Why being an ECoW is good for your health – By Clare Nisbet


I love being on a construction site.

Even in the winter when there is snow on the ground and temperatures are around or even below zero. It literally is a breath of fresh air compared to being in the office. Getting stuck in the office has me clawing at the walls and itching to get my big site boots and hard hat back on.

But one of the things that I have realised recently is that being an ECoW (Ecological/Environmental Clerk of Works) is actually really good for my physical and mental health.

You walk for miles and don’t even realise it

Being on site is fantastic for getting your exercise in without the need to count your steps (although my phone on occasional has stated 27,000+ steps during some surveys). Meandering around a construction site looking at and inspecting things allows me to have a gentle walk without thinking about having to hit the gym in the evening because I feel like I have sat on my butt all day.

It even stops me having to give myself a harder workout by turning the incline on the treadmill up since most of the linear projects that I have done (road, rail, OHL) mean that I need to walk up and over hills to get to certain locations.

So, it’s basically like going for a hike! Plus there is spectacular scenery (and sometimes not so spectacular such as a mud slide on one project (that rapidly got cleaned up)).

You keep your brain engaged

Life is never boring when you are an ECoW. Sure, things speed up and slow down, but it’s an ever-changing environment so there is always something to look at and problems to solve. Plus, there is the added challenge of a combined Ecological and Environmental Clerk of Works role having such a wide remit that me and my brain are always double checking that I have covered everything. It definitely keeps me on my toes!

And then there’s the engineering side. I need to understand the engineering process in order to provide relevant and appropriate advice, so there is always the opportunity to learn new things: terminology, structures, methods, machinery. Most recently, I learnt what pigging was in relation to drilling activities. Never thought pigs would be on a construction site! Cue the hysterical animal jokes!

You breathe much fresher air

As a city girl, I am used to the exhaust fumes, strong scented perfumes and aftershaves of those I walk past and the fumes of all those very pretty log burners that have made our way into Edinburgh. So, when I head off to site, it’s often to a remote part of Scotland (I have been sent to Wales and England too) where the air is much crisper, cleaner and generally lacking in the many noxious gases that grace Auld Reekie. It makes such a difference to my ease of breath, my clarity of thinking and to my general energy levels when I am not bogged down by airborne chemicals. I also feel that this is something that we don’t take seriously enough in terms of our health and the toxic load that our bodies are dealing with on a day to day basis.

Don’t get me wrong, there are still some major hot spots on site for things like plant exhaust fumes, stinky generator exhausts and cigarette smoke. I even had one site where I instigated a name and shame policy for operatives smoking outside of the designated smoking area, as it got so bad and the smoke ended up inside the site office. It was taken in good humour and got everyone being more health conscious and respectful of those that don’t smoke.

The best thing about hotspots though, is that they can be contained and avoided.

You get to travel to amazing places

A change of scenery is perfect for re-energising the body and the mind. Ok, we all like routine and habit, but changing things up stops me getting in a rut. It is also is a fantastic opportunity to look at things from a different perspective, in a new environment, a new situation with different ecological and environmental constraints, and have the opportunity to meet new people. Yes, it’s still work, but there is definitely an element of getting to go somewhere fantastic and explore what it has to offer that has a somewhat familiar holiday feel to it.

I have ended up in some stunning places that I may never have visited otherwise. Being able to have ten months in the Scottish Highlands with golden eagles, peregrine falcons, grouse and Scottish crossbills is firmly in first place.

The term grateful definitely comes to mind.

By Clare Nisbet ACIEEM

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