What verdict should the Health and Safety Executive pass on the construction industry at next week’s summit?
Will it damn it for still not seriously addressing the long-standing slackness of safety culture, thus further blackening its neo-Victorian reputation as the most dangerous of British industries? Or will it look kindly on the efforts of progressives such as Bovis, which are starting to inculcate holistic approaches that see the human being rather than the statistic?
There is some argument for the latter. Now at 3.5 per 100,000 workers, fatality rates have fallen 25% since 1999/2000 and these figures for 2003/04 are the lowest on record. Yet 70 site deaths last year against 81 three years ago is hardly the improvement the industry was hoping for when it pledged to reduce fatalities by 40% at the last summit back in 2001. That we have still so many deaths is tragic, and severely tempers any sense of self-congratulation. Progress on accident rates has been even lower than mortality rates, for reasons that are hard to discern. Major accidents have fallen just 15%. Still, some observers suggest that as health and safety has been taken more seriously, so accidents that would once have gone unreported are now logged.
Whatever verdict the HSE delivers, we all know construction can and must do better. And there are steps towards eventually achieving what some genuinely believe is possible – a zero accident rate. Detailed breakdowns of what types of accidents are occurring would help. So moves being announced at the summit by the Major Contractors Group to share and analyse information are to be welcomed. It is vital, too, that clients – especially public sector – prioritise health and safety in awarding contracts. Again, steps are being taken by health and safety minister Jane Kennedy to ensure this happens. Heavier and more consistent fining would send out the right signals – though some feel the private member’s bill currently before Parliament, which puts the emphasis on prosecuting individuals, is more likely to undermine progress.
But safety’s real Achilles’ heel is on smaller sites, where two-thirds of accidents and deaths occur. There must be an argument for the HSE to throw its spotlight on these operations. Those taking safety seriously will certainly welcome such a move, since being undercut by less safety-conscious firms in a very tight market is one of the biggest threats to their business.
Denise Chevin, editor
Everything to play for
All eyes are on London this week, as a delegation from the International Olympic Committee comes to the capital to assess its bid to host the 2012 Olympics. Though Paris is favourite, the race is by no means lost. The IOC delegation will be presented with schemes for stunning new sporting facilities, much-needed improvements to the transport infrastructure and a plan that leaves behind a legacy of regeneration and sustainable housing in what is currently a highly deprived area. Of course, construction has a huge amount to gain from the success of the bid. It also has a great deal to offer should London be victorious (see news) when the decision is announced in July, which we sincerely hope it is. Then the industry will certainly rise to the challenge of delivery.