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Viewpoint: Serious discussions on safety

Glen Owen

Health and safety - is it all good news?

I was hosting a staff meeting the other day, and as part of a wide ranging discussion about graduate training, the topic of health and safety was raised.

This discussion prompted me to have a look at the Health & Safety ­Executive’s (HSE) statistics, and a quick glance at the headline figures suggests that there is much to be optimistic about.

Fatalities from workplace accidents have fallen during the last decade, as have injury accidents, and the UK compares favourably with its European peers.

But looking at the statistics in a bit more detail and thinking about the consequences of the numbers is a very sobering.

Thirty-nine construction workers set off to work at some point last year and will never come home due to workplace accidents that should have been avoided.

Delving a bit deeper you can see that the numbers of self-employed deaths seem to be a particular problem, with no significant reduction in the numbers killed in over a decade.

Remember that the proportion of the construction workforce that claims to be self-employed has increased from 35% to 40% over the last five years.

The real shock to me comes from the occupational health statistics where the legacy of the widespread (mis)use of asbestos continues to kill thousands of workers every year but only accounts for a proportion of the 13,000 deaths each year from work related diseases.

What’s more sobering for the construction industry is the cancer deaths associated with shift work, working near diesel fumes and working with silica.

Have we all become a little bit complacent about health and safety? Perhaps there are areas where more thought about safe practices should be considered, such as:

  • Are you, your colleagues and those that are going to build and use the projects that you’re designing and constructing being put at risk by the decisions you’re making?
  • When you’re specifying materials are you thinking about their possible longer term health effects?
  • Are you aware of your responsibilities under the Health and Safety at Work Act?
  • Have you read your company’s health and safety policy?

Discussions with my staff suggest that there’s more to do, and the figures from the HSE support this.

Let’s all take our responsibilities more seriously and work harder to make sure everyone in this industry gets home tonight.

And whilst we’re on the topic of health and safety, the arrival of the Construction, Design and Management 2015 Regulation consultation (Viewpoint by David Lambert, 10 April) is very welcome news, and should hopefully make a set of vital safety regulations easier to understand and more applicable to all construction sites.

The consultation closes on 6 June, and the ICE would welcome members’ views to help inform our response.

To have your say, please email health&safety@ice.org.uk.

  • Glen Owen is regional director, ICE East of England

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