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How to procure health and safety files

Although aimed principally at medium and large new construction projects, the basic principles are also applicable to smaller projects and existing buildings.

Identifying system requirements

There are a range of more general factors, which must be considered before the specific functional requirements for a computer-based file can be established. These factors will have a direct bearing on the type of system selected to meet client needs, and must be considered fully at the start of the planning process to avoid problems later. Specific factors associated with the business function of the client organisation must also be identified.

Budget considerations

The rough cost of implementing a typical proprietary computerised HSF system or a fully developed PDF file with proper navigation and links used to cost between 0.4% - 0.6% of the building services contract value. For heavily serviced buildings such as hospitals, the cost is likely to be around 0.7% - 0.8% .

With the improvement in web based software applications "Software as a service" (SaaS) such as Edocuments Ltd WorkFlow the cost of electronic documents has reduced dramatically. Fully featured health and safety files currently cost between 0.07% - 0.3% depending on size and complexity of project.

A computer-based systems now cost no more than a hard-copy file. Furthermore, the resulting health savings offer a far greater benefit. The cost of a PDF-based file can increase appreciably if one or more hard copies (which generally comprise multiple volumes) are also required by the client. The cost for more complex proprietary systems may be higher. This may also be the case for relatively small projects.

The cost of user training and system set-up must also be taken into consideration. Using SaaS can also reduce the up-front expense of software purchases, through less costly, on-demand pricing from hosting service providers

Clients and designers should consider how the safety strategy will influence the requirements for a computer-based system. For example, will safety be carried out by in-house personnel or contracted out? Does the chosen safety strategy have any specific information requirements or system functionality that must be included in the computer-based file?

Planned preventive safety is likely to require a planned preventive safety software capability. However, if a corrective safety strategy is going to be adopted, the ability of the software to provide this capability will be an unnecessary expense.

Existing safety personnel working for the client organisation, whether they are in-house or on contract, should be included in the briefing process. They have valuable experience and can provide feedback to help identify client-specific requirements relevant to the organisation's business function, and also requirements relevant to the system's end users.

Computer skills

Safety personnel who have traditionally worked with hard copy Health & Safety files may not be computer literate, and consideration will need to be given to the requirement for user training. However, this may not be fully apparent until the software application has been selected.

Anecdotal evidence received when compiling this guide suggested that, in some instances, a high-tech approach to handling HSF information will be met with resistance. This may be attributable to a fear of change or the ability of some software applications to show h ow much time has been spent on specific safety activities. The right working culture must therefore exist among the individuals who will use the application

IT infrastructure

Careful consideration will need to be given to software and hardware compatibility if the proposed system is to reside on a network. It should also be considered whether the on-site IT support department is in a position to take on the new application. Some of the more specific issues surrounding the software requirements and use of the network can only be fully examined once a product has been selected.

Many of the potential implementation and operating problems can be avoided by using a web based application SaaS.

The key benefit of the SaaS approach is that the system user only requires a computer with web access and ordinary web browsing software. No information is kept on users' machines, and the need to backup data and periodically implement software upgrades is all handled by the software vendor. The use of SaaS will obviously increase the annual operating charges, but savings in the client's management time and resources should be achieved.

Consideration should be given to the integration of Health & Safety Files with other information and documents, such as the Health and Safety File required by the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations and the Building Energy Log Book required by the Building Regulations. To avoid duplication and unnecessary work, it is important that a coordinated approach is taken to compiling all the building information that ultimately passes to the client at the end of a construction project. This will also help ensure that, as far as is practicable, a consistent format and structure is applied, making it easier to access and use the information. It may prove desirable to extend the content of a computer-based system to cover more than just the building services. This may also provide the means of increasing the capital allowance available for implementation.

While the focus of this guide is on computer-based files for building services, the general principles and guidance provided are relevant to other types of file covering a broader range of building and facilities information. Guidance on the content of facilities files can be found in the CIRIA Guide: Facilities management file.

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