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Camera obscurer

COMMENT

Interesting news this week from a top professional construction photographer.

He wanted to take pictures of a major European transport project but was told by the contractor running the job that all photography - bar that taken by an amateur enthusiast on the project team - was banned.

The reason? The client had included a clause in the contract stipulating that if photographs were published showing a breach of health and safety regulations, the contractor would be automatically fined a six figure sum.

This is a rather back to front approach to managing health and safety.

The impression given is that there is an acceptance on the scheme that health and safety is going to be regularly breached.

And rather than making sure it isn't, the problem is to be managed by suppressing evidence of breaches that would attract interest from safety inspectors.

The contractor and client are not fly by nights and have some of the best reputations in Europe as far as safety goes so this is obviously not at all what was intended.

Undoubtedly, when the contract clause was cooked up, the plan was to focus everyone on getting safety spot on. It's just not how it looks.

Yet this rather irrational approach to site photography is not unusual in construction.

Years ago NCE was regularly hacked for running pictures showing men balancing on beams over rivers without a harness or using their safety helmets as buckets to carry fixings around. Readers were angry with the magazine for using these pictures of safety breaches but rarely criticised the companies running the projects.

Even though safety on site is much improved from those days (believe me it is; you should look back at some of those pictures), NCE increasingly gets requests from site staff to see photographs before they are published in case there are any safety gaffes in them.

Like the European transport scheme mentioned at the start, the instinct is to suppress the pictures rather than get the safety right in the first place.

But just for a change, you can't really blame the contractors. They are responding to the information management demands of their clients who are belatedly beginning to realise they too have health and safety responsibilities.

Revisions to the approved code of practice for the Construction Design & Management regulations are likely to be a springboard for much closer legal examination of what clients are doing to fulfil their duties under CDM.

Cost cutting and the demand for more speed are, according to NCE's own survey last year, the two things most likely to lead to accidents on site as people take risks to meet their targets. And the client sets the parameters for both.

The intention of the CDM Acop review is to encourage clients to understand how their demands can increase safety risks and get them to change. Indications from the issue of photography on site are that clients intend to carry on as usual but behind very controlled closed doors.

The Health & Safety Executive says it does not have enough time or inspectors to check all the country's sites. Perhaps projects operating restricted photography rules should be the first on their lists.

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