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May 2010 – Steel stays safe as legislation is reviewed

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Steel construction’s reputation as an inherently safer way to build has been confirmed by the BCSA’s news of a reduction in the Reportable Accident Frequency Rate of 60% over the past ten years (see News). One of the single biggest causes of serious injuries on construction sites is falls from height, which is repeatedly the target of Health and Safety Executive (HSE) and wider construction industry safety drives. It seems to defy efforts at eradication, but the steel construction sector managed it in 2009 when there were no such injuries reported.

That was a great performance but, as ever with safety, there is no room for complacency. There was a 30% reduction in construction industry-wide deaths in the six months to September 2009 to 18, plus three members of the public. Health and safety professionals took encouragement from the reduction – but any optimism that a corner had been turned was crushed when there were 13 deaths of construction workers in the months of October and November alone.

These fatalities underline the need to ensure that the efforts made across the sector that resulted in the achievement of the 60% reduction are at least maintained if steel construction is to stay safer. These efforts have included developing specific industrial good practice guides that promote use of netting and MEWPs for working at height. Others promote health and safety on site and in the workshop. There has been advice on risk assessments for work at height during loading and unloading, driver safety policy and tool box talks. A behavioural safety DVD has been produced and seminars and workshops held to promote good practices.

Close liaison is maintained with the HSE and other industry bodies, particularly on sharing information regarding accidents and injuries which has helped target efforts to reduce repeat injuries .

There is a growing focus on safety that is only going to increase over time.
A raft of legislation in recent years has the aim of forcing the legal responsibility for safety lapses further up the corporate decision making ladder, and trade unions and others are calling for more.

A substantial body of legislation already exists that should ensure safety is given the highest possible priority by directors and managers at all levels. The recent Donaghy Report into the underlying causes of fatal construction accidents called for, among other things, increasing the safety related duties of directors. This was not taken up by the government, but the prospects of increased responsibilities for senior managers and directors has not gone away.

An Independent Steering Group chaired by the HSE’s Chief Scientist is currently reviewing safety legislation and the government was reported to be looking for ways to increase legal duties on directors when it was set up.

Safety conscious clients should find steel to be an even more attractive option in future as the legislative burden increases. The sector will be doing all it can to make sure that steel stays safe and is recognised as the safety first option.

Nick Barrett
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