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CDM - Getting the message

Safety - The headline results of NCE's recent survey into industry attitudes to safety were not good news for construction. The detail offers few positives. Antony Oliver takes a look.

It is a sad fact that few in the civil engineering profession will have been surprised by the findings of NCE's recent safety survey (NCE 19 August).

Designers still blame contractors for the majority of construction safety failings while contractors blame the designers for not taking enough responsibility for safety.

The net result of course is that the whole industry continues to fail. In 2001 John Prescott hosted a safety summit at which the industry set its own accident reduction target of cutting accidents and injuries by 40% by 2004.

Certainly we have seen improvements - the UK construction industry is one the best performers in the world - but with 71 people killed and 4,780 seriously injured in 2002/03, the actual improvement since 2001 is closer to just 5%.

The focus has fallen on the role that designers can and should play to help industry meet the safety challenge. Yet the outcry by designers over figures quoted by the Health & Safety Executive in the recent National Audit Office report into construction safety (NCE 13 May) - that 60% of accidents in construction can be laid at their door - suggests they believe this focus is too heavy, if not plain wrong.

So it is interesting to note that in NCE's survey 87% of designers questioned thought they could do more to design out risks during construction.

Asked the same question in a survey carried out by NCE ahead of the 2001 summit, just 75% of designers agreed.

Despite the noise and passion coming from the profession, it would appear that three years down the road a greater number of designers now accept that they could do more to influence activities on site.

But it is clear that in a world of Construction (Design & Management) regulations there is much that design engineers are struggling with. And it is getting worse rather than better.

This is not, of course to say that other sectors of the construction industry are pulling their weight to improve safety either. But we do see clearly that designers know they can do more to boost safety, yet, by all accounts, they don't.

So what is going wrong? Without question, cases such as the recent Andrew Allen prosecution do not help the situation. Fears among design professionals over the potential consequences of getting things wrong have risen almost to the point that many believe the HSE has a campaign against them.

There is no evidence that this is the case and certainly the HSE insists that its role is primarily about education and influence rather than prosecution.

This approach matches the views expressed in NCE's survey, which highlighted that education was twice as effective in helping to create better designs for safe construction.

This is confirmed by the finding that lack of knowledge was put ahead of cost, time and reward as a barrier to designing for safety.

Awareness blitzes, much favoured by the HSE, came out as less popular in terms of helping the industry to create safer designs, however. As a major plank of its armoury - and one that came in for some criticism by MPs on the Public Accounts Committee recently - this should perhaps sound an alarm within the HSE.

The long-awaited review of the CDM regulations is due out in November and will, for many, not be before time. These regulations were, after all, aimed at assisting the industry to reduce the number of accidents, deaths and injuries.

Assistance is still needed.

Armed with the news from NCE's survey that on average 57% of the industry does not believe designers understand their safety responsibilities, the HSE will have a clear base level to work from.

Clear that whatever comes in place of CDM it must be properly understood, accepted and bought into by industry.

lNCE is hosting the 'CDM Regulations: designing for safety' conference on 25 November. Its purpose is to assist the construction industry to understand its responsibility under the revised CDM safety regulations. For details visit www. design-safety.co.uk or call (020) 7505 6044.

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