Your browser is no longer supported

For the best possible experience using our website we recommend you upgrade to a newer version or another browser.

Your browser appears to have cookies disabled. For the best experience of this website, please enable cookies in your browser

We'll assume we have your consent to use cookies, for example so you won't need to log in each time you visit our site.
Learn more

Safety: what you think

Next week deputy prime minister John Prescott will attend the construction safety summit. NCE polled its readers to help him find out what is wrong with construction's safety culture and how it could be improved. Here are the results.

Nobody is under any illusions. The construction industry's safety record is poor.

Very poor.

But the enthusiastic response to the NCE safety questionnaire shows not only that the industry knows this but that it also knows where the problems lie.

Your responses are being passed to John Prescott at the Department of Environment Transport and the Regions to help create the agenda for next week's Government backed Health & Safety Executive (HSE) safety summit. The event is being billed as the opportunity for the construction industry to instigate change and make a commitment to turn concern into action.

HSE chief inspector of construction Kevin Myers says your responses to the survey provide a unique insight into how the construction industry thinks about safety.

'It is striking how, across all issues, respondents overestimate their own performance in comparison with how others perceive it, ' says Myers.

Responses to the questionnaire show a number of areas of concern. A massive 84.4% say they have witnessed unsafe practices due to a lack of supervisory staff on site.

This figure suggests failure by contractors' site safety teams.

But contractors argue it is impossible to supervise all operatives on a site at any one time.

Could the key to the problem lie in two of the other responses?

Over half of engineers feel construction workers do not understand what good health and safety practice is, and three quarters believe the workforce is not included enough in day to day management of health and safety.

If operatives were more involved and better understood the reasoning behind safety decisions, would reliance on site supervision be less vital?

Most sites give an induction to new operatives when they start.

But these are rarely site specific and tend to concentrate on ensuring operatives wear a hard hat and protective footwear while failing to outline the hazards that the particular site can produce.

HSE figures show there are 1.9M peripatetic workers in the construction industry. Will these workers, who may listen to two or three inductions a week, be paying attention to the information being given? And will someone giving an induction for the fifth time that week be fully concerned with identifying potential hazards to workers he knows could only be on site for a couple of hours?

Companies must also find ways of ensuring that enthusiasm for safety at the top level filters down to where it matters - on site.

Over half the engineers responding to the survey felt director level commitment by contractors to health and safety failed to transfer to adequate resources on site, while nearly 70% said too little is spent by contractors to manage health and safety efficiently.

Research indicates that a lack of investment in safety is a false economy.

HSE figures show that in 1996 647,000 man days were lost because of accidents on site.

This worked out at a massive cost to the industry of £550M.

A fatal accident on site, even without the expense of a prosecution and fine, costs a fortune in lost working hours as an investigation is carried out.

There is also a downturn in the working effectiveness of the operatives on site caused by a drop in morale.

Your responses to NCE 's questionnaire also show that the Construction Design & Management regulations (CDM) no longer have a great impact on site safety.

Under the 1994 regulations, designers are required to ensure that consideration is given during the design process to the health and safety of those who are to construct, maintain or repair a structure.

Yet 60% of contractors say designers do not understand their safety responsibilities, and a staggering 82% believe designers could do more to design out risks during construction. Incredibly, three quarters of designers say the same.

Time spent thinking and planning for safety affects the overall cost of a project, which means the clients who hold the purse strings have a major role to play in improving construction safety.

But 62.5% of engineers say clients do not understand their safety responsibilities, and 65% feel that lack of construction experience in client organisations means safety is overlooked.

Nearly half the survey respondents felt the role of the planning supervisor does nothing to improve safety.

Many feel this role has simply become a paper exercise, with plans simply adapted from contract to contract without much effort or thought.

A worryingly high 77.7% state that safety is compromised to get the job done on time and to cost, indicating a culture change throughout the industry is required to put safety first.

Next week's safety summit is an opportunity to address all the issues your replies to our survey have raised. 'It is an opportunity where the biggest issue facing the industry is given unique and top level Government exposure, ' HSE's Myers stresses. 'Let us ensure it is not an opportunity lost.'

Have your say

You must sign in to make a comment

Please remember that the submission of any material is governed by our Terms and Conditions and by submitting material you confirm your agreement to these Terms and Conditions. Please note comments made online may also be published in the print edition of New Civil Engineer. Links may be included in your comments but HTML is not permitted.