Keeping safety in focus

Chair of Certass Trade Association Jon Vanstone talks about keeping workers safe.

As the HSE continues to form the Building Safety Regulator, and the related Building Safety Bill is adopted into law next year, it will bring an increased focus on how we do things on site, whether it be a large tower block or a small domestic home.

With increased supply chain pricing, installers are being put into commercial positions with consumers who are looking to cut corners to improve the price they pay. Where once consumers were reasonable concerning the use of items such as scaffolding, I am seeing more and more commentary about “does my glazier need to use scaffolding”.

Health and safety in the construction sector has improved significantly over the last 15 years, yet the industry remains one of the most hazardous to work in: over 4% of skilled construction and building trade workers are injured each year, more than twice the average for all occupations.

The majority of fatal incidents involve small businesses, and nearly half of all reported injuries occur in refurbishment activities. And while risks on large projects can be substantial, it is often the smaller work which is of most concern.

Small commercial and domestic work is statistically more dangerous for several reasons. And while it is clearly impacted by a lack of training and experience of accidents, there is too much relating to commercial decisions and general attitude towards safety, both of business workers and from its customers.

With SMEs, the responsibility for health and safety (H&S) falls squarely on the owner and directors, who are not supported by specialist H&S managers. However, these people are often on site and leading the work and related attitude. Much of their thinking is compromised by an understanding of the businesses’ finances and the need to protect the existing margins in any job.

There are multiple perceptions of H&S in our industry, which are often driven by past experiences. Just as some will say that H&S is there to ‘keep workers safe’ or is ‘just common sense’, too many are in the camp of ‘it costs time and money’ and ‘slows work down’.

Unfortunately, a simple internet search will show that consumers too often focus only on the money and the finish of the job, and not the risks associated to the workers. Driven by fears over increased time to install and rising prices, the same consumer who is looking to trade with the honest professional trader who does things correctly, is also taking a quote from the white van door knocker.

The less scrupulous will talk about the ease to use ladders, no matter whether the installation involves an issue such as a dormer window set back from the roofline or even the need for steel lintels. The fact that they may only be speculating work and never agree the job, applies pressure on those who specify appropriately.

For many, H&S inspectors are about as welcome as parking wardens, but the future will hold greater scrutiny of working safely both in the work undertaken for the occupants, but also for those in the installing gang.

The drive will be towards a professional job done right first time, being mindful of the safety of all those involved. If you have specified scaffolding and are asked to remove it to meet the price of a competitor, this job is simply not worth winning as there exists a clear lack of respect for your safety and that of your team.

H&S is widely associated with physical safety rather than long-term health or mental health conditions. However, bitter experience has shown us that the already high suicide rate is higher over the Christmas period, so I was very pleased to see the news from QANW and the Lighthouse Club.

Too often insurance brokers and insurers are seen as totally driven by profit, so it is great to see the largest player in our sector donating to the Lighthouse Club and appearing on its ‘Wall of Fame’. I think such donations should be highlighted and applauded.