Argest – Smarter, safer facilities management

June 17, 2021

Argest

Smarter, safer facilities management

 

Business View Oceania interviews Christine Scammel, Executive Director at Argest, for our focus on Facilities Management in New Zealand

A dedicated team of just 30 talented individuals, Argest has worked to provide management and inspection services to a wide variety of public and private sector facilities since 1986. Originally focussed on helping architects and building owners match regulations when building and designing their assets, the company has evolved due to popular demand and developing legislation into the “total package” Facility Services and Building Warrant of Fitness Compliance Management provider seen today.

Argest provides a fully integrated approach to Building Compliance, management and inspection, their core focus being to assist building stakeholders to obtain and provide a Building Warrant of Fitness to relevant authorities each year. Their services include Compliance Management of Specified Systems, (annual inspection, testing and maintenance of sixteen different specialised system types), Fire and Pass of Fire Inspections (sprinklers and alarms, evacuation signs and final exits etc.), Consulting (asset reporting and assurance audits), and Facilities, Project and Contractor Management.

Fun fact: The name “Argest” is derived from their original parent company’s founder, Arthur George Stephenson.

Christine Scammell, Executive Director at Argest, shares her knowledge surrounding the continued development of the company, the importance of their mission in Compliance Management, and just what goes into providing such a wide range of Facility Services across New Zealand. She explains that Argest is committed to servicing both large-scale and smaller contracts, noting, “We have two focuses – one is organisations which have a building portfolio across the country, such as schools, supermarkets, petrol stations, retirement homes, etc. We’ve got owners who have multiple buildings up and down the countryside. The second element is that in each of our predominant cities with offices, which are Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, we look after people who have a couple of buildings.”

Argest works with both types of clients to facilitate an annual Building Warrant of Fitness, which confirms that all specified systems within a building have been maintained, tested and inspected within the last year, as per the relevant Compliance Schedule. Specified systems may include fire and safety systems, automatic or access control doors, emergency lighting, etc. Systems that may cause harm without proper maintenance must also be inspected, including elevators, ventilation systems, heating and cooling, etc. Each system requires a compliance certificate following inspection; once collected, a Building Warrant of Fitness can be supplied for that year stating that all systems in the building continue to operate as they should.

Facilities Management is also a core part of the company’s business plan. As well as providing compliance and inspection services, Argest works hand in hand with building managers to arrange repairs with external contractors in the case of a failed system test, and provides contact with facilities management companies to make sure managers and stakeholders have the correct documentation and information they need. Scammell acknowledges, “Making sure repairs are completed quickly and efficiently is really important, because if it’s not being done, local authorities or council can turn around and close the door. Say we’ve got a petrol station chain, and a requirement of their licence to operate is they must have a current Building Warrant of Fitness. If it lapses, then the council can close down that service station.”

Given that technology is constantly evolving and changing in the modern world, a large part of Argest’s workload is making sure any changes, additions, upgrades or removals of upgrades to systems must meet the current safety standards of the Building Act. This means that a separate consulting process has to go ahead for all new, additional or developed systems and that they must be tested, inspected and maintained in accordance with their installation standards.

This requires consistent staff training, covering general refreshers, practical experience and legislation updates. Scammell explains, “We not only have to keep up with the latest standards, but we also have to be cognizant of all the past standards because older systems need to comply with what they were consented for, which could be 10, 20 or 30 years old.” To delegate some of the load and make sure all bases are covered, Argest coordinates subcontractors and specialist companies with IQ (Independently Qualified) persons who can carry out complex inspections.

Greenstar buildings, held under the Green Building Standards, are also under the Argest umbrella. Scammell predicts the company will have more to do with Greenstar Facility Management in the future, as the Emissions Trading Scheme gains more traction throughout the country.

Argest refocussed its work schedule in response to the emergence of COVID-19. As has been the case for businesses around the world, management of health and safety, essential practices and client interactions have all become more complex with the introduction of COVID-19 related restrictions. Argest has worked to tackle this challenge by introducing home-based work environments for many of their staff, and supplementing staff who could not carry out their usual duties, such as specialised inspectors, with development and training periods. The company has also worked throughout lockdown with essential service providers, including supermarkets and police stations, maintaining their essential systems under strict health and safety regimes according to COVID-19 protocols.

Speaking about valuable and long-term business relationships, Scammell identifies large contractors across New Zealand as being incredibly important to the company. “One of our largest contractors is for all the state schools across New Zealand – that’s over 25,000 different inspections required every year. So we coordinate that through four major subcontractors, probably the largest being JCI Wormald, dormakaba, AHI Carrier and KONE. We’ve had those relationships for 15-plus years.”

Health and safety changes in the future are likely to have a significant impact on Argest, Scammell says. Over the next three to five years, given the continued increase in focus on health and safety regulations throughout the compliance industry, penalties for non-compliant systems under the Building Act will also increase, as will the expectations on local authorities to enforce them. For Argest, this means more standards to comply with, and requires their staff to be even more attentive to detail while on the job.

In response to these changes, Argest has already begun to spend more time assisting clients in consulting matters. Since inspection costs will no doubt rise as standards increase, the company will provide more close-analysis services to identify costly areas of a system, then propose alternative measures to increase cost-efficiency. It is also important during this process that building owners, managers and stakeholders can take on increasing responsibilities surrounding documentation, data reporting and facilities management; Argest’s consulting services will help to make sure buildings have appropriate plans to support this.

Scammell is confident that Argest is leading the pack in terms of positive feedback and reputation. “I was talking to one of our competitors as you do, because you’ve got industry forums and you bump up against each other. They made the comment, ‘We keep on trying to find areas where Argest has a bad rap or something hasn’t gone right, and we’re struggling to find anything.’ I thought that was positive coming from one of our competitors.” Scammell attributes this to a very clear company focus, and a culture of commitment to quality. She also mentions that Argest is keenly aware that the responsibilities imposed on facilities managers and building owners are only going to increase. The company seeks to ease some of the strain to come, whilst continuing to grow as a business.

Scammell finishes with a resounding statement: “The key element is that we are a really special service that supports facilities management companies. The industry is going through a lot of change, and Argest’s speciality is knowing how to reach that balance of meeting requirements while providing good value for money.”

Argest will continue to support facilities management services in New Zealand alongside industry developments, to ensure that all buildings meet appropriate health and safety requirements for the benefits of their owners, staff and patrons.

AT A GLANCE

Argest

What: Building compliance, fire inspections and maintenance company.

Where: Offices in Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch, New Zealand.

Website: www.argest.com

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