believe this is your fault, but you have been named in the lawsuit and must appear in court. In this instance, customized professional liability insurance, or errors and omissions insurance, can help protect you. Some policies may even appoint or help to pay for an attorney.
  • Personal injury: One of your employees is on a job site. He talks to the contractor about one of your mutual clients in a false and unflattering way. The client learns of this discussion and sues for slander. General liability insurance can help to cover the subsequent claim and even pay for an attorney to defend you if necessary. With the right policy, you’ll be protected against covered third-party claims for this type of damage.
  • Protecting home base: Over Labor Day weekend, you get the unfortunate news that there’s been a fire at your office, and there’s significant damage to your work space. You are forced to close during repairs, resulting in a high cost to you and your clients, both in valuable time on their construction schedules and in lost revenue. Not to mention you’re facing out of pocket expenses for repairs and new equipment. Property damage insurance generally covers first-party property damage. These policies can insure an office space against many disasters and can also provide business interruption compensation and lost income protection when it’s needed most.

Although professional liability and general liability insurance are no guarantee that you’ll never face a challenge, it does help offer peace of mind that, in the event you are faced with an unfortunate circumstance, you’ll be protected.

Kevin Kerridge leads the Hiscox Small Business Insurance unit for U.S. small business customers. Hiscox USA is the first United States insurer to enable small businesses to purchase insurance directly and online in real time. Self-employed professionals in the architecture and engineering industries can purchase insurance tailored to the specific risks of their industry to help protect themselves against potential claims and lawsuits, even if they are unwarranted.

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By Frank Greene

The dramatic reduction in crime and consequent public perception of safety means that most American cities are now seen as desirable places to visit, live and work.  Public safety and economic vitality are fundamental elements of sustainable development, pointing the way to increased prosperity and opportunity. Most discussions of a greener, greater America have focused on the classic environmental concerns of resources, energy consumption, animal habitat, and pollution, treating the justice system as a legal abstraction silos away from the noble work of saving the planet.

The justice system was not designed: it emerged from hundreds of years of interactions between law and disorder, with new laws being created to address new conditions, with new precedents and policies arising as necessary.  With the Judiciary a separate branch of government from the Executive responsible for the police, jails, and prisons, the system that we know exhibits many of the features of a democracy — inefficient, contradictory, but well-intentioned. A systems approach to justice links the activities of police, judges and corrections professionals into a cooperative effort to reduce costs, increase public safety, and to improve outcomes for those who come into contact with the justice system. This linkage is driven by a vision and mission statement that guides the operations of the justice system.

This vision should be inspired by the goal of a greener, greater community/city, viewing the offender as a resource to be recycled and returned to society better equipped to live a productive life. Sustainable public buildings are emblems of a community’s commitment to its future: low cost to operate, pleasant places to visit, work, or even live, and nurturing to the human spirit. The LEED rating system identifies them to the staff and taxpayers as investments in a sustainable society, helping to “rebrand” the justice system as “green” if operations are aligned with sustainable principles.

A LEED Gold justice building can be a good neighbor with benefits that maximize the value of this investment in the sustainability of a community. Perceptions of fairness for families, as well as offenders, after court proceedings are much more influenced by how they were treated than by the verdict of guilty or innocent. The people who come to the courthouse seeking justice are most often those who least benefit from our society — low income, education, literacy, job skills, and therefore opportunity. After the experience of courteous, professional, respectful police, courts staff, and detention officers, working in partnership with social services providers, attitudes of hostility and alienation can transform to acceptance of responsibility and commitment to the work of change, fueled by hope and sense of possibility.

New sustainable police stations, courthouses, and even jails and prisons can communicate this renewal of mission for the Justice System. Open, transparent entrances and public lobbies with robust but unobtrusive security, access to information, and ease of use serves the public well and contributes to the perception of the system as caring and effective. Daylight, views to nature, and healthful environments illuminate the path to justice.

Frank Greene, FAIA, is a principal of CGLRicciGreene. As lead designer and as design collaborator on prominent courthouses, including numerous GSA Design Excellence projects, his work has garnered AIA and GSA Design Awards, LEED certification, and publication in architectural press. 

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By Jonathan Squires

The first half of 2013 brought some positive news to new home builders, Standard and Poor's Real Estate Finance Group reports. The combination of low mortgage rates and falling price levels in recent months have caused a jump in the average price of home builder sales. Consumers have a limited pool of existing homes for consideration, since investors scooped up large numbers of distressed property for rental conversion during the economic downturn.

As buyers venture into the new home construction market, they are looking for affordable, eco-friendly homes. A 2013 survey by found 85 percent surveyed would like to own an eco-friendly home. Along with affordability, builders should expect increased consumer interest in building materials that promote sustainability and conserve energy for the community to increase. In addition to adding homes to the market with built-in sustainable features, environmentally-conscious consumers today demand builders participate in recycling and energy management practices.

Building from Trash

It is easier to incorporate recycling programs into new construction projects today than in past decades. National and local conservation efforts continue to introduce new incentives and programs to support consumers and commercial enterprises. For example, the city of Houston and the Building Materials Reuse Warehouse partnered to encourage participation in the 2013 National Reuse Contest Building Competition, sponsored by The Reuse People. Entrants are challenged with building a house primarily using recycled materials. Donations of walls, studs, insulation, and other materials made from metal, timber and recycled masonry, that would otherwise find their way into local landfills, are donated and stored at the warehouse. Builders participating by donating construction waste reduce disposal volume and encourage community involvement.

Conserving Energy and Water Techniques

One of the foundational elements in a green home is incorporating design features and appliances that save water and energy after occupation. Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems, solar panels, energy saving lighting, and A-rated or air-cooled appliances provides excellent conservation tools for new homeowners. Other features include rainfall collection systems, tankless water heaters, dual-flush toilets, water-saving faucets and fixtures, and low-maintenance, drought-resistant landscaping.

Harnessing Wind Power

According to, people are consciously making home-buying decisions that promote sustainable living through innovative solutions. Residential wind turbines are becoming more popular, as environmentally-conscious homeowners attempt to reduce their carbon footprint while saving money. While not every residential development is appropriate for turbine installation, some communities embrace forward-thinking neighborhood designs. Small wind turbine systems lower electric power bills by 50-90 percent and provide uninterrupted power supply during outages, reports. Residents in the Lexington Farms subdivision in Jersey Hills, Ill., are reaping the benefits of individual home turbines, which played an integral part in the development of this low-income community.

According to residents, monthly savings range from $50 to $100 per month compared to traditional utility services. As the market continues to improve, construction companies and home builders who replace harsh adhesives with less toxic glues and binders, and recycle construction waste to promote community awareness, are better poised to draw the attention of conservation-minded buyers.

Jonathan Squires is a former contractor turned consultant and writer. He likes to write about the latest news and trends in construction and developments.

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By Geoffrey Hall

Fostering a successful safety culture within a construction firm is a company-wide effort that extends to the subcontractors brought on for specialized projects. These subcontractors should embrace a strong safety ethic that is in accordance with the company that hired them. Subcontractors and field superintendents inherently have a close relationship. Both must be able to effectively communicate with each other in order to prevent safety concerns from becoming reality. As a subcontractor manages his or her workers with his or her own safety policies, it is the role of the superintendent to make sure these policies coincide with the company’s guidelines.

In order to prevent a potentially hazardous situation, subcontractors and superintendents must maintain an open dialogue to ensure any changes or concerns with the project plan are addressed, if necessary. Safety begins with the planning process. Subcontractors should submit their own project-specific safety plan to identify the scope of their work, how the perceived hazards will be mitigated and what measures they will take to provide a safe work environment. This plan must include a list of local emergency responders and medical facilities; emergency procedures and evacuation plans; substance abuse testing and new employee orientation.

Planning for safety does not end with the planning phase. Subcontractors should follow a procedure for safety task analysis, similar to that of the general contractor. This analysis should include the specific aspects of the work at hand, identification of potential exposures, controls to eliminate the exposures and the necessary safety equipment to perform the work properly. As a project progresses, the safety task analysis will make sure that the appropriate work and safety equipment is on hand so workers aren’t tempted to make do with what may be inadequate or dangerous equipment. A proactive safety culture helps to save lives, retain workers, reduce claims and delays, and enhance productivity and profitability while strengthening the company’s reputation. Building a safer workplace requires constant effort and continual improvement, but the result is well worth the investment of time, resources and money. Safety is a job that never ends.

Geoffrey Hall is senior vice president of ACE USA’s primary construction casualty group. He manages a countrywide team of more than 150 construction professionals dedicated to addressing the unique insurance needs of builders and contractors.

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By Penny Olmos

Accidents are quite common on construction sites and while some of them are not very serious, there are others that result in serious injuries and at times, fatalities. It’s quite surprising really that even after tightening safety regulations at construction sites, the number of accidents hasn’t gone down, but up. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (U.S Department of Labor), fatal work injuries in the private construction sector went up from 738 in 2011 to 775 in 2012, a 5 percent increase. News like this story out of New York City, gives us some idea of why we are lagging behind on construction site safety. A union official admitting that he’s helped unqualified people get into his union and get licenses to operate small cranes at construction sites is a sign of the deeper malaise that’s compromising the safety of the construction industry. Let’s take a look at the problems assailing the safety of construction sites:

  • Falls

According to Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), falls are the leading cause of fatalities on construction sites. If you want to reduce the number of deaths on construction sites, reduce falls. There are two major components of fall prevention – "fall protection equipment" and "knowing the importance of using this equipment." The latter is something that we are failing to get across.

  • OSHA Aims to Do Something About It

OSHA, in partnership with the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) and National Occupational Research Agenda (NORA), has started a nationwide outreach campaign that seeks to raise awareness amongst construction workers and their employers about fall hazards and their prevention. This is one campaign that can set the stage for "fall free" construction sites!

  •  Rigging Equipment

The use of rigging equipment and their safety is of crucial importance on construction sites. Some terrible accidents have happened because of damage to rigging equipment like wire ropes and the fact that wire ropes that needed to be discarded were still used. Again, such accidents can be avoided if construction workers are well aware of the dangers posed by working with defective wire ropes. More importantly, they must be made to realize the importance of inspection and maintenance of such equipment. Also, it’s of prime importance that the right people and the most qualified for the job are asked to handle rigging equipment.

Getting Workers into the Act

One problem that seems to be cropping up time and again is that construction workers are reluctant to apprise the authorities about a safety violation at their work place. The reasons for this are many; these include a fear of retaliation, plain ignorance, or knowledge that the management will not act on their complaints, or unawareness about the proper procedure for making a complaint. These are reasons that need to be addressed and workers must be able to place a complaint with the appropriate authorities, without fear, if and when they feel a safety violation is taking place on their construction site.

Bringing Down the Accidents What is increasingly evident is that we need to work towards a more holistic approach if we are to improve worker safety at construction sites. We will need to get all the stakeholders into the act if we are to improve safety. We need to educate the workers, educate the employers and enforce stringent safety policies. Hopefully, if we do all that and more, 2013 will be a better year as far as construction site safety is concerned.

Penny Olmos is associated with Holloway Houston, Inc. a leading industrial lifting equipment manufacturing company. She is a writer for Holloway Houston, Inc. and loves to write on stainless wire rope. Her writing is backed by knowledge gained by her many years of experience partnering with clients to build their business through development and implementation of track-proven Internet marketing strategies.  

By John Doherty

Shale gas could soon have a significant impact on energy markets across the globe. Enabled through horizontal drilling and hydraulic fracturing, the production of shale gas already has had a major impact on the energy landscape in North America. Shale accounts for more than one-fourth of domestic gas production, and by the next decade will reach the 50 percent mark, according to PwC and Rice University researchers. In 2011, shale gas was produced at a rate of 553,000 barrels per day. As a result, tens of thousands of new well sites are being developed by oil and gas companies. When it comes to shale production, thousands of repetitive activities and handoffs between functions resemble manufacturing operations as much as they do traditional methods of oil drilling and production. Which enablers can have a significant impact on decision making? Which will drive productivity? For starters, in the new environment, information technology and enterprise systems have been identified as enablers that significantly enhance decision making and drive productivity.

How can oil and gas companies, in partnership with engineering and construction (E&C) firms, determine what is and is not working across the gas value chain? To meet these new challenges, old, reliable business models and traditional approaches to project management may not be the most effective strategies. E&C companies can support their oil and gas clients by helping them navigate through three key developmental steps on the path to successfully bringing shale oil and gas to market. First, organizations can reduce the “drag” by developing a project management model that helps achieve speed and efficiency in shale well development, planning, and execution. The goal is to reduce the organizational and administrative burdens on all of the activities required to efficiently produce shale oil and gas and get the products to market.

With an integrated operating/project management model in place, a company can optimize the “play” by delivering optimal returns through aligning operating expenses, capital investment, and resources across the full portfolio of development and production. Finally, with optimized resources and greater insight into the full portfolio, a company can apply sophisticated analytics to enable better decision making and increase the speed and flexibility in the field and in the market.

So how can E&C firms and oil and gas companies achieve these goals?

1) Listen to the “silent” business, those longstanding projects that may have become de-prioritized in favor of new work. Integrated planning lets development activities be meshed with ongoing work.

2) Consider the context, the factors – whether local climate, geology or regulatory requirements – that can significantly vary by well location.

3) Model the change, ensuring that all stakeholders buy into the geographically distributed, integrated planning approach. E&C firms can model and reinforce the behaviors they expect from stakeholders, clearly articulating the approach and project priorities. PwC's New conventions for unconventional development for the engineering and construction industry discusses shale gas implications for engineering and construction (E&C) companies. The three-part series is a companion to PwC's New conventions for unconventional oil and gas series, which addresses the rapidly evolving management practices within the energy landscape.

John Doherty is advisory lead director of the U.S. engineering and construction sector for PwC and has more than 30 years of management consulting experience. He can be contacted at

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By Tony Inglese

Concrete is a huge part of homes these days. The good news is that most concrete will continue to harden as it ages. The bad news is that without the proper precautions, the concrete around your home can deteriorate quickly. Many think that this rough material is carefree and durable from everything, but while it is low maintenance, there are certain things that homeowners should do to protect their concrete and increase its longevity.

Clean and Apply Sealer Regularly You need to protect the integrity of the concrete to make it last a lot longer. To do this, apply a sealer to the concrete to protect it from salt, oil spots, and gasoline residue. The harshness of the weather and the amount of vehicle traffic will determine how often this needs to be done. A good rule of thumb is to reseal your driveway, patio, or sidewalk every two years, or whenever it begins to show wear.  If you have concrete inside your home that has a lot of foot traffic, it is especially important to maintain it to prevent wear patterns. You can do this by using sealer, as well as floor wax or polish. Good sealers can be found in hardware stores, or from a concrete material supplier. Power wash the driveway to remove all stains and spots, then apply the sealer. It’s not complicated and has easy to follow directions on the container.

Don’t Wait to Remove Stains or Snow While the sealer does protect the concrete from stains absorbing, it is still smart to remove oil, gasoline, and grease as soon as possible. Pressure wash regularly to help with stain removal and keep your concrete looking sharp. Be careful not to get too close to your driveway when digging in the yard. This can compromise the supporting structure of the concrete. When winter arrives shovel regularly and use a plastic shovel. The key is to prevent the water from seeping into the concrete, freeze and then crack.

Use Alternative Materials to De-ice The winter is especially harmful for concrete. Water can seep into the concrete and freeze and expand inside it, which will weaken it within. Concrete can be very porous, and chemicals can penetrate and attack the paste, thus affecting the structure of the concrete. Avoid products that contain ammonium nitrates and ammonium sulphates. Rock salt (sodium chloride) will be less harmful but if not washed away can affect grass as well as corrode metal. This is especially significant if your concrete has a metal rebar to support the structure. The first winter after the laying of concrete is the most important. Since the concrete is still young, it is important to avoid de-icers and, if possible, salt as well. Sand is a good alternative to give traction. If you have a steep driveway, take safety precautions and park at the bottom of the hill, or use chains on your tires.

Tony Inglese is the general manager at Enviro-Systems, where he assists with marketing, project management, human resources and company policy.

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By Pauline W. Markey

In recent years, the IRS has increasingly focused on the compliance and enforcement of the misclassification of workers in industries such as construction, where the use of independent contractors is common. The determination of whether a worker is an “employee” or an “independent contractor” has significant financial implications for both the business and its workers. Independent contractors are generally not eligible for unemployment benefits, workers’ compensation benefits or employer contributions to Social Security tax, Medicare tax and federal unemployment tax.

Form SS-8 is a form that may be filed by either a business or its workers to request that the IRS determine the status of the worker as either an employee or an independent contractor for federal employment tax and income tax withholding purposes. In most cases, the form is filed by a former worker seeking unemployment benefits, and businesses tend not to file because the perception is that the IRS will lean towards a conclusion that most workers are employees. If a former worker does file an SS-8, the IRS will offer an opportunity for the business to respond with information relating to the work relationship at hand. After reviewing the information given by both parties, the IRS will issue a determination letter stating whether the worker should be classified as an employee or an independent contractor.

It is important to note that the IRS’s determination will then apply to all workers in that business performing the same or similar services as the worker who filed the SS-8, even though only one worker filed. The SS-8 determination letter, with certain deletions, will also be made public. Because of the broad impact of the IRS’s determination, the receipt of an information request relating to an SS-8 should not be taken lightly, and a business should respond to the IRS’ request with care, deliberation and, if possible, with the guidance of an experienced tax advisor.

A business that receives an adverse SS-8 determination may request that the IRS reconsider its determination, but a court cannot review the determination because it is not considered an IRS audit. Similarly, the business is not entitled to raise certain defenses (such as Section 530 Relief), which may in some instances protect it from retroactive application of employee status for its workers. The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) recently found that a significant number of businesses (from a sample of more than 5,000) that received SS-8 determinations requiring changes to the treatment of workers failed to comply with the IRS’s determination. Based on the recommendations from TIGTA, the IRS is now moving to improve business compliance with SS-8 determination letters, likely through additional business audits. When this does happen, it is important for construction business owners to understand its implications and be as prepared as possible. With one unfortunate response, a business can find itself in the midst of a much larger tax problem.

Pauline W. Markey is a senior tax associate at Fox Rothschild who represents clients in tax controversy and executive compensation issues. For more information concerning this and other worker classification issues, please contact her at (215) 299-5117 or Have an idea for a guest blog for Construction Today? Contact or



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