Five ideas to improve, health, safety, and wellbeing in construction

The construction industry is one of the UK’s biggest professions and accounts for over 3 million jobs – working out at 10% of UK employment.

With construction comes great responsibility to your employees, your clients and the general public as they are putting their trust in you to follow the correct, health, safety, and wellbeing routes to ensure that no harm will come to any of them.

The Grenfell Tower fire was one of the most terrible incidents of its kind to happen in the UK. As a result, building regulations have been scrutinised with unprecedented changes currently occurring, to hopefully prevent an incident of this type happening again in the future. 

Health, safety and welfare is vitally important and should be at the forefront of businesses’ minds alongside cost, programme and productivity. Putting health, safety and welfare on a level playing field with cost, programme and productivity will help reduce costs in the long-run and improve productivity. Accidents will lead to cost and project overruns and improving health & safety means that fewer days will be lost due to accidents and injuries.

We recently held a Q&A session with Malcolm Shiels MSc CFIOSH, FaPS, our Director of Health and Safety at Summers-Inman, to get his views on how to ensure the future health, safety and welfare of all those involved in the construction industry. 

Malcolm Shiels, Director Director Health & Safety at Summers-Inman at Summers-Inman

Q1. What three steps could businesses take to best avoid H&S failures taking Grenfell as an example?

  1. Firstly, businesses (clients, consultants and contractors) need to avoid the bottom line as the main driver. Doing this has a negative effect on the whole project and the important working relationships within that project environment. I would encourage everyone to watch the Dame Judith Hackitt speech presented at the NBS ‘Construction Product Leaders’ summit on February 13th, 2020.
  • Secondly, truly collaborate with one another. Signing a charter is all well and good but we need to actually start doing it. Display openness, honesty, integrity, learn and feed off one another. Collaborate = work jointly / team up!
  • Finally, all parties involved in construction need to decide on and share responsibility and accountability in a proportionate manner with clarity and brevity.  Look at the Grenfell enquiry and the ‘passing the buck’ matrix where eight leading parties in the project tried to blame each other.  It was exactly that lack of clarity early on in the project which contributed to the disaster.

Q2. Do you think current construction regulations are updated regularly enough? – What improvements would you suggest?

I believe there are no issues or problems with the current rate of updates / changes / amendments / new regulations in construction. However, the regulations should be reviewed regularly to ensure that any regulation updates are noted.

Q3. Do you think advances such as BIM are improving construction?

Yes, BIM is an improvement. However, the industry as a whole is not seeing the full benefits of it yet though, particularly on smaller to medium-sized projects. BIM is clearly not widespread enough – even on government-mandated projects. To really bring this into the forefront of construction we need the clients to lead the way on this, as they hold the purse strings and can decide whether BIM will be part of the project going forward. It is up to consultants, designers, and contractors to convince clients via a robust business case to fully utilise digitalisation in construction.

Q4. How do you think health and safety could be greater improved?

The industry needs to concentrate on and learn from positives and good performance such as regular appreciative investigations.

Businesses and employers need to understand that people are the solution and not part of a problem. They need to listen more and ask better questions of the people carrying out the tasks.

A higher significance on reporting of near miss events and learning from them to use the experience in a positive predictive manner is also important. There also needs to be more education on this topic to show businesses that it doesn’t mean they carried out their role poorly if they experience a near miss, but that they are an organisation that has a good culture of wanting to improve and one that places a heavy emphasis on the health, safety and welfare of their people.

Q5. How do you feel the industry can better address mental health?

I think the industry needs to do all the following things:

  • Give mental health as much time and emphasis as safety
  • Businesses need to listen to their people in an improved way
  • Organisations need to signpost available help clearly
  • Businesses should contribute to the discussion around destigmatising mental health and spread the message that it is okay not to be okay.

Malcolm, a local director based in Summers-Inman’s Newcastle Office, is a chartered health and safety professional with 40 years of experience in the construction industry, from on-site trade work, through to site management. For the last 25 years he has delivered health and safety / CDM consultancy and construction risk management to a diverse range of clients around the globe.  

He also holds key industry positions nationally. Malcolm is a Fellow of IOSH (Institution of Occupational Safety and Health) and is Chair of the IOSH Construction Group. He sits on the Construction Industry Council Health and Safety Committee and on the advisory board of Constructing Excellence North East.  This puts Malcolm at the forefront of the latest industry health and safety news and updates.

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