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CDM vehicles abound, but who is directing the traffic?

Working lives Health and safety

Clear leadership is needed to make sense of the bewildering array of health and safety initiatives, says Martin Barnard.

April Fool's Day was the ninth birthday of the Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations. Some would say that the date wholly reflects their status and effect.

A review of CDM has been promised for some time but seemingly remains some way off. In the meantime, the industry appears to be getting flooded with well-meaning but poorly focused and badly co-ordinated initiatives. These reflect the rising profile of and interest in health and safety, and you cannot fault their content or intent.

But as far as joined-up thinking or presenting a unified health and safety strategy goes, the initiatives fall short of the mark.

Construction professionals have enough to contend with day to day without having to make sense of different health and safety campaigns, each of which, bafflingly, appears to offer alternative and conflicting approaches. How are they to judge which and how many to adopt? If they choose one initiative, do they run the risk of being criticised for not choosing a different, arguably more relevant one?

If the construction industry is serious about improving health and safety, it needs to harness the obvious skill, knowledge and enthusiasm of each initiative. Getting synergy between the initiatives cannot be beyond the industry's capabilities.

However, it badly needs a single organisation or individual to bring the different strands together.

Normally government is turned to for such leadership, but on this occasion the industry is likely to be disappointed. The efforts of individuals in the Health & Safety Executive to improve health and safety are admirable. However I sense that the HSE is an organisation increasingly torn between its sometimes conflicting roles as adviser and enforcer.

The idea of a 'construction health and safety tsar' who can flex the political muscle to bang heads together and get everybody thinking in concert is appealing. It would add a new and positive dimension to working well together. Any takers?

Alternatively, professional institutions such as the ICE should show leadership. The Health & Safety Commission strategy document acknowledged that others than the HSE are best placed to unify the industry in its quest for best health and safety practice. The ICE's recently launched Health & Safety Register is the ideal vehicle for launching the Institution into this role and placing it at the helm of health and safety. The ICE has the opportunity to influence where all of the initiatives, and where health and safety policy this is going. Construction professionals should drive, not be driven.

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