Over the past four years the rate of deaths and critical injuries in the workplace has continuously fallen - undoubtedly regarded as good news by all. However, there appears to have been a buck in the trend in the construction industry since 2010 and that has now lead to the Health & Safety Executive cracking down by way of an intensive inspection initiative.
The figures which have prompted this change in focus from the HSE are that 50 construction workers were killed between 2010-2011, with a further 2,298 being seriously injured. Furthermore, in the past twelve months there have been 41 workplace deaths in the construction industry.
Of particular concern for the HSE, and therefore where serious attention should be paid, is the "refurbishment" sector. The HSE has released statements to the effect that refurbishment projects can be the most risky - apparently because of hidden "surprises" that workers simply do not face when working on new build projects. HSE Inspectors have put this down to a lack of knowledge, particularly with those involved in smaller projects, and failure in management which can stem from cost-cutting exercises, likely due to the current economic climate.
The HSE has been quoted as stating that it will take strong action if evidence is found that workers are being unnecessarily put at risk - which will come as no great surprise to anyone involved in health and safety - but it is the level of focus on the industry which means greater vigilance and improved practices are required. No final figure has yet been released which confirms how many prohibition and improvement orders have been issued by the HSE so far. What has been confirmed, however, is that during the month long investigation there have been in the region of 3,000 sites visited by inspectors.
Appropriate training for staff and having the necessary policies and procedures in place is crucial. Workers without refurbishment experience, and even those with, should be made well aware of the potential risks involved in this type of work prior to commencing it. Training, briefings and toolbox talks should all be in place and health and safety practices and procedures on site should be closely monitored throughout a project to ensure compliance.
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This briefing is written as a general guide only. It is not intended to contain definitive legal advice which should be sought as appropriate in relation to any particular matter.