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Cutting accidents on site: Safer with steel

The British Constructional Steelwork Association is working hard to promote safe practice with a series of guides. NCE reports.

Steel construction is one sector where the impact of construction’s safety first culture can be clearly seen. Serious accidents are a rarity and reportable accidents in the sector have also been reduced dramatically - by 60% - since 2000, well ahead of the government’s target of a 10% improvement over 10 years set out in its Revitalising Health and Safety campaign.

There have been no reported falls from height in the last two years for which figures are available, compared to 14 in 2005.

Safe construction

This record is the envy of other parts of the construction industry and helps justify the sector’s claim that steel construction - with most work carried out off site in factory controlled conditions, and erection work carried out by well trained operatives from the relative safety of mobile elevated work platforms, - is inherently safer than other forms of construction.

“You have to be aware that not everybody’s knowledge of safety is everything it should be”

Pete Walker BCSA

This safety improvement has been achieved through the long term commitment by the British Constructional Steelwork Association (BCSA) and its members, determined to make their industry as safe as can be.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (Rospa) has recently recognised this drive by making the BCSA its first ever recipient of its SME Assistance trophy award which celebrates exceptional work carried out by trade associations offering health and safety advice to small and medium sized members. This success is particularly notable as the award covers all industries, not just construction.

Specific developments

Safety improvements have been partly due to specific developments such as working from platforms, use of fall arrest systems and innovations like ground-assembled edge protection systems. But behind the Rospa award and the ever improving safety statistics lies a lot of hard work, commitment and financial investment.

The judging criteria for the Rospa trophy were awareness raising and information provision, policy development, performance improvement and recognition, services and benefits, and competence development and research.
BCSA health, safety and training manager Pete Walker says that winning the award involved a lot more than talking the talk. “The judges were looking for hard evidence of our performance, diligence and commitment towards improvement, which we were able to demonstrate by our safety record and the various safety programmes, research and publications that we produce,” he says.

“A continuous improvement approach is the only way to be sure that the record can be maintained and, hopefully, bettered ”

Pete Walker, BCSA

BCSA takes part in various collective forums on safety such as Safety Schemes in Procurement. BCSA’s own regular safety meetings between members highlight areas where safety can be improved, spreading best practice and discovering where research might be needed with a view to producing guidance publications and codes of practice, of which a comprehensive range is available.

For example, there is a Guide to Steel Erection in Windy Conditions. This was produced following criticism by a judge that no such guidance existed.

Issues overlooked

“That was a good example of a potential safety issue being overlooked because everybody assumed that it was widely known how to perform a safe operation, an assumption that turned out not to be accurate,” explains Walker.

“Most people did know, but you can’t just assume that, you have to be aware that not everybody’s knowledge of safety is everything that it should be.”

The guide spells out what precautions and changes to standard work practices need to be taken. Supervising engineers as well as steel erectors turn to these guides to help them ensure that correct procedures are being followed.

Guides are also available for erection of multi-storey buildings, installing deep decking, managing site lifting operations, working at height during loading and unloading of steelwork, and erecting steel bridges.

Codes of practice govern metal decking and stud welding, and erecting low-rise buildings. Employees’ guides on health and safety on steel construction sites, in fabrication workshops and in offices have been produced.

Another guide spells out the allocation of design responsibilities in constructional steelwork.

Other publications

Safety advice and guidance permeates BCSA’s other publications. For example, the famous Black Book, more correctly known as the National Structural Steelwork Specification for Building Construction, provides documentation that can be included in a steelwork contract, and which helps to ensure that steelwork is accurately and economically made and can be safely built.

The Allocation of Design Responsibilities in Constructional Steelwork, aimed at structural engineers and architects involved in designing buildings, was born of a recognition that proper exchange of design information at the right time as well as aiding proper planning, leads to safer work on site by minimising out of sequence working and modifications that would involve working at height.

The Construction (Design and Management )(CDM) Regulations impose a duty on designers to avoid foreseeable risks to health and safety during construction and in use, and this publication provides a useful tool for the CDM co-ordinator to ensure compliance with the Regulations.

“Our safety record is something to be proud of, but we are well aware that a continuous improvement approach is the only way to be sure that the record can be maintained and hopefully bettered,” says Walker.



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