01 February 2023
Improving construction’s resilience to adverse weather events

As Brits, we’re used to a bit (OK, a lot) of rain. But in recent years, adverse weather events have increased in both frequency and severity, with significant impacts on individuals, businesses and the economy. According to Met Office data, the decade between 2011-2020 was 9% wetter than the 30 years between 1961 and 1990. The figures also reveal that six of the 10 wettest years on record in the UK have occurred since 1998, while rainfall events exceeding 50mm have also increased.

In the construction industry, where most of the work takes place out in the open, inclement weather can be highly disruptive, affecting contractors’ ability to meet deadlines and carry out contracted works to a high standard. In this blog, we’ll be exploring how inclement weather impacts construction projects and what can be done to increase the industry’s resilience.

Readiness for storms ahead?

In October last year, a UK Parliamentary report entitled Readiness for storms ahead? Critical national infrastructure in an age of climate change condemned the government for its failure to act on adaptation measures to render the UK’s critical national infrastructure (CNI) more resilient to adverse weather events. The report cited adverse weather events such as Storm Arwen, which caused major power outages that left some people unable to contact family, friends or the emergency services, as well as a railway drainage failure that almost flooded the National Blood Bank in Bristol, to illustrate the severity of the issue.

In the absence of a stronger government response, construction firms must take preparatory measures to adapt their own working practices to the increased risks posed by climate change, both during the lifespan of the project and once works are completed. A recent report from Deloitte stated that “preparatory measures against the negative effects of [extreme weather] events during the use phase of buildings and infrastructure are required”.

Reducing the impact of extreme weather

As we have seen, poor climate resilience can have a devastating impact on infrastructure and the economy. But it can also pose a huge health and safety risk on site, as well as causing major delays and eating away at already slim profit margins. Extreme weather can increase the likelihood of injuries, damage buildings and equipment, destroy work that has already been completed and even render the site impassable. Preparation for poor weather is key – and this blog from Zurich sets out five steps to help construction businesses do just that:

  • Proactive risk management to prepare and mitigate for potential inclement weather
  • Keeping workers safe from extreme heat or cold and having action plans in place for temperature-related illness on site
  • Be aware of sudden weather changes by using weather apps and push notifications and have a plan in place to help workers respond quickly
  • Plan for delays by using a forecasting model throughout the project lifecycle
  • Prepare off-site locations such as storage yards or warehouses against flooding and other extreme weather.

The industry also has a responsibility to help build resilience to climate change into the design and construction of new buildings. The Deloitte report identifies several actions that firms can take to ensure that the UK’s infrastructure and housing stock is more resilient to adverse weather events in the future, including:

  • More durable materials
  • Improved planning for insulating against extreme heat and cold
  • Revised and improved water management systems during both the construction and use phases of buildings.
  • Minimising the damaging effects on the environment of soil sealing (covering the ground with waterproof materials) and land use changes (e.g., conversion of agricultural land for urban development).

Balancing the costs

Making major changes to the way any business works can be costly, especially in an industry like construction when profit margins are already wafer thin. But a report from the World Economic Forum (WEF) suggests that investing now will pay dividends later down the line. In 2021 alone, it says, climate change was responsible for 10,000 deaths across the world and caused $280bn worth of damage. Investing $1 in climate resilience now, it concluded, could save $4 down the line.

Mott MacDonald, a global engineering consultancy firm, says that while businesses are investing in measures to reduce carbon emissions, spending on adaptation and resilience is lagging behind. However, this might be starting to change, the firm suggests:

“Regulatory and market pressures are starting to make resilience a focal business issue. One example of increasing private sector appetite for adaptation finance is the growing use of green bonds for climate adaptation – news service Environmental Finance reports five-fold growth in 2021 in the value of green bonds focused on adaptation.”