Hammertech and Nicholson Construction

Hammertech completed a Case Study on Nicholson Construction and our implementation of the online system Hammertech – read about it here!

The company, founded in 1889, attributes its success to the strong and open relationships it builds with clients, staff, contractors and suppliers.

The company provides individually tailored commercial construction services in regional Victoria from its head office in Ballarat and satellite offices in Bendigo and Warrnambool, and has extensive experience across government health, education and public facilities; as well as private retail projects.

In every Nicholson project, whether an office block, museum or hospital, success rests on relationships founded on trust, experience and knowledge. This emphasis on relationship made HammerTech a great fit for Nicholson.

Honesty and Accountability go hand in hand

After 23 years in the construction industry, and as the head of a company that has weathered every economic turn since 1889, Nicholson Construction director Richard Nicholson understands the importance of integrity. Reflecting on the company founded by his great-grandfather 130 years ago, he says: “The ethos of our company is based on honesty, integrity and respect, with accountability to all stakeholders.”

The company takes great pride in the fact that it knows, engages and supports local trades and materials suppliers, and understands that infrastructure investment in regional areas fosters successful and prosperous communities.  “We aim to be an industry leader in commercial construction by developing local leaders and partnering with local suppliers,” Mr Nicholson says. “Our clients benefit from these well-established local and regional connections.”

With such an emphasis on relationship-based business and recognising local quality, it’s no surprise that Nicholson Construction turned to Australian construction technology group HammerTech when it came to upgrading its construction technology platform.

Seamless Transition Holds Strong Appeal

Nicholson Construction’s existing safety management system was accredited to FSC and ISO standards. Richard admits to some apprehension in implementing any changes, given the risks of unexpected IP hiccups. Fortunately, he was pleasantly surprised. “Changing to accommodate a new IT based approach is less than ideal (but) on the contrary, HammerTech was quickly adapted to our system,” he says. This was an endorsement of the decision-making process ahead of the change.

We chose Hammertech due to its simplicity and its flexibility to adapt to our management system.

He adds: “The cloud-based platform was a considerable factor in our decision to move to HammerTech. The ability to roll out HammerTech across all our sites via our existing hardware platforms was a great result.”

Fast implementation and then ongoing opportunities to tailor the system

“The implementation of HammerTech occurred quite quickly, in just three months.  Whilst a lot of work was required to set up our system, we were well supported by HammerTech and had the system up and running quickly. The simplicity of using HammerTech was bonus and our site teams quickly embraced the process.
Now that the system is up and running, Nicholson Construction can further refine its capabilities to suit the company’s needs.  “We are currently working on ways to extract daily reporting data for Directors information, but aren’t quite there yet,” Richard says.

Valuable data insights and efficiencies without the paper pain

Richard says the company has witnessed significant efficiencies through the implementation of HammerTech’s platform.
Data collection is vastly improved, and the roll out of new and updated procedures occurs instantly across all our sites, Hammertech has helped us consistently and accurately collate data across all our sites, removing the reliance on paper-based management systems.
The software has also helped improve Nicholson Construction’s regular site inspections (daily, weekly, monthly). “Undertaking site inductions is quicker and more effective, and we use HammerTech to capture visits from all stakeholders to site,” Richard explains.  “Overall, it’s helping us implement and manage our safety system and capture the data that’s feeding into our performance KPIs.”

Safety means being on the road ….

Nicholson’s HSEQ Manager Chris Lavery, HSEQ Coordinator Bruce Gavin and their team of five are often on the road, visiting the construction company’s various projects and checking in on safety and quality assurance. “Travelling to a site can take up to three hours for some locations, although we do try to group site visits for those longer trips,” Chris says.

“While there, we review activities occurring or coming up on a site with a particular focus on High Risk Activities, where we work through ensuring we have procedures in place to ensure the activity runs safely and smoothly.” Chris explains that these reviews involve various members of the site team depending on the activity, and may include site managers, project managers, HSEQ reps and subcontractors.

While on site, Chris uses a ‘Site Visits Plan’ which has various tasks noted on the plan for attention on a rotating basis, to ensure effective and beneficial coverage. Tasks include HIRAC Reviews, audits, general site visits, SWMS audits, weekly inspections, and WorkSafe focus. All these visits are logged on HammerTech as well as many of the audits, inspections and reviews.

…. And in the Office

But an HSEQ manager spends plenty of time in the office too. Chris is constantly looking at opportunities for system improvement and development, while procedure reviews, policy review and development and work associated with maintaining certifications also take a lot of his time.

Chris has to be across risks and safety at all times, discussing safety issues both verbally and via emails with the Site Foreman, Project Managers, HSEQ personnel, Directors and Admin staff. He says the HammerTech platform helps with data analysis and providing support to site teams and subcontractors.

At the end of the day, everyone wants to do a good job and get home safely

With 30-plus years in the industry (including the last two with Nicholson), Chris says safety is paramount.

“The construction industry involves numerous high-risk activities at most stages of the build, and safety must always be a key priority,” he says. “It may be a bit of a cliché, but we really do want people to go home to their loved ones each day without injury.”

There are reputational issues for a company like Nicholson Construction too, which has built its respected brand and track record of safety and quality over more than 125 years.

“Quality of our final product reflects pride in what we do. We look to achieve a great result for our clients that meets or exceeds their expectations.”

“Nicholson Construction has committed to this over many years by obtaining certifications for AS/NZS 4801, ISO 9001, ISO 14001 and FSC Accreditation. We have recently been awarded 6 years re-accreditation with the FSC and are aiming to gain certification for the new ISO Safety Standard, ISO 45001 later in the year.”

Word of Mouth helps drive Hammertech’s popularity

It was a passing comment from a colleague that ultimately led to Nicholson adopting HammerTech’s platform across its business.

Initially, we had been trying to develop our own internal system working with developers to try and set up an ‘add on’ to our existing document management system, “Chris explains. “We had a CAPA Module in place and were focussing on expanding to on-line induction and plant management, and intending to branch out from that. However, we were experiencing many delays and not getting far at all.”

“I had heard of HammerTech some time earlier, but couldn’t remember the name until a new site foreman, who had previously been working in the West, mentioned it in passing one day. Straight away I knew that was the name of the product I had heard of. From that, I looked up the website, watched the video and read all the information about it, and thought this is very much along the lines of what we had been trying to do ourselves.”

Chris passed on the information to Richard Nicholson to have a look at and soon the company was meeting with HammerTech to explore the system’s potential.

Bells and Whistles, no just nuts and bolts

It turned out the HammerTech system was able to offer even more than Nicholson Construction had hoped. “We were aiming for a system that was digitally-based, could be used by local and regional site teams to manage things such as CAPA’s (“Issues” on HammerTech), inductions and plant management. But we found when we looked into HammerTech that a whole lot more was available to us.”

The additional HammerTech features enabled Nicholson Construction to broaden opportunities to manage safety and other operational aspects in a cooperative and consistent manner. In particular, Chris says HammerTech:

  • eliminates the need to print and compile mountains of documents to go to each site.
  • enables consistency across all projects, including improvements at one site to quickly be shared with others
  • gives Nicholson Construction the ability to make changes to suit its particular needs
  • enables office-based personnel to consult with the site team and resolve issues live
  • allows managers to review who is on site, and send out messages and alerts as needed
  • allows customisable solutions, so Nicholson Construction can develop very specific processes that enable informed and consistent safety management such as asbestos removal etc.
Nicholson Construction is also looking at new ways to use the platform in the quality assurance field.

Nothing is used all the time, but everything is needed some of the time.

Nicholson Construction makes use of everything the HammerTech system has to offer. “Some sections get used more than others, such as Inductions, Equipment, and HSEQ Inspections, but all have some level of importance to safety management,” Chris explains. “We are now adding our own custom sections to further improve the way we utilise the system and these sections can be turned on and off, specific to a project.”

Staff training has been integral to the system implementation. “Training rolled out as projects came online, and remains ongoing to ensure all users are getting the best from the program,” Chris says. “Overall acceptance of the digital platform has been very good and has led to individual improvements in our site teams.”

There have also been issues to overcome along the way, as with any business change. “Some of our paper-based forms we used in our initial set up were in need of review and at the time, I did not have the time to effectively conduct these reviews, so some of our initial set up on the system has required review and update over time,” Chris acknowledges. “This has not really been a major issue though because, as we have developed a better understanding of how the HammerTech system works, we have not only revised documents but made them more effective.”

Another issue concerned the effectiveness of the wireless network so that the Sign-In tablets were able to link in properly. This was resolved by purchasing more up-to-date printers with an in-built modem, providing a LAN that the site team could log their devices into.

And there are always more lessons to learn, Chris adds. “The journey continues, as does our constant mindset of how we can use HammerTech to its maximum capacity to ensure effective safety management, consistent guidance and practice with the aim of Best Practice.”

Building a Relationship with AW Nicholson