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Building the way to safety on site

23 January 2013

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses health and safety in the construction industry and the varying attitudes to the topic...

David Lummis, CEO of the British Safety Industry Federation (BSIF), discusses health and safety in the construction industry and the varying attitudes to the topic.

According to statistics from the HSE, in 2009/10 the construction industry had one of the highest rates of reported fatal injuries - 30 deaths - compared to any other main industry group.

In building construction work there are inherent dangers, particularly as structures are in a partially completed state for long periods of time. Additionally, all manner of tools and equipment are on site, materials are stored ready for use and dangerous waste materials are generated. To ensure safe working practices, a good attitude to safety by all site personnel must exist. Creating a safe working environment requires that in addition to any formal rules of conduct, workers must be kept aware and informed of the continually changing dangers of the site and the hazards that exist in their particular job roles - health and safety needs to be everyone's responsibility.

It was disheartening to learn that recently a leader of a London council refused to wear a hard hat while visiting a redevelopment site in his borough, saying “people should have a choice whether to wear them or not.” According to a local newspaper, Councillor Carr refused to abide by health and safety rules when being shown the progress of building work at The Pavilion leisure centre in Bromley as part of a group. Before entering the site, the construction firm's site manager handed out high-visibility jackets and hard hats and everyone put on the personal protective equipment (PPE) except for Councillor Carr, who refused to wear the hat. Once inside the site - where all workers have to wear a hard hat - the manager asked Councillor Carr why he was not wearing one, to which he replied: “I don't do hats”.

This blatant disregard by Councillor Carr for construction health and safety rules is extremely disappointing as he should be leading by example. Whilst health and safety professionals, together with construction workers, continue to strive to reduce serious accidents on sites, his attitude highlights what is unfortunately probably not an isolated attitude. A serious attitude change towards health and safety is needed. Surely he is aware that the instances of death and injury can be considerably reduced by the provision and wearing of good quality PPE?

Each year too many construction workers are needlessly injured or killed while working on site. Whilst improvements have been made in recent years there needs to be continuing effort to increase awareness of health and safety in the UK construction industry in an effort to prevent needless accidents and deaths at work. Employers and employees, together with upstanding members of the community, need to join forces to present a positive image towards health and safety - an attitude shift for many individuals needs to occur.