An Inspector Calls - In The Construction Industry

An Inspector Calls - In The Construction Industry

18th November 2015

The United Kingdom’s Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has just completed its annual refurbishment inspection initiative, an exercise designed to ensure that on site health and safety risks are being effectively managed by contractors.  The aim of the initiative is to encourage a positive behaviour change by all types of duty holder.  During the initiative Health and Safety inspectors carried out spot checks targeting small renovation and refurbishment jobs carried out by more than two thousand contractors in order to ensure that safety procedures where being effectively carried out.  The inspection focussed on the main causes of accidents and ill health in the high risk construction industry – namely:

  • Work at height – to ensure that jobs are properly planned and that adequate safety precautions (such as proper support of structures) are in place
  • Sites are well organised so that trips and falls can be avoided and that walkways and stairs are free from obstructions
  • Exposure to carcinogens such as silica are being controlled
  • Workers are aware of where they may find asbestos and the procedure that should be followed if they find it
  • Exposure to other hazardous substances
  • Equipment is properly installed/assembled, inspected and maintained and used properly
  • Adequate welfare facilities are present
  • Manual handling
  • Noise and vibration

For a four week period between 14th September and 9th October, HSE safety inspectors descended on sites across the UK to carry out these spot checks and the results have now been collated and make for some pretty interesting reading.  Inspectors visited 1,908 sites and inspected more than 2,380 contractors.  During the initiative 692 enforcement notices were issued and 983 notifications of contravention due to significant violations and immediate risks such as working and height and exposure to silica dust and asbestos.  Poor standards and dangerous practices were discovered at 40% of the sites visited which should serve as a wakeup call for the industry as there is certainly plenty of room for improvement here. 

It seems that many of the small sites that were visited were cutting corners when it came to protecting workers adequately.  Despite falls from height being the most common killer within the construction industry (a fact that’s well publicised and well documented), inspectors discovered that workers were being put at risk in order to save minutes on a job.  There’s a sense of hubris in the industry with people believing that an accident is something that happens to somebody else and not to them.

As for harmful dust (an issue which we’ve covered in the past here at Safety Fabrications), whether it’s silica or wood, it’s a serious concern and one that can be effectively managed with the correct type of design, equipment and training.  Although the harmful effects on health may not be immediate, the cumulative effect can have a devastating impact on both workers and their families.  Every week a hundred construction workers die from occupational diseases.

It’s not all bad news though – the inspectors found that many of the small sites were carrying out work safely which proves that it is possible even for smaller companies.  The larger companies have, by and large, already made the improvements necessary and smaller companies can look to some of these as role models to emulate.