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A vital aspect of construction today

John Gibson, of construction consultants, RNJ, on the importance of health and safety in construction and how forthcoming changes will impact on the industry

From 2005 to 2006, 59 workers were killed in the construction industry in the UK, making construction work one of the most dangerous industrial sectors for the workforce and members of the public.

With 2.2 million people working in Britain's construction industry it is one of the country's biggest employment sectors. In the last 25 years, over 2,800 people have died from injuries they received as a result of construction work while many more have been injured or made ill.

There is a high level consensus that this record is unacceptable and must change, not just to safeguard the workforce but as part of a wider strategy to create a modern dynamic construction sector.

Drafted by the Health and Safety Commission (HSC) and the Construction Industry Advisory Committee (CONIAC), the new CDM Regulations address the industry's concerns about health and safety.

Eliminating or controlling the number of accidents and deaths in construction heavily relies upon co-operation and co-ordination of all parties involved in the construction process, as well as the free-exchange of relevant information and often, the management of many different companies within the same workplace.

The new CDM Regulations 2007 provide a framework for this process to operate within. Clients, architects, designers and those involved in the building process must accept responsibility for the hazards created as a result of their decisions, if those actually carrying out the works, sometimes years later, are not to suffer injury or ill-health as a result.

The HSC states that the key aim of the new regulations is to simplify and add clarity to construction health and safety law so that risks on site can be properly managed. It is hoped that this will be achieved by further integrating health and safety into the management of a project, to encourage all parties involved to work together to improve the planning and management of projects from the very start.

This should enable risks to be identified early so that they can be eliminated or reduced at the design or planning stage and the remaining risks can be properly managed.

The effort devoted to planning and managing health and safety should always be in direct proportion to the risks and complexity associated with the project. Focus should always be made on the action necessary to reduce and manage risk which it has not been possible to design out of a scheme. Any paperwork produced should aid communication and risk management, not distract from the importance of the task.

These regulations are intended to focus attention on planning and management throughout construction projects, from design concept onwards with the ultimate aim of treating health and safety considerations as an essential part of a project's development - not an afterthought or bolt on extra.

The massive changes to client duties and the replacement of the planning supervisor by the CDM co-ordinator, requires that all parties make themselves familiar, not only with the regulations themselves, but also with what they mean in terms of practice and procedures.

The new role of the CDM co-ordinator is to provide the client with a key project advisor in respect of construction health and safety risk management. It is the CDM co-ordinator's
responsibility to assist and advise a client on the appointment of competent contractors and the adequacy of management arrangements. Their duty is to ensure proper co-ordination of all health and safety aspects of the design process, to facilitate good communication and cooperation between project team members and to prepare the health and safety file.

If the construction sector adopts these new regulations in the spirit that it is intended, it will mean better design, safer construction sites and safer, easily maintained buildings.

With these major changes taking place in the construction industry it is also worth taking a look at the general impact of health and safety on construction firms.

Under the new regulations, clients will be encouraged to play a major part in improving the industry's health and safety performance. At the same time it is hoped they will benefit from better programme predictability and higher standards of quality in the finished product. A key benefit is that good business and good health and safety standards go hand in hand.

Research shows that the first few weeks on site are the most critical ones - approximately 50 per cent of fatal accidents in the building and construction industry occur within the first week of starting work on site so it is important to ensure all direct employees, sub contractors or self-employed workers are aware of health and safety before starting work on site.

Accidents have a human cost, a financial cost and can affect morale. Employees want to know that they are safe and that those around them pose no danger but accidents also directly impact bottom line profits. It's no coincidence that the safest firms are often among the most profitable.

A good safety record also protects the reputation of your business - clients, customers and employees alike will want to see evidence that a site is safe. Good health and safety processes demonstrate respect for people whether they are employees, clients or localcommunities hosting a construction project. Complying with the regulations and ensuring the workforce is aware of all the relevant health and safety issues on site helps to reduce accidents, has a positive effect on your business profitability, reduces downtime, the risk of litigation, recruitment costs and retraining.

As construction consultants, clients often ask us to take the leading role in health and safety issues. Peace of mind is paramount when appointing a CDM Co- ordinator. Reliance on their advice regarding the legal obligations throughout the design, construction and maintenance of a building or development is a key part of the process.

Having worked on projects of all sizes across the UK we have developed a range of specialist services that are delivered with our clients in mind: from chartered quantity surveying, chartered building surveying, project management, planning supervision, and asbestos surveying.

John Gibson is a member of the Association for Project Safety (the foremost authority dealing with health and safety in construction). Together with his CDM team, John has worked on over 500 schemes since the health and safety regulations began in 1994.