Construction's safety record may be improving – slowly – but a 5% decrease in site deaths over five years simply isn't good enough. The industry is out of time to hit that 40%-by-next-year target … So what now?
In spite of some valiant efforts by a few truly excellent firms (see the 2004 Health and Safety Awards, 7 May and 4 June issues), there are still way too many deaths and injuries in construction. A National Audit Report published this week found that there had only been a 5% reduction in deaths and injuries since 2001, when site deaths had been so unacceptably high that a crisis summit was called by deputy prime minister John Prescott.

The most recently available full-year statistics make stark reading. In 2002/03, 71 construction workers were killed (31% of the all work-related deaths) and a further 4780 suffered a major injury.

The NAO report suggests that the industry will fall way short of targets set at the 2001 crisis summit. The meeting said that the industry must reduce deaths by 40% by 2005 and 66% by 2010. With only a year to go before the first target of 40% it looks as though the industry will fail miserably.

Designers were on the receiving end of some particularly blunt criticism in the NAO report. It said: "Some designers erroneously believe that they do not have any duties towards the health and safety of construction workers."

One new organisation is attempting to improve the situation. The Designers Initiative on Health and Safety meets every month to discuss health and safety issues affecting architects and designers. It is aiming to improve communication between the HSE inspectors and architects by holding a seminar for inspectors to explain the architect's role with regard to health and safety.

According to DIOHAS's Peter Caplehorn, few HSE inspectors have a construction background so don't always know what they should be looking for when checking that architects have complied with CDM Regulations.

Caplehorn also says DIOHAS will be producing a guide to risk assessment for architects and designers later this summer. We have collated risk assessments and distilled them into a single risk assessment procedure, which has the blessing of the HSE," says Caplehorn. "We need to get over this attitude that none of it [health and safety responsibility] is down to me," says Caplehorn.

DIOHAS has also called on the HSE to include health and safety regulations within the Building Regulations, which it believes will lead to better compliance. The group is also keen to involve the rest of the industry and it has held talks with the chief executive of Construction Excellence Dennis Lenard.

There has been a wholesale improvement in heath and safety in construction in general, but architects appear to have been left behind in the dialogue. DIOHAS provides the chance for the design fraternity to catch up. The fact that there is yet no such thing as a Construction Skills Certification Scheme (CSCS) card for architects indicates how much has to still to be achieved.

But one thing can be done immediately. Those drawing up the invitations for the safety summit planned next year by the HSE and strategic forum should put architects' names at the top of the list.