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Industry must commit to safety


VIC HANDLEY'S letter on behalf of the Association of Specialist Underpinning Contractors (Asuc) in your last issue drew attention to Philip Ball's Talking Point on safety measures for rotary piling and drilling rigs.

It is unfortunate that some of Mr Ball's main points (GE October 2002) may have been overlooked in Asuc's statement of its own commendable attitude and commitment to health and safety.

The British Drilling Association (BDA) confirms that Asuc actively helped it in preparing its Guidance notes for the protection of persons from rotating parts and ejected or falling materials, published in 2000.

The message, now over two years old, is compliance to Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER) 1998, in respect of providing guarding or protective devices in the drilling and piling industry.

PUWER has been altered through the Health and Safety (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2002, which removes the provision of information, instruction, training and supervision as a sole defence that the regulations are being followed, so the requirements are even clearer.

Mr Ball said 'it will require an industry-wide focus to bring the message home', and that 'employers, principle contractors and the HSE can all contribute'. He also called for 'more development work by the manufacturers'.

The BDA fully endorses this. HSE is now creating awareness among project designers that they have a legal obligation to ensure that all risks are assessed and necessary measures put in place.

Reference for compliance to PUWER 98, Regulation 11, in contract documents for rotary drilling could be easily introduced and would have immediate impact.

Many manufacturers are not convinced of the market for further safety features. And yet the car industry, led by Volvo some years ago, has managed to profitably sell safety.

Consumers will buy if the benefits are sold.

A low incidence of fatalities or major accidents is offered by some as a reason for not being concerned. But there are very few drillers who can say that they have never suffered injury, witnessed accidents or seen near misses.

Without doubt, compliance incurs financial cost and the rotary rig may not be as productive in metres per day. In many cases new investment in plant will be required. But acceptance of cost, where human lives and livelihoods are at stake, is morally and legally binding.

Turning a Nelsonian blind eye or Beethoven deaf ear to the message should be commercial suicide. Those who pay the piper must specify not only the tune but how it is sung, and be prepared to walk away from those that do not comply. The penalty in staying is a human, legal and financial loss. All in the industry must be encouraged to speak their minds, and those with the power to act must listen and ensure compliance.

Brian Stringer, national secretary, British Drilling Association

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