What is it like to work on a construction site?


Those who regularly read my articles know that I run a garden maintenance and hard landscaping business which up until the pandemic hit, we focused on working on existing residential homes. However, not having the usual budget needed to survive the colder Winter months when work can be hard to come by and in the same months that conveniently our personal and corporation tax is due, we were lucky enough to be contacted by a soft landscaping and garden fencing company that offered to sub contract our company on a full time basis.

This company works very differently to how we usually work since they only offer 2 services and only work on building sites where new homes are being built. The first service they offer is soft landscaping which includes the laying of new turf, planting and laying of mulch to give a nice finish to the new homes being built on site. The second service they offer is garden fencing, which means that when the homes are built on the construction sites and once the groundworkers have got the ground layed and levelled to the right height, we go in and install all of the garden fencing before the landscaping teams go in and finish it all off. Me and my business partner, or rather our company, have been put on the same team and specialise in the fencing.

What do you need to work on a construction site?

The first thing I was asked by the company that I am now subcontracting for is “Do you have a CSCS card to work on a construction site?”. I didn’t have the first clue about what was needed to work on a building site so fortunately they agreed to take care of everything. Now there are a few levels of owning a CSCS card which I will write about in more detail soon, but in the first instance, just to be able to work on a construction site, you will need a CSCS green labourer card which is what I now have.

There were 2 tests that I had to take, both of which were organised through the landscaping company that I am now working for. The first test I took was the HS&E test (health, safety and environment) which had to be taken at my local CITB approved test center where you need a minimum score of 43 out of 50 to pass. I downloaded an app on my phone which cost me, from memory, £4.99 and obviously done the trick as I passed with a score of 49 out of 50. If you are worried about taking the test(s) then don’t be – I found them relatively easy with lots of common sense questions thrown in too. I found my car theory test harder than I did the HS&E test.

The next test I took was a level 1 in health and safety in a construction environment which I was told you need both pass certificates to be able to apply for your green labourer CSCS card which in all honesty, baffles me. One test was for health, safety and environment whilst the other was for health and safety in a construction environment with both tests being somewhat similar with the questions being asked.

This second test I took was organised through an online learning company where I received a link to a login portal which had a number of different videos to watch and learn from depending on the topic. Once I had finished watching the videos, I was prompted to take a practice exam. Once complete, I would then be sent my official test date.

Fortunately this test was able to be done at home via a computer and webcam so it was pretty relaxed and easy compared to having to physically go somewhere to take the test. From memory, there were around 40 questions and you needed a minimum of 72% correct answers to pass the test.

Once both tests had been passed, I forwarded the certificates onto the company that I was to be working for where they sent off for my CSCS card. The hole process from start to finish took about a week and even though it would take up to 10 working days for my CSCS card to come through, as long as I had my pass certificates as proof, I was ready and able to work on construction sites!

Is working on a building site hard work?

This isn’t as simple a question to answer as one may think as it really depends on your profession, but if you are joining a construction site as a labourer then there is a good chance that you will have one of the most labour intensive jobs possible when it comes to building sites so you will need to be fit and healthy at the very least.

Every day I see a team of at least 4 or 5 bricklayers in any one place, all laying bricks one after the other, never having to move far from the last brick they layed. The cement is ready mixed and by their side at all times. Between these 4, 5 or more brick layers, in many cases they will have a labourer running back and forth mixing new cement and having it ready for when they run low. You see, in many cases at least, the tradesman doesn’t have to work as hard as the labourer. It’s not all bad though! If that wall is in the wrong place, has the wrong colour bricks, the wrong specification in any way shape or form, who do you think is getting the blame? A labourer may have a more physically demanding job when it comes to working on a construction site but they don’t carry the responsibility or emotional stress that the tradesman has to put up with at times.

As a labourer on a building site, unless your working through a specific company in a specific field of work then the site manager could put you anywhere. I’ve seen days where a labourer has had to move 5-10 tones of gravel with nothing but a wheel barrow and spade to other days where the same labourer is watering newly planted plants, sweeping the roads and other general tidying tasks. That’s the good thing about working on a construction site is that every day is different. There will be bad days where the work is hard and repetitive. But there will be good days where the work is easy and the hours fly by.

If your joining a building site as anything other than a labourer then it’s likely that the work will be no different to whether your working on a construction site to working on a neighbours home. I’ve joined as a fencer, installing the garden fencing to all of the homes on various building sites and the physical work has naturally, been no different to when I was installing garden fencing on existing homes.

Is working on a construction site stressful?

What I mean by “is working on a construction site stressful?” Is, how stressful is it mentally, as opposed to physically. As a fencer, I find the most stressful part of working on a building site is meeting deadlines. Don’t get me wrong, the majority of dates per new home are more than achievable but there are times where the company I am working for are struggling to get the materials needed, or when the groundworkers haven’t finished getting the ground ready for us to fence and by the time they do, we are expected to fence 3 gardens in 24 hours as the new owners are moving in. I often have to remind myself that it’s not my thought so don’t stress about it, but it’s easy to get caught up in it all and feel as though you are responsible.

The sites I have worked on don’t seem to care what time we start and leave as long as we turn up, but then I don’t work for the construction companies directly so I wouldn’t expect them to. If you are joining as a labourer and working directly for the building company then I would assume that they are going to be very strict as you being late could delay a hole team of people working that day.

Don’t forget your PPE! Just today a scaffolder was sent home as he was caught working without his steel toe cap boots! In most cases, being sent home for lack of personal protective equipment will mean no pay for that day. On hot days we even bring a spare pair of trousers as some construction sites don’t allow shorts! Wearing PPE isn’t stressful but going home with no pay will be!

If you are a hard and reliable worker who’s happy to obide by the rules and don’t mind taking the good days with the bad, then working on a building site needn’t be that stressful at all! No more than any other job anyway.

My conclusion to what’s it like working on a building site

Working on a construction site may seem scary to a young and inexperienced person thinking about joining as an apprentice or labourer but to anyone that already works in a labour intensive environment and amongst other work colleagues then expect not much to change. You will meet people from all walks of life, most loud, some quiet, but your work colleagues none the less. Your team. Your friends. I’ve read posts on forums where people have said that you need to be strong minded as people will take advantage and walk all over you, but to be honest, I’m not a loud person and no one has tried to walk over me and I’ve not seen it yet either. I suppose there is as much risk of meeting such a person wherever you work and another great thing about working amongst so many people is that where one person may try and take advantage, another will likely step in and have your back.

The most valuable lesson I have learned is to always have your site manager(s) on side. Befriend them. They will help you when you need it by way of pushing start dates back, having groundworkers or other tradesmen get things ready for you, making your life easier or even prioritising labouring jobs that you enjoy if it can be helped.

From a labourer’s point of view, working on a construction site generally pays more than working in other labour intensive jobs such as warehouses and factories and education so many building sites going up, there is more reason to join now than ever before. Yes the work can be hard, but you will meet great people along the way and build new friendships, making work that little bit more enjoyable.

Unlike some jobs, there is great potential when it comes to working your way up and getting promotions when working on a construction site. I’ve met 3 site managers now that started off as a labourer and worked their way up to where they are now, upgrading their CSCS cards as they do. Labourer to team leader, to supervisor to site manager. Or maybe you can side step from a team leader to a health and safety inspector and so on.

If your thinking about working on a construction site then personally I would recommend it. If you have any questions then as always, just comment below and I’ll try and get back to you as soon as possible!

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