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Logistics control

Issues taken for granted in Britain are problems in the former Soviet republic. Scottish contractor Morrison has managed to get around everyday problems.

'Everything is different,' says Morrison senior engineer Mark Thompson. 'Look at these blocks.' He points to a pile of building bocks. 'They are all cut differently. They do not have machines here that can cut blocks to the same size and shape.'

His message to anybody planning to work in Azerbaijan is 'be prepared for a long, hard struggle'.

Issues taken for granted in the UK are problems in the former Soviet republic. Examples include decrepit plant, untrained labour and uncertainty about the supply and quality of materials.

One of the most difficult issues is finding local workers with the right skills. 'We have tried to stick with the same workforce and to train them up,' says Morrison works manager Ian Hickman.

'Over the years we have managed to establish a permanent core of good guys.'

Safety is a constant problem in Azerbaijan. Virtually all the local contractors and many of the Turkish contractors ignore safety procedures. 'The Azeris have never been used to working safely,' says Hickman. 'It has taken a lot of drilling. They are getting into it now but you still need a man on site monitoring the situation.'

Time keeping is also an issue. 'The Azeri workers were not used to working a 10 hour day,' says Hickman. 'When we arrived in 1994 they hadn't worked since 1991. It took a lot of motivating. But they are used to it now.'

BP retail engineering manager Gavin Findlay says quality is another problem. 'Most structures are currently built to old Soviet design codes. Unlike western codes these have not evolved to provide the most efficient and economical design.' In other words Soviet standards often required structures to be overdesigned. This resulted in complacency on site, which led to poor workmanship.

As we walk across the site of a new BP service station, a rusting bulldozer starts up. A cloud of thick black smoke shoots upwards from its exhaust. 'You would never see that on modern construction plant,' says Findlay.

Nearly all the construction machinery in Azerbaijan is old Soviet equipment. Contractors are crying out

for modern kit. 'We need more efficient, better plant right across the board. We bring our own small bits but the bigger stuff is Soviet,' says Hickman.

Materials quality can vary widely and contractors have to be vigilent when they are buying locally. Type 1 road base, for example, will sometimes lack fines.'

Concrete quality is also a problem. There are no western concrete mixing companies in Azerbaijan. When Morrison first set up, Azerbaijan's knowledge of concrete technology was extremely limited. 'Nobody had heard of retarders,' says regional manager David Hook.' Now there are a couple of companies that know about admixtures.'

Importing materials is a major logistical task. On one job, Morrison brought in structural steel and aluminium cladding on lorries through Iran from the United Arab Emirates.

Another route is overland through Turkey and Georgia. Suppliers to the oil companies even bring materials through Russia along the Volga river, although the north Caspian freezes over in winter. Another potential route is across Russia by train.

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