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Blame culture must go

Comment

The results of NCE's recent health and safety questionnaire are stark.

Contractors say designers do not understand their safety responsibilities - designers say they do.

Like school children in the playground, it seems the construction industry still opts for bickering and name-calling over leadership and responsibility.

The survey was, of course, simply a straw poll. But selfselecting sample or not, the results do give a clear a clear indication of the problems facing the industry. And they do back up the anecdotal evidence heard at any gathering of the industry involving clients, contractors and designers.

So how can it be that after so many reports, reviews, summits, discussions, workshops, publications, targets and promises we still see contractors and designers blaming each other for the industry's health and safety failings?

Having just spent some very enjoyable days visiting construction projects all over the UK as part of the British Construction Industry Awards judging team I am acutely aware that strong teams are more likely to deliver great results.

My experience suggests it is possible to judge the success of a project almost from the moment the 'team' is introduced.

Construction is such a people business. And I am relieved to say the need for great teamwork is something the industry is understanding better and better - teamwork across the entire project team and supply chain.

After all, there are very real commercial gains to be made when construction projects go to plan and finish successfully.

And these gains are certainly being made. Yet when it comes to safety we do not seem to be getting the same results.

There is no question that the UK industry leads the world when it comes to health and safety in construction. It is hard to condone, for example, some of the construction activities witnessed in the rush to prepare Athens for the opening of the Olympic Games last week. But we are still nowhere near the standard set even by ourselves at the last industry summit.

Then, the industry was clear about the need to face up to its responsibilities. Safety, we said, should be totally embedded in our team thinking. Yet, as NCE's survey reveals, for some reason we continue to get a stark polarity of view regarding who is not pulling their weight. Contrary to the high-profile public love and co-operation between client, contractor and designer there is a continuous and destructive undercurrent of blame in the industry over who is really responsible for safety failings.

It is reassuring to see that the whole industry agrees that more can be done to design out health and safety risks during construction.

It is also good to see consensus over the need for more and better education rather than increased prosecution - and I am sure that the Health & Safety Executive would agree with that.

There is no question that everyone in construction wants to see the numbers killed and injured each year fall to zero.

But, despite good intentions, we are clearly continuing to fail to act as a single team on this issue.

Over the next few months, ahead of a safety conference that NCE is planning to run in November, we will be working to find out more about why this is happening in the hope that a solution can be found.

Without doubt the industry still needs all the help it can get.

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