Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Construction Site Health & Safety - Is Legislation Enough?

Over the years, if I had a £1 for every time I have heard somebody say 'health & safety is just common sense', I would be a very rich man.  Sadly, particularly when it comes to the UK construction industry, common sense is a commodity in very short supply.

Source: Google Images
The issue of construction site health & safety and in particular the poor health and safety record of the UK construction industry is well documented.  Over the years, the government have introduced numerous pieces of legislation, guidance and initiatives in order to try to address this poor safety record, which has resulted in the UK construction industry becoming one of the most heavily regulated industries in the world. Yet, even in today’s economic climate with reduced levels of output, accident, serious injuries and fatalities continue to occur at unacceptable levels.  A recent news article entitled  The cost of an unsafe construction site increases' identified a particularly alarming situation following inspection of 22 construction sites in London:
'Mr Slade was responding to news that, when inspecting 22 London construction sites recently, the UK's Health & Safety Executive (HSE) took formal enforcement action against almost half of the firms. In most cases, the problem was simply that basic precautions had not been taken, but one site was actually shut down because the working environment was simply too hazardous.
Calling these figures "nothing short of staggering," Mr Slade said,  "In simple terms all you have to do is follow the guidance available and plan things properly; so it's extremely disappointing to see that the number of fatalities in this sector has remained static at around 50 for the second year running. So many of these deaths are wholly avoidable.
"Regulations relating to this kind of work are prescriptive, which means they tell you what you've got to do. That's why it's so unacceptable that a simple lack of planning can put people's lives at risk as well as the future of many businesses.'
The Health & Safety Executive (HSE) produce annual safety statistics for the construction industry which show a downward trend in respect of accidents and fatalities over the last twenty year.  The latest available statistics show 50 fatalities occurred in the construction industry in 2010/11, which was an increase from the previous year and at a similar level to the year before that.   If the scenario described above is typical of the situation around the UK and health & safety statistics are take into consideration it is clear that legislation is not having the impact it was introduced for.
Source: Google Images

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme was an initiative that was introduced in the mid 90's to raise awareness and to try to improve the general health & safety competence of construction site operatives. The Construction Industry Training Board (CITB) state: 'CSCS cards list the holder’s qualifications and are valid for either three or five years. It also shows they have health and safety awareness as all cardholders have to pass the appropriate CITB-Construction Skills Health and Safety Test'  In order to pass this test a visit to an assessment centre is required where a multiple choice 'examination' is taken. The test will vary depending upon whether the operative is a trainee, construction site operative, or in management etc.  The pass mark is 29/35 for the operative level and 34/40 for supervisor/manager level.  Whether this test demonstrates sufficient health & safety competence is highly questionable. Having taken this test personally as a site operative I can tell you that the level of questions is not exactly challenging.  The test allows 45 minutes to complete, I took just 15 minutes and past the test!  In order to make a real difference the level of questions needs to be radically reviewed, so that when an operative passes the test, that it actually means something. The video below provides a brief explanation of the purpose of CSCS.

Legislation is prescriptive and will state exactly what is and what is not required.  Although legislation is often difficult to read and sometimes to understand the requirements will actually be there. Numerous codes of practice and guidance notes are available to 'draw out' these requirements in more simple terms. One problem however is that legislation assumes that people will understand and follow it (because they required to do so), what is not accounted for is the 'human factor'.  I have worked on construction sites as a labourer, a bricklayer and visited sites as a consultant.  During my early years on site I witnessed some serious health & safety breaches, where operatives for some unknown reason would  pay little regard to their own well being or to the well being of others, and would often take short cuts just to 'get the job done'. The attitude to health & safety of most of the operative on site at the time was that health & safety was a hindrance that got in the way of them doing their jobs.  Although, I have seen a marked improvement is health & safety procedures on construction sites over recent years there still remains an 'ignorance' to health & safety by many, particularly by some of the more experienced operatives who have been on site for many years.

Over the years, if I had a £1 for every time I have heard somebody say 'health & safety is just common sense', I would be a very rich man.  Sadly, particularly when it comes to the UK construction industry, common sense is a commodity in very short supply.  Whilst it is clear that legislation has made some improvements, the level of fatalities, serious injuries and accidents continue to occur at unacceptable levels. In isolation legislation will never be fully affective without integrating improved knowledge and training to try to change attitudes. It is creating a self desire for those working in the construction industry to want to be safe rather than having it imposed on them.  This has to be the key and is really the only thing that will make a real difference. This will not be easy and rather than playing lip service to health & safety, as demonstrated by the CSCS test, why not provide a competence assessment that will actually provide a 'test'  rather than just a rubber stamp for anyone who wants to work on a construction site.

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  1. I truly like to reading your post. Thank you so much for taking the time to share such a nice information.
    Martin Construct

  2. Definitely worth it to take these construction site safety into consideration!