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Gordon Masterton: Can you do more to improve site safety?

Can you do more to improve site safety? It’s time to take collective responsibility, says Construction Industry Council chairman Gordon Masterton

There’s a page on the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) website that should be read by everyone who cares about safety - indeed by anyone who cares about people.

It’s not a trend graph showing the unwelcome increase in construction fatalities from 41 to 50 last year.

Neither is it the number of reportable incidents or analysis of most common causes. These are important, but the page that made me stop and examine my own conscience was the page with names and details of fatalities. All 121 fatalities in UK industries in 2010 are listed.

Moving list

We read their names, their ages, and how and where they died. And to this moving list of lives cut short, we can add our own thoughts on the partners, the sons and daughters, the brothers or sisters who may have relied on them and who loved them and now grieve for them.

It’s not easy to find in the HSE website, but it gripped me; far more than any other piece of HSE guidance ever has. I think it’s the simple inclusion of names and locations that makes the difference between a statistic and a real person. I can relate to Matthew Nixon who, aged 22, died from suspected carbon monoxide poisoning in Macclesfield, far more than I can relate to a trended accident frequency rate.

It also reminded me that I never want to be the one who has to tell a partner or a parent that the person with whom they had hoped to spend the rest of their lives was never coming home again.

That’s the worst job in construction, and there were 50 of those conversations last year. That’s 50 too many.

Great improvements

As an industry, we have made great improvements over the past 20 years. We can be encouraged by this, but please, please let’s not be proud. We all need to look at that HSE list, look deep inside us, and ask the difficult question; “Do I do enough?” I know I don’t, and won’t be satisfied until our industry is as safe as any other.

That’s why I put the time into the Standing Committee on Structural Safety (Scoss), Confidential Reporting on Structural Safety (Cross) and the Construction Inudustry Council (CIC). They are champions for best practice and industry improvement. NCE is becoming another.

If my time makes a small difference, that’s fine by me. And we’ve all got something to offer. You can start now.

Do something different

Decide what you’re going to do differently tomorrow for yourself, a colleague or a family member. Figure out how you can help each other to care more about working safely and then put it into practice. Every one of those 50 fatalities last year was preventable: every fall from height; every excavation collapse; every reversing vehicle impact.

At a time when the industry is being forced to readjust to tighter markets in the UK, it would be a huge folly for us to reduce our focus on designing and constructing more safely.

It must be our most important legacy.

  • Gordon Masterton is Construction Industry Council chairman, chairs CIC’s health and safety committee and is Scoss chairman.


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