Is the UK economic environment contributing to construction site safety standards?


As a safety consultant with many years knowledge of the law, construction sites, power distribution systems, civil engineering, electro-mechanical engineering and film & television lighting industry , it is not hard to see that with an understanding of root cause analysis it is easy for me to identify poor safety application within industries and make qualative decisions as to corrective actions necessary to prevent disasters etc.

The question is what course of action would you take when YOU find an unsafe act or condition on site?

I have had many instances where I have intervened and managed to prevent serious incidents. I have also had many situations that have been outside of my control, but as a safety professional I have dealt with them proactively so preventing serious incidents.

We all know and understand the problems associated with the black economy where tax revenues are driven underground and lost, where criminal activity is rife and only come to light in ‘fly on the wall’ televison programes or when reported to the office of fair trading, or trading standards.

My real concern is in the light of the UK govornements vendetta on safety legislation and reduction of HSE budgets, and inspectors – WHO WILL FILL THE GAP? – the safety professional, like some quasar special constable?
Below is a recent outcome of a construction site visit undertaken by me.

Site safety audits

Over the past five years the number of construction site start-ups would appear to be falling. Does it following in your experience that the safety standards or attitudes to safety have fallen as well?

If true there would appear to be two main reasons for the fall in standards namely,

  1. The government blames rigorous health and safety compliance as a disincentive to business
  2. Those who engage is construction projects are more likely to opt for cheap solutions

I recently undertook a CDM-C audit on a construction site instigated by a sub contractor not as usually occurs at the request of the principle contractor, but the audit was instigated one of the site sub-contractors and their concerns over his employees and the site facilities present on the project.

This is a summary of the CDM Audit and its findings;

  1. No Health & Safety plan
  2. No COSHH evaluation
  3. No briefing registers
  4. No Scaffold test certificates
  5. No Site inductions
  6. No control of contractors
  7. No fire risk assessment
  8. The site manager had no qualifications
  9. No Scaffold tags
  10. No site management inspections
  11. No emergency procedures
  12. No Health and safety law poster
  13. No general site signage whatsoever
  14. No records for buried services on site
  15. No permits i.e. site not registered with EA as a waste producer
  16. No first aid box
  17. No welfare facilities (including, no drying room, canteen not even an equipped site office)

The point here is that there was no organised or structured site office, no desk, telephone, filing cabinets, notices instructions the actual site office was a recently acquired metal garden shed no larger than 12’x10’

My plan of action was to discuss the seriousness of the findings with the principle contractor (who was also the site manager) and bring to his attention of the requirements of  CDM 2007 regulations. He said that he was sorry and that he would rectify the issues listed.

The sub contractor who instigated my initial visit was present during my discussions with the PC (site manager) however to my knowledge that is all that has occured. The sub contractor thanked me for the report but todate I have had no feedback.

My Questions to you are

  • Have you had similar experiences?
  • What were the outcomes?
  • Is the present UK government responsible for sending out the wrong message to industry?   
  • Are we driving the UK construction industry back into ‘the dark ages’?
  • Are we driving all UK industries into the ’Black Economy’? 

As we all know as safety professionals we have a duty not only to our clients but also the general public and society as a whole, the example given above illustrates a particular dilemma, do you leave the problem site to be dealt with by the sub-contractor and principle contractor or do you blow the whistle?

I have had to influence both of the parties involved the above audit – however what if a member of the general public is injured as a result of poor site management?