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Health & Safety Matters - Behave yourself!

Last month's Building Services Summit highlighted the need for the industry to address its safety culture. Bob Towse, head of technical and safety at the HVCA, reports
After several years when the statistics improved, the number of deaths on construction sites has started to rise again. This has generated political and press interest, and worker surveys show the trend towards health and safety improvement is beginning to fall off.
Site workers are much safer than they used to be but they are still not as safe as we would like. And the evidence seems to suggest that safety has slipped down the agenda a little.

Card schemes may hold some of the answers. It is a positive sign that the Olympic Delivery Authority is talking about only allowing access to their sites for people carrying a smart card that proves they have had the right training, including health and safety instruction.

We also have more health surveillance coming along through the Constructing Better Health programme. Big clients and big projects will drive this by increasing the amount of health monitoring they do of people working for them, including their sub-contractors.

These initiatives plus the new CDM 2007 Regulations are increasing calls for more training. Smaller employers in particular need help with adoption of the cultural and behavioural changes required to meet the new standards.

At the recent Building Services Summit, organised by Hilti at Wembley Stadium, Robin Chaplin, director of environment, health and safety at Bovis Lend Lease, talked about addressing this by 'upgrading safety culture'.

'Behaviour is at the core of any safety culture,' he told the conference. 'It is a very good idea to set up safety leadership workshops, find out what needs fixing and get ideas from the site-based workforce.'

He suggested that surveys could also prove invaluable by getting people to reassess their approach to jobs and to managing risks. They should ask things like: Are some jobs more difficult to do safely? Is it worth taking risks to get the job done? And note the differences in answers given by the management and site-based operatives.
'There is clear evidence of lowcostitis (the cutting-corners disease) which can drive the process and put the workforce in danger,' added Chaplin. But he said Bovis avoided this by organising daily safety meetings and by getting the workforce to sign a series of pledges to 'look out for each other'.

The electrical industry has also made massive strides in recent years in this area thanks, in large part, to the Electrical Contractors' Association's ZAP initiative. This has seen a 32% fall in reportable accidents and 59% fall in major accidents in the five and a half years since its launch through a lot of hard work on practical advice and behavioural change.

The man behind the programme is the association's head of safety and sustainability, Paul Reeve. He told the summit that the aim was now to raise the rate of improvement to 70% by 2010.

'It is a heartening thought that there are 40 or 50 m&e workers walking around today who would have been seriously injured if we had not done this work,' he said.

'Designing out risks at the earliest stage in the project process is the best solution as it eliminates it for the lifetime of the building. This is a key aim of the new CDM Regulations, but we should, at the very least, make sure we are not designing risk in.'

The overall message of the summit was that there was a shortage of integrated team working across the supply chain. This is still a major stumbling block to the efficient delivery of safe and energy efficient buildings despite the years of publicity about the issue.

The CDM Regulations implicitly back up teamwork because they emphasise the importance of communication and working closely with all project partners to reduce risks for everyone involved. We should all be asking ourselves if we spend enough time addressing these cultural and behavioural issues because they are the building blocks of a true safety culture.

1 December 2007

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