The construction industry has always been a high-risk sector: the National Examination Board in Occupational Safety and Health (NEBOSH), recently quoted an International Labour Organisation (ILO) report claiming that there were at least 60,000 deaths each year on construction sites worldwide. That report actually dates from 2005, but given the growth in the world economy over the past ten years, and the building boom in parts of the Middle East and Asia, there is no reason to think that the figure is any less in 2015.
In the UK, the number of fatalities and accidents has actually fallen steadily since the 1970’s, and overall the UK has one of the lowest rates of workplace injuries in the EU. One factor in this has been the development of a more effective regulatory environment, coupled with a determination to implement these policies. Local authorities and the HSE itself issue an average of about 15,000 enforcement notices each year, and in 2013-14 brought forward almost 600 cases that resulted in prosecutions.
Even so, according to the HSE in 2014-15 there were 35 fatalities in the construction industry alone (7 down from the figure reported for 2013/14), and over 1.7 million working days were lost because of workplace injuries (considerably up from the 590,000 of the previous reporting period), so there’s no room for complacency. The HSE statistics also show that the vast majority of major injuries are avoidable: they are caused by falls-from-height, slips, trips and falls, and being struck by a moving object. All of these imply a lack of risk-avoidance measures such as the use of barriers, harnesses and other personal safety equipment, or – crucially – training for operatives, supervisors and site managers.
That fatalities and major injuries are avoidable was amply demonstrated by the construction of the Olympic Park for the 2012 London Olympics. During the five-year span of this massive development – creating one of the biggest building sites in Europe at the time – there were no fatalities, and the accident frequency rate, at 0.16 per 100,000 hours worked, was less than a third the industry average of 0.55. And this on a project that was delivered on time and within budget.
Researchers from Loughborough University identified the key characteristics for this exemplary safety record. They found that these centre on the excellent relationships between clients, contractors, designers, workers and regulators. The full report can be downloaded from the HSE website.
Pre-conditioned to succeed where safety is concerned
It’s a fairly lengthy document that dates back to 2012, but the executive summary is well worth reading, because it shows clearly that underpinning the project’s safety record was what the researchers call “Pre-conditioning for success”. Put simply, this involves an awareness and recognition of the importance of safety issues by everyone involved, and a determination by all parties to co-operate to ensure a safe build.
As the research points out, these practices can be applied to small building sites just as easily as to major projects. It requires, of course, a specific cultural attitude: a recognition that everyone is important and has a role to play in ensuring safety, and that safe practices make good commercial sense. And in turn, that implies effective training across the board.
This is the first of two blogs inspired by Australia’s Safe Work Month – an annual event, organised by the Australian government that is aimed at raising awareness of occupational safety issues. As well as local events nationwide, there is a series of virtual seminars which can be viewed either live or downloaded as podcasts after the event. Each week, there are different themes – this week’s themes are construction, and the supply chain – and the seminars are linked to these.