Architects and clients have come under fire from the Health and Safety Executive in the draft of its discussion document on changes to health and safety legislation of the industry.
Revitalising Construction Health and Safety, to be published next month, criticises designers for having no commitment to improving health and safety practices, and says they make decisions that may put others at risk without engaging in the health and safety process.

It says: "Many designers show little understanding of the health and safety implications of constructing their designs."

It adds that the challenge is to make consideration of health and safety an integral part of designers' training and of the design process.

The HSE claims that about 60% of fatal accidents are attributable to decisions and choices made before construction begins.

Clients are also criticised for their detachment from the well-being of site workers. It says clients have a pivotal role in setting and achieving high health and safety standards. However, it adds: "Sadly, too few clients view the design and construction of their project as part of their business, nor do they realise that the health and safety of people who construct and maintain, as well as work in, their buildings is their responsibility."

The document concedes that many of the difficulties faced by designers and contractors are the result of unreasonable pressure from clients to keep costs down. "The challenge is to educate and motivate clients about the importance of their role and the benefits of well-managed, safe projects."

Sadly, too few clients realise that the safety of those who construct their building is their responsibility

HSE discussion document

It adds that the HSE would welcome any evidence of such benefits, quantified or anecdotal.

Graham Watts, chief executive of the Construction Industry Council, criticised the HSE's proposals. He said it was right that designers should be reminded of their responsibilities but added that designers were not the ones causing fatalities. Watts said most fatalities occurred because of how construction was managed on site.

"If you analyse the fatalities within the construction industry," he said, "it's actually very hard to find a single death where you can blame the client or designer."

In the discussion document, the HSE considers setting minimum health and safety standards for project designs. It says: "Designers exercise a major influence over the materials used in construction projects and consequently the risks that those carrying out the work have to face."

In addition to this, another idea being floated is that occupational health standards could be written into contracts before projects start.

What the report proposes

  • A review of the health and safety implications of employing foreign workers.
  • Insurance firms to refuse insurance to contractors unless they meet specified safety criteria.
  • A change in the role of architects in the health and safety process, and safety to be made an integral part of architectural training.
  • Clients to be given greater responsibility for safety, and advised on how they can force contractors to use best practice.
  • Plans to create a mandatory independent worker competence and training system.
  • A review of workers’ employment status and a continuing review of the health and safety responsibility of workers employed by labour agencies.
  • A review of the role of planning supervisors and three options for their future (see below).
  • Plans to use local authorities to help enforce health and safety early in the development process.
  • Further discussion of the benefits of integrated supply teams.

Three plans for supervisors’ future

As part of the Health and Safety Executive’s wider review of the industry, the body has outlined three alternatives for the future of planning supervisors in the construction process. Building revealed last November that the HSE was considering axing the position of planning supervisors in a future safety review. Former strategic forum chairman Sir John Egan said last year that the role of supervisors should be examined. The three proposals are outlined in the HSE’s discussion document. The first option is for the position to be retained, which would mean that current criticisms would have to be addressed. The HSE says concerns such as the lack of contact with contractors and designers during the construction phase would have to be considered, and ways found to integrate supervisors with the rest of the supply chain. The second possibility is for the duties of the planning supervisor to be transferred to a new role of lead designer during the preconstruction phase, and then on to the principal contractor during the actual construction phase. Lead designers would be appointed at the start of the project. The final idea is to completely transfer the duties of the planning supervisor to the client. In its discussion document, the HSE claims that the client could have the authority and financial control to ensure that all of the duties are carried out. It added that the regular clients could set up contracts and make other arrangements on their own, but one-off employers may need assistance from others in the construction team.