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What do you drive - safely?

Martin Barnard's safety column

What kind of message do you give out about your attitude to safety?

Martin Barnard draws some analogies.

There is an increasing frequency in references made to 'white van man'. I take this description to mean the operative who fails to follow good safety practice on site. In doing so, he invariably defies logic and common sense, and often puts others at as much risk as himself. I am sure that we have all seen examples of 'white van man'. He is sometimes reckless in the extreme, born of a traditional macho image, which goes with the perceived rough, tough world of construction.

The question is whether such an individual should stand alone in being the subject of generic criticism and blame for his inferred significant contribution to the ongoing poor health and safety performance of the construction industry. I think not.

In drawing comparisons, my mind immediately turns to 'black coupe manager'. He symbolises the modern manager in the construction industry who seems to race from meeting to meeting in an increasingly hectic day. The question in my mind is whether he is able to stand still long enough to take in the salient facts and make sound, sustainable judgements. This is of course particularly important in the world of health and safety, where a manager's decisions can literally become a matter of life and death for others. For example, clear communication is vital to good health and safety management. A fundamental is the ability to listen long enough to those around and about him, followed by the delivery of clear, coherent and understandable instructions. Are we not encouraging the worst of the 'black coupe manager' syndrome in the ever-increasing cauldron of modern construction management?

Of course, most professional aspirations are aimed at a rise through the management structure to the boardroom. Once there, we can enjoy the sanctuary it provides, far away from the vulnerability of the constantly restructured management chain.

However, does the arrival at such heady heights inspire an attitude and approach to health and safety, now far below us in practice, which can be described as 'silver saloon executive'?

With the passage of time, such an individual can be so removed from the construction site as to become detached from reality. In particular, that can be from the harsh reality which is modern-day health and safety. Like a pet, health and safety is for life, not for a few days once a year when under pressure to do or say something appropriate in the increasingly politically correct world of health and safety. The opportunity to influence is immense, and the need to set a positive culture and attitude is profound. Yet I have to question whether the messages on the subject of health and safety which emanate from the boardroom are as clear and inspiring as they could be. I suspect they are consistently left wanting.

I realise that I run the risk of offending two categories of construction personnel. Firstly, those who regard their vehicle as purely a means of getting from A to B, and not a status symbol. To you, I simply say 'safe journey'.

Secondly, all operatives, managers and executives who are trying to do the right things in health and safety, and do not recognise themselves in the descriptions I have given. To you I say 'well done'. I also ask that you join me in identifying those who do suffer from such dangerous syndromes, and cause them to change their attitudes and approach for the better.

P.S. In case you were wondering - it's a silver saloon, but I'm still in touch with reality!

Martin Barnard is Symonds Group health and safety director Email: martin. barnard@ symonds-group. com

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