Blog: Construction safety: falling short
The British Safety Council looks at research showing that 65% of manual labourers haven’t been given health and safety information at their workplaces, and considers the risk posed by a post-Brexit construction skills shortage combined with a growing marketplace.
Last year, a survey found that 65% of manual labourers had never received any information about their company’s health and safety policies. Hardly a surprise then, that many construction workers say their employers are not doing enough to keep them safe at work. Nearly 20% of workers surveyed went as far as saying that if there was some kind of issue or hazard in their workplace, they wouldn’t know how to report it.
While this is concerning, things could get much worse in the coming years. As the construction industry begins to brace for a severe skills shortage post-Brexit, a Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (RICS) poll has revealed that the UK construction market is set to grow throughout 2018. High demand and a lack of skills is a potential red flag for safety standards, and makes it even more vital that action is taken soon to ensure that standards improve.
One of the major roadblocks to change is a general feeling that high levels of bureaucracy makes employees more resistant to following procedures. More alarmingly, there is also a prevalent attitude that health and safety is not of paramount importance, even within high-risk industries like building and construction.
As one of the most dangerous industries in the UK, accidents and injury in construction are almost inevitable. Improvements will not only protect workers, but also ensures that firms don’t fall foul of heavy fines for violating health and safety regulations. So, what can be done to mitigate an unhealthy risk culture, and improve the safety of construction workers?
In 2017 the ‘Stop. Make a change’ campaign saw more than 60,000 employees across 1,000 sites down tools to focus on creating a safer industry. This campaign is set to expand its focus from just infrastructure to the wider construction sector for the 2018 campaign, and will focus on mental health and mobile plant safety.
Events like this not only help to raise awareness, but also make personal safety more of a talking point among employees rather than just a rule dictated from regulators or government. If this succeeds in changing attitudes toward safety among workers, it could raise awareness and appetite for change, a valuable step towards improving standards.
While workers taking increased responsibility for their personal safety and that of their colleagues is excellent progress, it is vital that employers support this attitude to provide a safe working environment and ensure that health and safety procedures are followed.
Clear communication will make sure that workers have an understanding of the expectations on them and the risks involved in various tasks. With everyone focused on the implementation of health and safety regulations, construction sites and the people who keep them running will become more positively engaged.
Regardless of varying levels of experience, everyone on a construction site can benefit from improved health and safety training and procedures. It’s also important to make sure that training is regularly updated, to reflect the latest changes in industry regulations and best
“With increasing concern about a potential skills gap in the coming years, improving standards is vital to attract young talent into the construction industry and help to push back against uncertainty,” says British Safety Council chief executive Mike Robinson. “By establishing better safety policies and training, the industry can not only make the working environment safer and more attractive, but also help to secure the industry’s future.”
Reporting incidents can be a frustrating process, but the making more use of technology could make this essential step both simpler and more effective. Capturing data such as GPS locations, audio, video and photographs can help to flag potential issues quickly, and speeds up the time between identifying an issue and taking action to resolve it.
With any health and safety changes, it is vital that there is clear engagement with the people who implement it. This can come from leadership demonstrating an alternate way of working, or training that offers a better understanding of the need for safety improvements. Establishing worker engagement in reporting will help to create a cultural and behavioural shift, improving levels of personal responsibility at work.
While accidents are always going to be more common in high-risk industries like construction, a failure to learn from past mistakes can be as costly and dangerous as using incorrect or inappropriate equipment.
Transparency around accidents is vital to make sure that similar incidents are not repeated. This means that correctly reporting accidents is vital to building a safer environment on-site.
Workers seeing that management are keen to report incidents can help to build a sense of communal confidence and responsibility, rather than workers feeling as if their health and safety is not a priority. As well as improving a specific site, transparency could help to build a clearer picture of the industry-wide situation and lead to improved guidelines and best practice for workers across the country.
When things go wrong on construction sites the chances of serious injury or death are higher than average. For this reason, it is vital that people work together to create a proactive attitude towards workplace safety, something that becomes part of the culture on construction sites nationwide.