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Safety is not an option


'No competitive advantage is ever worth a single human life'. This comment was heard at a recent industry conference and won whole-hearted support. Good health and safety management, others added, 'is fundamental', and 'has got to be the first priority'.

'. .There can be no compromise'.

Wherever you go - on site, in offices, at conferences - the strength of feeling and passion within the industry over the need to commit totally to health and safety excellence is overwhelming.

So why, when so much time, money, effort and passion is spent considering and setting targets for improving safety, do we continue to deliver such a lacklustre performance?

Argue all you like about our description of construction professions this week as confused or even complacent when it comes to the management of safety in the industry - but the facts continue to speak for themselves. Too many people involved in construction still get killed or injured each year.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) chief inspector of construction Kevin Myers is, of course, right - we have seen improvement. Deaths in construction thankfully fell from 71 in 2002 to 70 in 2003 and serious injuries fell from 4,031 in 2002 to 4,001 last year. But privately he must be feel let down by the industry's performance overall.

It is great that deaths are at a 12-year low and major injuries to workers have fallen by 6%.

But compared to the kind of accident reduction figures the industry committed to at the Prescott summit in 2001 (10% reduction a year, each year - remember? ), the latest results hardly make stunning reading.

Of course there are many great performances out there with certain projects consistently breaking records for accident free working hours. But NCE's own research reveals that few in the industry think the current performance is good enough.

In our telephone interview research, the results of which are published this week, 93% of construction professionals described the current industry safety performance as 'unacceptable'. Only three people felt the situation was 'unavoidable'.

The problem is clear - no one has taken responsibility for changing behaviour across the industry. And we cannot as an industry continue to look to outside bodies such as the HSE to take the blame for our failings.

The HSE has a role to play and the launch of its consultation on the CDM regulations this week is a very welcome step towards bringing clarity to responsibility. And it must work to help the industry to understand best practice in health and safety and for it to uphold the law.

Ultimately we all know that improved performance must come from within. We cannot continue to talk about how much we care and then wait for others to take the lead. As construction professionals, every one of those 70 deaths must be our responsibility, our failing, not someone else's. I hope NCE's safety conference this week is a start in our accepting that.

All this as the UK prepares to support the London 2012 Olympic bid which, if successful, will need a massive amount of construction work in a very short timescale to transform some east London wasteland into a world class sports venue.

Winning the bid is important for the UK and very important for our industry. Wouldn't it be great to win knowing that fewer construction workers would lose their lives to deliver the necessary infrastructure by 2012.

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