In a follow-up to the safety summit, Building invited a panel of safety experts to join an online debate about the issues it highlighted. This is what they had to say

Zero tolerance

Building Will the construction minister’s strategy of zero tolerance for fatalities work better than the target announced four years ago, of reducing the accident rate 40%?

Andy Sneddon I think a policy of zero tolerance is a moral imperative – our starting point must be that any injury on site is unacceptable. However, there are real gaps in knowledge and ability among many in our industry, particularly small firms, that are as much a reason for failure than any tolerance of poor practice.

Peter Caplehorn If the government is serious, it will increase the number of inspectors, improve education, sort out the skills cards and develop a platform for all of us in the industry to get together and understand each other. A 100% target is no way achievable at present. Most HSE inspectors do not understand the different building contracts in operation and their implications for responsibilities.

CDM regulations

Caplehorn We’ve had the current CDM rules for 10 years and it’s hardly noticeable. People don’t think it applies to them. They think it will cost money and that the basis on which it operates is out of touch with the industry.

Sneddon It has become unfashionable to advocate HSE enforcement, but for smaller contractors who have to compete with a blatantly criminal element, enforcement is a key ingredient in regulating the market. There are 120 construction inspectors for about 150,000 sites, so they can never cover the ground. Targeted approaches linked to industry programmes are the way to go.

Brian Law CDM is paid lip service at best and is largely ignored. Why it is ignored baffles me. CDM is about setting up projects properly, which I would have thought was in everyone’s interest.

Brian Rye Health and safety enforcement is not just down to the HSE, if the industry is to be taken seriously, construction managers must take back control of their sites and not continue to assume that the subcontractors is complying with their policies. Because clearly they are not.

CSCS cards

Peter So what has happened to the CSCS skills cards scheme? Currently it is dead in the water. We are never asked for these cards and still there is no card for consultants.

So what has happened to the CSCS skills cards scheme? Currently, it is dead in the water

Sneddon Peter, I disagree about CSCS – it has made phenomenal progress in the past few years. The biblical trades need much more help and Peter Lobban of CITB-ConstructionSkills made some more money available at the summit.

Caplehorn Well I’m speaking from the evidence of talking to clients, contractors and visiting sites. It’s not happening and that is a significant contribution to the problem. I think the whole thing needs a good shove to get going again.

Rye I use my site visitor’s card. If I am not asked for it, who is responsible for that? The gatekeeper or site management? CSCS will be the success it should be because the industry wants it to work. I suggest that there are those who may want it to fail.

Sneddon Brian, you’re right, but perseverance is paying off – the announcement at the summit that the specialists are to audit for CSCS is a sign of positive movement.

Role of the client

Sneddon The client is key. Government in particular needs to set an example. But the point of access for most clients is the construction professional such as architects and planning supervisors. If they have a clear framework of good practice then we can start to present a united approach.

Law If CDM is meant to address the issues before the project goes on site, how do we engage designers and clients? I know that the revised CDM is going to place more responsibility on clients, but I wonder why a client cannot ask for his project to be delivered.

Caplehorn I find it incredibly frustrating to bang on about improving standards only for them not to be followed through in other areas.

I also feel that, yes, the consultants are the client’s link to the project but we have to follow the instructions of the man paying the fee. If he says he’s not interested, it’s very difficult.

Planning supervisors

The advice on safety matters under CDM usually means a note on the noticeboard. Big deal

Building Is there an argument that planning supervisors should be more independent?

Law The Association of Project Safety has always recommended that the planning supervisor be an independent appointment – even if the work is being undertaken by the multidisciplinary office.

Caplehorn I think there is an argument for not having a specific person as the planning supervisor but a role that is passed from person to person as the project develops.

Law Under the present set-up, the planning supervisor and the designer are really responsible for advising the client, but is it really acceptable to go along with a client who ignores that advice? Do you stick with it to try and make the client see sense? At what point do you walk away? I know that most will not walk away and until we are willing to do so, clients will continue to ignore us.

Sneddon Yes, thankfully the new CDM regs will resolve this. If the client ignores the planning supervisor’s advice, and it leads to an incident, he will be liable for prosecution.

Law It will be interesting to see if clients accept that the planning supervisor has to be appointed at the outset.

Caplehorn That will difficult, I think.

Consulting the workers

Sneddon Where does the union’s call for workforce consultation fit into the jigsaw?

Rye Under CDM, worker consultation does not appear. The Health and Safety at Work Act requires information and consulting, which again rarely happens.

I know that most planning supervisors will not walk away from an unreasonable client. Until we do so, clients will continue to ignore us

Law CDM reg 18 – advice from and views of people at work. It’s a requirement of the project contractor to do so.

Rye The offering of advice on safety matters under CDM, which Brian refers to, usually means a note on the noticeboard or a suggestion box. Big deal. Is that the best that clients, planning supervisors and project contractors have to offer?

Law That’s the way CDM is interpreted by many, but don’t think you can blame the legislation if duty-holders wilfully chose to ignore or simply pay lip service. Designers interpret CDM in equivalent ways, which is why it can be seen as a paper chase.

Caplehorn Many well-run sites have regular toolbox talks. This should be encouraged and attended by the rest of the team including the consultants and the client.

Corporate killing legislation

Building What if corporate killing legislation was toughened up? What are your views on the proposed Directors’ Duties Bill?

Sneddon The Directors’ Duties Bill causes the Construction Confederation no problems. It reinforces corporate accountability rather than scapegoating individual directors. If the unions had asked us, they might have been able to carry some employer support! Earlier attempts at a bill would merely have increased the temptation for bad managers to distance themselves from health and safety decisions.

Law I think the government’s stalling on this indicates how difficult such legislation would be to enforce. I think there would tremendous problems in anything other than collective responsibility.

Caplehorn It’s improvement at all levels. At the moment the issues over CDM do not impact on directors at all and many others in the team, and it should.

Building Regulations

It’s about time those responsible at board level were made responsible for their actions and their failures

Caplehorn I am also keen that there is a Building Regulations section called health and safety.

Law Sorry, Peter, I couldn’t disagree more. Designers have to integrate consideration of health and safety – if you make it a separate section of the Building Regs it will become even more of a checklist than it is now, if that’s possible.

Caplehorn That’s exactly my point. By making it part of Building Regs you avoid exactly that because it is a real issue that designers deal with every day and will not become a checklist issue at all. It will have to deal with real construction, which it does not do at present.

Safety summits

Building What are your views about the usefulness of safety summits anyway?

Sneddon Summits can galvanize support among those with most power and influence and that is very important. All those CEOs need to get out there now and actively reinforce safe behaviour. They need to dip into the processes and projects they are responsible for and understand what is happening on the ground.

Building Should safety directors have been invited to the summit rather than chief executives?

Sneddon The single most important factor in an organisation that influences health and safety is the support of the CEO. No safety adviser will complain if the CEO turns up on site next week as a consequence of the summit.

Caplehorn There should be a direct link from CEOs’ safety performance and their tax liability, that would sort it.

Rye It is the deaths and injuries we want to reduce, simply raising fines further will not deter anyone. It’s about time those responsible at board level were made responsible for their actions and their failures.

Caplehorn There is not one answer to these health and safety issues. More engagement of senior people, more dialogue with all others, and above all clearer procedure and guidance across the whole sector.