Staying safe in a challenging environment
This article first appeared in our Summer 2019 edition of Telegraph.
Since its launch in 2017, Alan Boswell Risk Management (ABRM) has provided engineering inspections, health & safety audits and guidance to a variety of businesses.
One of our most complex and well-known clients is Norwich Research Park. It is home to 3,000 scientists and clinicians, working to deliver the future of food, health and agritech research.
Telegraph caught up with Matt Poll, Director of Facilities and Tenancy Services, and Gavin Dearsley, ABRM Director, to find out how an organisation like Norwich Research Park stays safe, compliant and futureproof.
Matt, tell us a bit about what you do here at Norwich Research Park. What sort of challenges do you face?
M: I manage the estate – all our buildings and the tenants within.
This includes insurance, IT, maintenance, grounds, catering – the lot! I work for Anglia Innovation Partnership LLP (AIP LLP) to represent our Partners on the Park; the University of East Anglia, the Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital, the John Innes Centre, Quadram Institute, Earlham Institute and the Sainsbury Laboratory.
AIP LLP have eight buildings of their own, plus development land too. We’ve recently had a refocus on what we do, and we’re now looking at our new vision for the Park.
We’re 95% full – well above what you’d normally expect. In fact, we’re now struggling in that we haven’t got available premises for our growing companies wanting to expand! We’re looking at alternatives, like modular buildings, to help them out in the meantime. We always want to provide added value so that all our tenants, especially the start-ups, can do what they do best, knowing they’ve got us for support if they need it.
When we first started working together, what made us stand out from other brokers?
M: We had a relationship with a broker previously, but it was historical so we opened it up for tender and Alan Boswell Group came out on top. The outcome was win-win, not only because we were able to reduce our fees but we also gained quite a few benefits through the insurer and have subsequently been able to reduce costs elsewhere. The fact you had a risk management business also based in Norwich was quite a unique selling point because I never thought you’d be able to provide risk management services as well as insurance. I was originally only looking for an insurance broker, and ABRM came along at the right time.
What helped win the tender?
M: Cost was a factor, of course, but it wasn’t the only one. We looked at service, the added benefits. As an overall package, ABG delivered. It was locality too – we’ve now got people who can get here quickly if we need them to. Claim management was really important to us as well, and we’ve now got a dedicated claim manager. Having everyone in-house is a real benefit.
When we opened it up for tender, we were initially looking for basic insurance, engineering surveys and statutory compliance – and then engineering insurance for heavy plant. I wasn’t expecting ABG to provide the surveys and statutory compliance reviews themselves. I thought they’d go to one of the usual providers like Allianz, but when they suggested they could do it themselves it was clearly an asset.
Have you saved money since working with ABG?
M: Definitely. ABG found us a better deal on property insurance, and we’ve been able to pass that saving onto our tenants. We saved about 20% overall, which is quite significant. Even better, it allowed me to review what we already did. It turned out that we had a lot of equipment that actually didn’t need to be covered separately, so I was able to reduce the asset list considerably.
G: There was duplication on the asset list; items were being inspected by two separate inspection regimes thereby duplicating costs. We spent time looking at this with the internal engineering team from the very outset of the contract, and refined it to get it right down to only what was needed on there for statutory compliance.
What equipment have ABRM engineers inspected?
M: Everything you’d expect in buildings with labs – pressure systems, lifting equipment, dumb waiters, boilers, pressurisation units – a massive range of things. We’ve also had some of the lab equipment inspected too, like the auto-claves, which are pressure vessels. They’re basically used to sterilise either anything that’s used for an experiment, or to destroy any bugs once the experiment is completed. You use them at 134 degrees Celsius for 20 minutes, and that pretty much wipes everything out!
G: Auto-claves work under very high pressure and temperature, that’s why you need the safety check of the relief valve, verification of structural integrity, etc. to make sure they are safe, particularly as they are used in busy shared working environments. It’s one of several pieces of specialist equipment they have here on-site that ABRM engineers assess for safety.
Gavin has a wealth of specialist knowledge, following years in the pharmaceutical industry. How have you benefited from having someone on board who really understands what you do?
M: There are occasions where I need specialist health and safety advice, especially when we’re talking about environments like laboratories, or storing chemicals and solvents. There’s an added risk. Gavin is someone I can go to and ask certain questions, even informally, to get his opinion and feedback. He did a presentation to our tenants about health and safety audits, which was really useful, and we do them twice a year now. We always try to get tenants on board with these sorts of things, and so far they’ve been successful.
G: I think my background as a bio-incubator manager for a large scientific research campus has really helped Matt and his tenants, and has my experience in biosafety and understanding of relevant legislation. Matt can always ask me for advice if someone on the park is sending in a new scientific application which may have a set of risks requiring consideration, or if an assessment is needed.
Gavin, let’s talk about how ABRM manage the Norwich Research Park account. How many people are involved?
G: Four to five. There are two engineers who carry out the engineering inspections, up to two members of staff to take care of administration, and me. Of course, we have a larger team of risk management advisers, engineers and administrators who are only a phone call away. It really is a team effort and we’re always talking to each other, letting other departments within ABG know when we’re going out to the Park.
Can you explain the inspections we do for the Park?
G: The level of detail we go to in our inspections, and the level of care that’s required from Matt in terms of facility design, is granular. Even the desks and workbenches… they have to be specially made with resistant materials so that no corrosive substances can penetrate through them, and biological material can be easily sterilised from the surfaces. It’s standard in these types of environments, but things like this allow the Park to carry out state-of-the-art research and experiments without having to upgrade to a whole new facility. Matt knows what he’s doing, but has the reassurance of knowing he can always ask me if he wants any help to ease the burden. In addition to engineering inspections, we can assist with various support services like general health, safety and environmental compliance issues. Plus, we offer highly specialised areas of support like DSEAR assessments, which covers the Dangerous Substances and Explosive Atmospheres Regulations, dealing with flammable chemicals and gases.
Finally, Matt – aside from the laboratories, what else is happening at the Park at the moment?
M: We’ve got a nursery on-site now! Back in 2017, the government increased the amount of free childcare hours from 15 per week to 30. We applied for a grant, and were successful on our second attempt. We estimate approximately 25% of the staff who work on the park take their children there.
We also have a new building, called the Quadram Institute, a new £multi-million state-of-the-art food and health research and endoscopy centre, which will be at the forefront of a new interface between food science, gut biology and health, developing solutions to worldwide challenges in food-related disease and human health. The Quadram Institute (QI) is a hive of collaboration between the UEA, Norfolk and Norwich Hospital and Quadram Institute Bioscience. QI will be engaged in fundamental and translational food and health research, alongside clinical studies and one of Europe’s largest endoscopy centres, all under one roof.