Warning given about HSE Construction Safety Crackdown


February/March 2012

Ever since HSE announced its prioritisation policy for 2012, it has been apparent that the construction sector was going to be at the top of their list for heavy-duty attention. No-one in the building trade can say they were not warned. And in a time of economic hardship when new-build sites are rare, many firms are surviving through refurbishment project work. It is just those projects that have now been put under the Inspectors’ microscope.

What HSE describe as ‘an intensive inspection initiative aimed at reducing death, injury and ill health’ has just begun and will continue until at least mid-March.

During this month-long period, Inspectors will be visiting sites around the country and will be focusing on locations involving refurbishment or repair works.  The aim is to improve standards in what they regard as being one of the UK’s most dangerous industries.

High-risk activities including working at height are top of their checklists, and they will also be looking closely into ‘good order’ issues like the cleanliness and tidiness of working sites, expecting them to be provided with clear routes of access and escape. Anyone whose standards are low will be served with enforcement notices. Do not forget that these will shortly be chargeable, potentially involving serious hourly bills to cover HSE running costs.

Top-Priority Items

HSE have warned that the following items will be in high relief:

  • Jobs involving working at height have to be identified and planned properly, ensuring proper precautions are taken
  • Equipment must be correctly installed or assembled, then inspected, maintained and properly used
  • Sites need to be well-organised, avoiding trips and falls
  • Walkways and stairs must be obstruction-free
  • Unnecessary materials and waste are to be kept clear of work areas

In the London area alone, 8 workers were killed and over 440 others seriously injured in 2010/11 on construction sites. Across the whole country, on average there are over 5 falls from height in the building industry that result in serious injury or death. The quoted reason for this drive is that refurbishment schemes are statistically the most risky of activities in terms of construction health and safety.

Seek Professional Help

In many cases simple improvements and precautions can be instituted to significantly reduce risks. Health and safety consultants can attest to the fact that the fact of carrying out risk assessments under professional guidance, and then carrying out the necessary corrections, makes a huge difference to on-site safety.

For larger refurbishment and rebuilding schemes, under the Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007, CDM Co-ordinators must be appointed and this role can be carried out by a reliable firm of safety consultants such as McCormack Benson Health & Safety.

So for site managers, the excuse of ‘not knowing’ will not be acceptable and the visit from the regulators is to be expected. Responsible managers will take the time today to walk their site and cast a critical eye on the critical safety factors – and will then repeat the exercise frequently, correcting lapses wherever necessary.