Guest blog: Don’t wait for a construction accident, promote health and safety today

Date: 14th January 2019
Author: BDMA

By Charles Piton Ltd.

Your construction workplace needs to be safe from hazards to prevent accidents1but your responsibility as an employer is much greater than that. You need to take all reasonable steps to promote health and safety and prevent harm.

If you work in construction or offer commercial cleaning services like Charles Piton Ltd, your team will be involved in high access and potentially dangerous work.

Health and safety in construction is even more important because the work is not simply precise, it’s dangerous.

Between 2014 and 2017, 3.5 per cent of the construction industry’s workforce suffered from a medical condition they believe was caused or made worse by their work, according to research carried out by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE.)2

Sixty-five percent or 80,000 construction workers suffered from musculoskeletal disorders (broadly back, limb or muscle problems) but fifteen percent reported stress, depression or anxiety. Construction workers may also develop occupational cancer, lung problems and asthma, particularly if they are exposed to asbestos and silica.

During the course of the HSE study, the construction industry lost 1.9 million days because of work-related ill health.

Employers have a duty of care to protect health and safety in the construction industry and in all other sectors.

Making the case for health and safety is the easy part, the difficulty is promoting workplace wellbeing in a way that fits your business model. For the first time in 2012, the organisers of the London Olympics made a commitment to actively enhance the wellbeing of all those who worked on the project. This goes much farther than having an accident book that records near misses and ensures compliance with the Health and Safety Executive.

From the outset of the project the Olympic organisers understood that health and safety in construction is of paramount importance. It involves developing a strategy to enhance wellbeing, not confining yourself to random and haphazard acts of kindness according to Lawrence Waterman who headed up the Olympic Delivery Authority.

In 2015 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) introduced new legislation called the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations3. The role of the HSE is ‘to prevent death, injury and ill health in Great Britain’s workplaces.’ HSE shares this responsibility with local authorities which applies to the public as well as employers, staff and contractors.

The executive tends to inspect high risk organisations and industries such as construction where there is evidence of poor performance or following a specific incident or complaint. An HSE inspection can result in prosecution if standards are not met and improvements made.

A Brighton businessman was prosecuted by HSE with his foreman after a carpenter fell through a void in a first floor ceiling of an outhouse and died. They were both fined and jailed. HSE had inspected the property and warned the management a year before the accident that the outhouse was dangerous. Health and safety can be a matter of life and death so it is essential to get it right every time.

By understanding health and safety you will identify and assess risks and take all reasonable steps to prevent harm.

To avoid this, employers must put in place health and safety audits or risk assessments. You cannot always eradicate risks but you can control them.

At the heart of risk assessment is evidence that you have thought about what risks may cause staff, contractors and members of the public harm and what reasonable steps you have taken to prevent that harm.

For example, if you employ more than five people you are required to document regular checks of everything from kitchen appliances and fire alarms to testing high-tech and old construction equipment and building sites.

In the construction industry protecting the safety of staff on wooden or metal beams on a roof, on scaffolds on a building site is as complex and requires the greatest possible vigilance. If your business is high-risk, you may need to introduce control measures.

There are five steps to risk assessment: 1) Identify the hazards 2) Decide who might be harmed and how 3) Evaluate the risks and decide on precautions 4) Record your significant findings 5) Review your assessment and update if necessary.

Make sure your Managing Director appoints a suitably qualified senior manager with responsibility for health and safety. It is the only way to protect workplace wellbeing.