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May 2011 – Steel inherently more safe

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Sad news from the Health and Safety Executive confirms that there will have been a rise in construction related fatalities for the year 2010-2011 which brings to an end a four year period when it seemed that the industry might have turned a corner on safety. The final fatality figures have yet to be revealed, but a significant rise is expected, the HSE has confirmed.

No one can be sure exactly why fatal accidents are on the rise again. The reasons why they occur are diverse and complex and no one has yet been able to generalise to any great extent about why they still happen despite all the time and effort of all levels of management and supervisory staff to instil a deeper safety culture into workforces.

It is not all bad news on the safety front. The HSE agrees that a sea change in the industry’s safety culture has taken place in recent years, and the HSE are now going to target their inspections on organisations with the poorest records and unfortunately the construction industry is still seen as high risk. But HSE also warns that there could be troubles ahead; Chief Construction Inspector Philip White has been reported as warning that when the industry comes out of recession there may be a lot of younger and inexperienced workers entering it who are not risk aware. And when companies are expanding rapidly, processes and procedures like health and safety can suddenly find themselves swamped by the volume of new responsibility.

Against this background the steel construction sector can take some comfort that its efforts on health and safety over many years, including proper training and supervision of the workforce, are paying dividends, with the Reportable Accident Frequency Rate down by a further 25% in 2010 (see News). In 2010 there were no injuries relating to falls from height, for the second year. This compares to 2005 when there were 14 such accidents.

The steel construction sector has for long proudly boasted that steel is an inherently safer way to build, which its safety performance bears out year after year. This inherent safety is only fully captured by the full commitment to safety and to continuous improvement in safety that the sector demonstrates. Steel construction can justifiably hold itself up as a model for others to emulate.

Awards shortlist shows diversity

The annual publication of the shortlist for the Structural Steel Design Awards has for 43 years highlighted the diverse type of projects that are successfully executed year in and year out by the use of structural steel. This year’s shortlist is no exception (see News).

There is a geographical spread throughout the UK and Ireland, from a new football stadium in Brighton to a museum in Liverpool, a concert venue in London, a flyover on the East London Line, to a waste to energy plant in Kent. They are for sectors as diverse as commercial offices, sports, leisure, logistics and distribution, and transportation.

The strength of the 18 strong shortlist is made even more impressive by coming as it does at the tail end of possibly the worst recession that construction has ever seen. There are fewer projects around, but judging by the entries to the awards steel has been capturing market share in key traditional markets like single storey buildings,and multi storey commercial developments where it usually dominates, but also in new growth markets like waste to energy plants.

The winners will be announced at the awards ceremony in July, where details of all the shortlisted entries as well as the winners will be displayed. As a showcase for the best of what the construction industry can provide it will be unmissable.

Nick Barrett

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