Ten Alps Digital

The importance of a healthy balance

Construction specialist Neville Clements, recently honoured for services to the building industry, shares his views on health and safety

It may be a hackneyed phrase, but in our business we can't afford for health and safety to be anything but our 'number one priority'.

Over the last 25 years, more than 2,800 people have died as a result of construction related injuries (Source: HSE). It's a shocking figure and one we need to be mindful of as we go about our everyday working lives.

No one will dispute the fact that construction can be a dangerous business. Every element of a construction project has associated risks and the more challenging the project, the more
these are likely to increase.

Our job as construction professionals is to ensure that we identify and minimise risk at the outset.
From 6 April, UK construction companies will be duty bound to adhere to new Construction (Design and Management) Regulations.

Designed to revise and bring together the existing CDM 1994 and the Construction (Health Safety and Welfare) (CHSW) Regulations 1996 in a single regulatory package, the new regulations will give businesses a chance to review the way they approach health and safety.

It's encouraging to see that CDM 2007 places increased responsibilities on the client to be more accountable for the impact they have on health and safety standards by providing enough time and resources to allow projects to be delivered safely and ensuring there are sufficient management arrangements in place for health and safety throughout a project.

In a sector which many already believe to be over regulated, there's no doubt the changes will be perceived by some as another stick with which to beat the industry.

However, the sensible option is to view the changes as an opportunity, rather than an obstacle. By encouraging firms to provide better information about individual construction sites and the risks associated with working on them, standards will naturally improve, enabling the industry to shake off its current 'bad boy' media image in terms of adherence to health and safety.

But simply following rules isn't enough. We also need to promote ownership of health and safety at every level within an organisation, encouraging individuals to use their common sense and take responsibility for their actions.

Gone are the days when you could rely on one health and safety representative to shoulder the burden for everyone. Instead, if you want your business to succeed in today's economic climate, you need to ensure that health and safety is ingrained within your culture.

It's an approach we've adopted with considerable success at Adonis and experience has taught us that driving health and safety from the top down sends a clear message to staff and clients.

Since the mid 1990s, we've employed a full-time, in-house health, safety and environment advisor. Responsible for championing health and safety issues throughout the business, he reports directly to me, in my capacity as managing director and together we ensure the message gets across. All our contract and site managers undergo rigorous training courses on health and safety awareness and First Aid. Additionally, all site-based and office staff receive safety training and hold Construction Skills Certification Scheme certificates (CSCS).

But it's not just about our staff. Like every major construction firm, we employ sub contractors to carry out work on our behalf.

As ambassadors for our business, we have to be confident that they've been properly vetted and that they've got the necessary competencies well before we let them onto one of our sites. Failure to do so is a failure to manage our own reputation.

That's why we use an independent consultant to assess every sub contractor we work with and independently approve every method statement and risk assessment before a sub contractor is permitted to commence on site.

In the construction sector, you can't leave anything to chance. Continual assessment is key and it's my belief that if people are actively encouraged to get involved in health and safety from the outset, they'll be more receptive to it.

Training is essential, so whether it's an induction briefing at the start of a job or an update session on the introduction of new legislation, staff need to feel they understand the issues and that they're involved in the process.

In a world that is becoming increasingly more litigious, it's vital that health and safety is a fundamental part of everything we do. As champions of Britain's biggest industry, we need to take a common sense approach to legislative changes and our aim should be to encourage staff to pick up the mantle of health and safety, creating a better, safer working environment for all.

Neville Clements is managing director of Midlands-based Adonis Construction. In 2006, he was awarded an honorary degree from the University of Wolverhampton in recognition of his services to the construction industry.