Building a safer future01 March 2008

Some 2.2 million people work in Britain's construction industry and, in the last 25 years, more than 2,800 have died from work-related accidents. Many more have been injured or made ill. What's more, HSE's figures show an increase in both fatality rates (up by 28% on the previous year) and major injuries. Falling from height continues to be a problem, responsible for 30% of fatalities and 27% of major injuries. But the most common cause of accidents is slips and trips (27%).

Everyone agrees: construction sites, by their very nature, contain multiple hazards and require serious management commitment to control and mitigate risk. 'Whilst there are high-profile incidents, such as collapse of scaffolding or tower cranes, many accidents are simple events, but nonetheless result in significant pain and suffering for the individual,' says Tim Mapstone, health safety quality manager at plant inspection consultancy Allianz Engineering.

Certainly, the need for greater vigilance and accountability are paramount. 'The industry must focus upon the cause of these accidents and ensure that they are taking steps to prevent them,' says Kathleen Potter, solicitor in the workplace safety team at Weightmans Solicitors. She draws attention to last year's HSE campaigns focusing on work at height, and slips and trips. 'The slips and trips campaign revealed that one in three sites, and one in four contractors inspected, were working below the acceptable standard,' she states.

'The work at height campaign revealed that one in six sites were still failing to address risks, despite the new Working at Height Regulations being in force since April 2006,' she adds. 'The new regulations recognise that all falls can be the cause of major injury, but seemingly the message has not filtered through to all quarters. The figures speak for themselves - more work needs to be done.'

Following some basic steps can prevent potentially major incidents in these hotspot areas. Potter advises: take time to plan; carry out thorough risk assessments; use the right employees and the right equipment for the job; keep the site in good order; and educate the workforce.

Failure to enforce such measures can have serious repercussions - and not just for those who are injured as a result. One of the most significant developments in 2007 was the introduction of the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007. The regulations widened the responsibility for safety on sites to include those who commission and pay for construction, as well as those who mange and build.

'The regulations carry both civil and criminal sanctions, including an unlimited fine and up to two years' imprisonment,' warns Potter. 'With so much at stake for everyone concerned, it is within the interests of all parties to supervisors will receive health and safety actively adopt a multidisciplinary approach to site safety at the outset of the project. These regulations are important in bringing site safety to the forefront of project management, making it an integral part of the construction process.

'The objective for 2008 must be to drive accident figures down. The benefits are not just in preventing injury, but making major financial savings, too. Accidents on site cost money: at the minor end of the scale, lost days in productivity, legal fees and increased insurance premiums; at the major end, site closure, HSE prosecution, loss of reputation and custom. Safety must therefore be at the heart of any construction project.'

Safety conscious
There are many companies in the construction industry that do put safety at the heart of their business. One is Hughes & Salvidge, among the country's top demolition and remediation contractors, and a member of the British Safety Council as well as the Construction Health and Safety Group. However, plant manager Steve Kemp, who has undergone a variety of health and safety training, says: 'I had never had training that I felt was particularly in depth and definitely not specific to plant, as it had never been available.'

Now that has changed, with the emergence of such schemes as the PMSTS (plant manager safety training scheme). The course is the first of its kind to be developed by ConstructionSkills specifically for plant managers, in order to tackle accidents relating to working with heavy machinery. Kemp, who completed the PMSTS at the National Construction College, praises the course. 'I found learning about risk assessments really useful and the tutoring stood out. I will now be able to manage health and safety better, which will benefit the business, but also,more importantly, the well-being of my employees.'

In fact, health and safety underpins everything that ConstructionSkills does. 'Our Site Safety Plus scheme has provided training to around 20,000 construction workers this year,' comments Neil England, ConstructionSkills business performance manager, 'and the National Construction College, our training division, is the largest single training provider for health and safety in the country. We are very enthusiastic about the new PMSTS course, as it will provide tailored training to a key area of the industry, where it was previously unavailable.'

Meanwhile, the Major Contractors Group (MCG) has announced that, following a review that identified supervisor health and safety training as an operational priority, all supervisors on its sites must attend ConstructionSkills' Supervisors Safety Training Scheme. It estimates that, as a result, thousands of Supervisors will receive health and safety training from ConstructionSkills by 2010.

Gordon Crick, inspector of health and safety for the HSE, say's he's fully behind measures such as those taken by the MCG. 'The HSE recognises the vital importance of training for site supervisors and encourages all contractors to consider their approaches in ensuring that the training needs of supervisors are given priority,' he says.

The onus for that is firmly on the industry - and as a matter of urgency. The statistics speak for themselves. Falls from height are the biggest cause of fatal injury - resulting in 23 of the 77 worker deaths in construction in 2006/07 - while more than 4,000 major injuries, such as broken bones or fractured skulls, are reported to the HSE each year.

'Accidents of this type are affected by individual worker behaviour, perhaps trying to cut corners to get a job done,' comments Allianz's Mapstone. 'One way to inform workers of the risks they run is to require them to have at least minimum health and safety knowledge before they are permitted on site - using safety passports, for example.'

He points to the best practice methodologies adopted by Safety Assessment Federation (SAFed) member companies, which provide examination and assessment services covering a range of mechanical and electrical plant and equipment. 'The SAFed Health and Safety Passport Scheme has been designed with the intention of meeting this requirement. In addition, unlike other passport scheme, the SAFed scheme takes account of the specialist activities that engineer surveyors undertake, thus providing individuals with the health and safety knowledge and awareness required to ensure that their examination and assessment activities are undertaken safely,' says Mapstone.

- Focus on the prime causes of accidents and take preventative steps
- Use right employees, and right equipment, in the right way for all tasks
- Keep sites in good order: a tidy and organised site makes for greater productivity and, more importantly, safeguards those who are carrying out the work
- Train and educate the workforce: make their obligations to site safety crystal clear


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