Continuing our catastrophic theme, here’s a warning about the advisability of preparing for something going very badly wrong indeed – together with a checklist to help you do it

The new CDM regulations are here. And although it is early days, the sense is that the Health and Safety Executive will enforce them as stringently as any that have gone before. But the industry’s house is in order … isn’t it?

Well, maybe so, but major incident management (MIM) might be an area of weakness. Viewed by some as little more than a soundbite, it is a concept that causes concern and boredom in equal measure. But it is hugely relevant to the construction sector.

The problems with the principle arise from its lack of definition. There is no general UK statutory obligation for a MIM policy, so no definition. But that makes sense. What is major for one industry might be less so for another. A major incident is an incident with the ability to affect commercial activity, and can include such matters as:

  • Loss of, or significant damage to, any resource (personnel, equipment, site)
  • Liability (fine or penalty)
  • Erosion of client base.

A MIM policy seeks to tackle those issues. Save for specified risks (major installations and so on), there is no obligation in law for a MIM policy. But regulation 13(4)(e) of the 2007 CDM regulations may well have altered matters for the construction industry. It provides that virtually any party managing construction work shall provide information and training to workers describing how they are to act in the event of serious and imminent danger.

Regulation 39, which echoes regulation 20 of the now repealed Construction (Health, Safety and Welfare) Regulations 1996, requires contractors to prepare and implement arrangements for dealing with such events. But regulation 13 arguably requires more than just a response; it can be argued that it requires a system, a hierarchy of measures to deal with a major incident. If this is the case (and the question will no doubt be tested in the courts before long) this new obligation puts a duty on the construction industry to prepare its response to foreseeable major incidents to an extent greater than most other industry sectors.

Viewed by some as little more than a soundbite, MIM is a concept that seemingly causes concern and boredom in equal

So if a MIM policy is introduced, what should it include? To be effective it needs to be more that just a health and safety tool. Firms that think of it in that way may not take into account the issues that major incidents bring up. Beyond classic post-accident issues such as containment, investigation and the treatment of casualties, intelligent MIM has at its core the following features:

  • The definition and recognition of major incidents
  • A clear and articulated structure for taking ownership of issues and making decisions with the potential to affect commercial activity
  • Trained personnel and a policy for media communication
  • Personnel trained in basic police and Health and Safety Executive procedures and aims
  • Contingency and insurance arrangements to allow continuity of operation or compensation for loss
  • Consideration of issues that do not obviously impinge on profitability but that can have a long-term effect – such as morale, market standing and public perception.

The benefits from employing such a system are vast and understated. They include:

  • Prevention of harm arising from unmanaged major incidents
  • Statutory compliance to avoid civil/criminal liability
  • Preservation of evidence and evolution of safety management systems
  • Reduced insurance premiums
  • Reduction or negation of stress on employees inappropriately required to deal with such incidents
  • Projection of authority, clarity and determination to respond appropriately for the benefit of all
  • Undamaged or even improved standing and reputation.

Major incidents might be statistically inevitable but failure to prepare for them could have immediate and long-term repercussions.