The EQUANS contract with EDF to provide facilities management across the UK’s fleet of nuclear power stations demands an understandably reliable and safety-first approach. Yet the recent contract extension is based on a transformation agenda to catalyse further service innovation. Martin Read reports on a contract set to provide more opportunities for fresh service delivery in the coming years
Multidisciplined teams provide hard and soft FM services, specialist maintenance and major projects to EDF for the UK’s fleet of eight nuclear power stations, with a total FM operation having been in place since 2008.
In 2019, a £350 million, five-year extension through to 2027 was agreed with EQUANS tasked to invest further in safety, technology, leadership and innovation via a 15-month transformation and cultural change programme. The aim is to introduce as much in-contract innovation as the necessarily process-heavy contract allows.
The transformation agenda, spearheaded by transformation & innovation director Craig Povey, is focused on three primary components: industrial safety, behavioural change, and adoption of technology.
It has also involved EQUANS sending site general managers out to other EQUANS contracts in healthcare and local authorities to find and bring back potential new best practice, as well as workshops with client representatives to ensure clarity between both parties when any new practice is agreed upon.
The need for clarity in the safety messaging between all contractors on-site was a key transformation objective. The contract’s operations director Billy Hay talks of a switch from SHEQ advisers to industrial safety managers having paid dividends, with measured levels of industrial safety since 2019 better than they have ever been on the contract.
Both Povey and Hay express pride at the contract’s safety record. “A lot of our sites are now up at three or four million man hours per LTI (lost time injury)”, says Hay. A behavioural change process with long-serving personnel was introduced to ensure consistency in delivery. (All EQUANS personnel have undergone training to ensure consistency of delivery while allowing for development of ideas for new processes. An innovation log is shared between all eight sites.)
The transformation project had also seen the introduction of a bespoke training programme for general managers and services hub project aimed at clarity between client and provider on all project delivery.
There are two unusual elements to this contract. The first is the relatively long tenure provided to the TFM provider; and the second is the limitations on what anywhere else would be seen as obvious information deployment of technology. A principally paper-based workflow means additional time spent by engineers, cleaners, waste operatives and others attending an office ahead of task implementation.
Restrictions on radios and mobile phones force careful scheduling of work. There’s also the need for scheduling across two workflow management systems: EQUAN’s (Maximo) and EDF’s. Client and provider work closely to ensure the optimal transfer of data between the two.
There is change, however. The introduction of Wi-Fi across most sites means cleaners and other staff are now able to receive tasks and risk assessments on devices. But restrictions will still apply, and there is very understandable sensitivity from the client about the use of technology, particularly where it might involve taking pictures for condition monitoring, for instance.
"There is very understandable sensitivity from the client about the use of technology"
“We are often unable to use technology because of the restrictions, and quite rightly so,” explains Hay.
As for other forms of innovation, this sometimes means retrofitting standard equipment for the nuclear sites’ demands.
“We can’t just go into a nuclear power station and plug something in,” says Hay.
“Everything about it has got to be considered. When, as business improvement manager, Hay introduced SkyVacs, even these had to be retrofitted with HEPA filters in order to catch any potential radioactive contamination. Ozonated water has also been introduced to reduced the need for chemicals in general cleaning. Speaking of water, in certain situations it can’t be used at all.
“When transferring nuclear fuel, for instance, there’s what’s called a criticality area in which you can’t have anything that would make the fuel critical – and water is one of those things,” explains Hay.
“We can’t just go in with a bucket of water and clean that because spilling that bucket could cause instrumentation and criticality problems. Scheduling cleaning to downtime is, therefore, a major requirement.
Craig Povey speaks effusively about the commitment of the FM team and their mutual understanding of the importance of their role in sustaining the uptime of some of the country’s most critical infrastructure.
It is, still, often a struggle to recruit and retain because of the remote location of the sites. And although there may be a steadier career path for an FM, with more stable teams, that can also mean ambitious younger managers deciding to move on. The biggest spend on the contract is for temporary labour for projects organised during outages/planned shut-downs or additional works as directed by the station directors. This demand will continue as the sites move towards shutdown of the reactors and the commencement of defuelling.
As for subcontractors, while EDF may have clocked up 14 years on the contract, some suppliers have been involved even longer. Hay and Povey appreciate that the environment in which FM is provided here, with its longer term contracts, allows for the necessary investment in people and process across the contractor base to ensure continuing good service – something they appreciate is a welcome aspect of this contract and one that is routinely requested for the outsourced facilities management sector as a whole.
Another transformation agenda lies ahead. As the power stations reach their end of life, a process of defuelling will commence. This requires different forms of FM support (less cleaning, more building construction and maintenance). Then, once defuelling itself is complete, the power stations will enter their decommissioning phase, returning to government ownership under the Nuclear Decommissioning Authority. Again, new forms of FM service will be required. EQUANS is adapting its services to the growing market for activity and construction projects associated with the defuelling and decommissioning of nuclear power stations, looking to take on this new work, from decontamination support down to document scanning (“there’s a lot of nuclear information you need to keep for 40, 50, 60 years”).
The next big steps
The transformation agenda work continues, and more imminently Povey says he’s working on increased standardisation of process between the eight sites. (“We’re introducing SharePoint for each site so that we can standardise everything (HR, admin) on the one system, that sort of thing.”)
For Hay, “my priority is getting my teams ready for the transformation from a generating station to a defuelling station and then a decommissioning station. It’s about maintaining nuclear safety and industrial safety as we evolve. That’s my big focus for the next two years.”
Behind the Job
Billy Hay, operations director Billy Hay readily concedes that he has become a ‘career’ nuclear sector FM, one of perhaps just three at his level within the UK. “
My knowledge of FM was limited, but I did know nuclear” he says of his initial move across to the sector having initially been involved in nuclear site construction. Hay joined the FM contractor (then Balfour Beatty) at Hunterston, the client having recommended him to help the contractor in the specifics of nuclear safety. Three years as hard services manager, and still in his early thirties, he became site general manager in 2011 and Balfour Beatty’s manager of the year.
It was a busy couple of years. “I was doing an HNC in management and my first kid was born. But it was a really good role and I made quite an impact.”
in 2020, as part of EDF’s transformation agenda, Hay was promoted to operations director. He says he relishes the responsibility his position commands. “There’s are specialisms with nuclear that don’t exist in any other part of FM, with a lot being about process; the closest from an FM perspective is probably FM in NHS hospitals. It’s the same level of criticality; if we don’t do our planned maintenance on back-up generators or UPS systems, nuclear safety is at stake.”
“What drives me is making an impact. I think FM is a great role in which to make a difference. Whether it’s an office or a nuclear power station, you can make a massive difference in FM.”
“What makes me happy? Ensuring nuclear safety comes first, that’s my biggest concern, with industrial safety a close second, not hurting anybody. Then it’s just about seeing good people performing at a very high level, seeing the stats showing how we’re becoming increasingly safe, the client surveys and net promoter scores - that’s what makes me happy.”
"Whether it’s an office or a nuclear power station, you can make a massive difference in FM.”
Ian Marlow, managing director (senior executive lead for the FM contract) Billy Hay, operations director (oversees day-to-day contract operations) Craig Povey, transformation & innovation director (responsible for coordinating and project managing the transformation)
Initial contract in 1998 covered limited FM service delivery.
From 2008 to 2019, FM was brought together as total FM comprising labour resource, engineering, catering, cleaning and industrial cleaning and specialist areas such as environmental assessments, and some health physics.
Extended contract from 2020 includes a ‘transformation agenda’ with a drive to provide a proactive service, working in collaboration with EDF rather than being a predominantly labour resource based contract. Transformation primarily focused on technology and process.
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