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Ask the experts

For an expert analysis of the questionnaire results NCE asked two of the most respected figures in construction safety. Kevin Myers is the chief inspector of construction for the Health & Safety Executive and Martin Barnard is director of health and safet

Ninety five percent of engineers reckon they understand their safety responsibilities well or very well, according to the responses to question 1. Which begs the question - why is the industry's safety record so poor? Martin Barnard has no doubt that the 'vast majority of engineers are guilty of deliberate dereliction of their duties'.

Clients might think they understand their safety responsibilities but apparently they don't, says Kevin Myers, looking at questions 2 to 4.

'Clients do not rate health and safety competence highly enough when awarding work - this is a clear call to action so clients can lead the way forward.'

Barnard agrees, saying it is 'likely that clients understand the theory of their responsibilities, but do not know how to meet them in practice'. He believes clients do not see safety as a priority and that the HSE needs to be tougher on them. He feels responses to question 4, relating to the rating of health and safety competence when appointing designers and contractors, indicate that a 'fundamental cornerstone of the Construction Design & Management (CDM) regulations is being ignored by the vast majority - of clients'. This is, he says, a 'damning indictment of how the CDM regs are being implemented.'

Myers feels designers fare no better than clients, especially on perceptions of how they understand their responsibilities.

He points out that 'designers fully recognise they could do more to design out risk', describing this as a 'clarion call for action'.

Barnard feels that after six years of CDM, the designers' views are 'disappointing but honest. The so called major impact CDM was meant to have on the construction industry has obviously passed designers by.'

He feels the fact that only 6% of CDM related prosecutions have been against designers is failing to force them to face up to responsibilities. 'The problem ranges from professional arrogance on the part of the designer to sheer ignorance.

Greater education, training and guidance is needed to persuade them to enter the brave new world and leave behind the traditional view that safety is for the contractor to worry about. A few landmark prosecutions will help persuade them.'

Myers feels planning supervisors need to start demonstrating that they add value. 'This means reducing risk, not creating paper, and that is the key - action.'

He also feels action is something contractors need to take in relation to engaging workers. He says the questionnaire shows workers need to be more involved. 'The way forward is clear.

Contractors must harness the contributions workers can make.'

Barnard agrees. 'This is a sadly realistic answer, ' he says of the response to question 10 which asked if the workforce is included enough in day to day management of health and safety. 'Indeed the workforce is often not included at all. The industry has consistently failed to recognise the value of the contribution the workforce can make to safety.'

He goes on: 'Safety method statements are often seen as management safety tools not suitable for the consumption of mere operatives. It is often the case that individuals choose not to adopt good practice or, more significantly, believe their employers don't want them to.'

With regard to pressures on contractors to get the job done (questions 12 and 13), Myers says: 'Contractors clearly need to reflect on how they compromise safety to get the job done.' But he does point out that it is gratifying that fear of retaliation is not an issue if engineers stop unsafe working practices, though he acknowledged there may have been a different picture had 'the poll included workers'.

Barnard says the answers show the great motivation of the elements of time and money. He says the reasons for this are complex but 'invariably have elements of poor management and control'. He can only believe individuals feel empowered to act unsafely on behalf of their employer. 'If that is true then both corporate and personal capabilities need to be focused on by the HSE in a much more obvious and powerful way.'

The responses to question 14 'strikingly demonstrate the need for more front line supervision', says Myers. 'Everyone in the industry needs to take action to ensure it is provided. Contractors need to recognise the direct benefits. Clients need to make clear their commitment to well managed projects which show respect for everyone working to deliver them.'

Barnard says lack of supervisory staff means individuals are spread so thinly they cannot be effective.

Attitude and approach of supervisors is, he believes, the most valuable health and safety resource on a project. 'Sadly, ' he says, 'the attitude is often not forthcoming, because the individual does not believe that the client/contractor sees it as important.'

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