Scaffold Scare Highlights Health and Safety Issues

Scaffold Scare Highlights Health and Safety Issues

02nd April 2015

Construction site health and safety issues once again hit the headlines last week with the news of a horrific incident in Vietnam that left 14 workers dead and 28 injured.   During work on a seawall project in the coastal province of Ha Tinh, a scaffold collapsed leading to a rescue operation that involved around 700 rescue workers.  While it was not clear what caused the collapse, investigations are underway at the industrial complex where the tragic incident took place.

Although this accident took place in Vietnam where they don’t have the same stringent health and safety legislation as we do here in the UK, it nonetheless serves to remind us of just how important it is to stay safe when working at height, especially on scaffolding.   It seems that fatal accidents are fairly common on Vietnamese construction sites because labour and safety regulations are often ignored.  This can be a lesson to all of us in the UK construction industry as we must all be aware that last year’s Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) initiative discovered that 40% of constructions sites failed health and safety spot-checks.  Furthermore, 1 in 5 sites were found to have such poor conditions and safety practices that formal enforcement action was required.

There is not room for complacency when it comes to health and safety in the workplace and because the construction industry has long been recognised as one of the riskiest sectors to work in, compliance with health and safety regulations is essential if we want to improve safety in the workplace and comply with legislation.

Failure to provide basic safety measures for people working at height was the most common issue found by HSE inspectors during spot-checks that led to enforcement notices being served.  No doubt, some of these failures involved those working on scaffolding.  Appropriate planning of working at height continues to be a major issue in the construction industry, despite a wealth of information about the necessary safety measures and how to implement them. 

HSE’s Chief of Construction Phillip White said, “These results show that whilst the majority of employers in the refurbishment sector are getting it right, a significant part of the industry is seriously failing its workers”. 

This means that educating the industry via these type of initiatives to encourage a change in behaviour, especially on smaller projects where more than half of the industry’s fatal accidents occur. 

Another concern for the HSE is that while safety measures may be taken seriously, health issues are often overlooked, especially with regard to uncontrolled exposure to substances like asbestos and silica, the effects of which are irreversible.  The construction industry is being urged to ensure that basic measures such as the use of protective equipment and dust suppression methods are used to help safeguard the future health of workers in the industry.