Are employers doing enough to help identify and mitigate risks when their staff visit sites and premises?
Experience shows us that many employers are not fulfilling their duties to manage the risks their surveyors are facing when visiting premises and sites.
It is important that inexperienced surveyors are made aware of the hazards and risks involved on construction sites, particularly if the site is not well managed. In 2005/6, 27% (981) of major accidents on construction sites were caused by slips, trips and falls; and 25% (917) were caused by falls from height. Accidents by surveyors visiting construction sites would have contributed to these statistics.
The Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1999 (MHSW) require all employers and the self-employed to assess the risks that may affect the health and safety of employees and anyone else affected by what they do while at work.
This particularly applies to surveyors who visit, inspect or survey premises and sites.
Assess the risks before the visitUndertaking a risk assessment should be part of the management arrangements for surveyors before visiting a premises/site. If there is an accident, or a person suffers ill-health from the visit, it will be a necessary to demonstrate that health and safety was managed and some evidence of this process will be required.
Relevant informationIt is important that relevant information is obtained about a premises/site before the visit to assess the hazards and risks and decide what controls should apply to help prevent an accident or ill health to the employee or anyone else.
Location and journeyDoes the visit involve a long distance journey? If so, it might be advisable to use public transport rather than drive, especially if the surveyor may be tired or under pressure. Many of those involved in road accidents while on company business are checked by the police on whether they were using a mobile phone, on prescribed medication and how many hours they had worked in the days before the accident (i.e. did they lack concentration and “lose proper control of the vehicle”).
If the response is positive, the police may inform the Health and Safety Executive (HSE), which can result in the employer and/or the employee being prosecuted by the HSE for not managing their health and safety and by not properly assessing the risks to the surveyor before setting out. This is in addition to any police prosecution under the
Road Traffic Regulations and any civil action from employees or third parties and their relatives. The implementation of a Company Driving Policy will help avoid this situation.
Vacant/unoccupied premises and sitesAre the premises/site in a remote environment or ‘unfriendly’ location, making personal protection an issue? Personal safety is particularly relevant if the visit is being made alone and the premises/site are vacant/unoccupied.
The implementation of a Lone Working Policy is essential to safeguard an employee who wishes to visit a premises/site alone and then is faced with a physical danger from someone, has an accident, or falls ill while on the journey or at the premises/site.
Simple measures such as phoning the office during office hours to confirm your safe arrival/return or (if outside office hours) making sure someone knows your location and when to expect your return. Unfortunately, these arrangements are not often implemented.
The conditions at a vacant or unoccupied site must be established before the visit to ensure the appropriate precautions are taken to reduce the risks.
Is it a contaminated site with carcinogenic substances in the ground? The surveyors visiting the site may need special coveralls, boots, gloves and possibly breathing apparatus to undertake a survey.
They also need to consider the controls for removing and cleaning their protective clothing and boots after leaving the site. For example, it would not be acceptable to take the contaminated items home for cleaning.
Do the vacant/unoccupied premises/site have other significant hazards, such as unsafe floors or fragile roofs? Does the surveyor have to ascend to high levels and is this achievable without specialist access equipment? Hazardous materials, such as asbestos or clinical waste items, syringes or needles are items that involve higher risks to visitors.
Occupied premises/sitesIf the premises/site are occupied, what is the nature of the occupation and are there hazardous situations, materials or processes the employee should consider?
Manufacturing plants, hospitals, transport depots (particularly rail) and some warehouse or distribution centres can be particularly hazardous environments for both the inexperienced and experienced surveyor.
Many occupied premises have fragile roof areas. If the surveyor needs to access roofs, what safety systems are in place at the occupied premises to avoid falls from height?
Construction sitesWhere construction works are being undertaken, then the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 will apply and a contractor or principal contractor will be organising and managing the works. The visitor must report to the contractor and either be accompanied or inducted before being allowed to undertake their inspection.
The hazards on construction projects are many and varied. A Construction Skills Certification Scheme Card is a helpful indication to show a surveyor is aware of the basic construction hazards, particularly falls from height; slips, trips and falls; and the movement of vehicles and plant.
It is essential that sufficient information is obtained before the visit to ensure the surveyor is competent to be in such an environment and has the facility to obtain the appropriate personal protective equipment. The minimum would be suitable protective footwear, helmet and high visibility vest or jacket,
Review the risk assessmentIt is a requirement to continually review the risk assessment as part of the process under the MHSW Regulations. On arrival, check whether the conditions and situation at the premises/site are different from those anticipated before the visit. It would be sensible to check the mobile phone signal strength before potentially getting into any difficulty.
Is there evidence in an unoccupied/vacant premises/site of a recent break-in or breach of security, with the possibility of meeting unfriendly intruders once inside? Is the condition of the property worse than expected and are the controls necessary to protect safety still adequate?
While undertaking a survey or inspection at the property the surveyor must be alert to other hazards such as:
• unstable structures
• rotten or corroded floors
• projecting nails, broken glass or slippery surfaces under foot
• hidden or unprotected openings or edges
• fragile roof areas
• high winds when on roofs
• unsafe atmospheres from confined spaces
• unprotected or broken electricity or gas services
• hazardous substances (such as asbestos)
• contaminated ground or water
• unwelcome animals or vermin and their effects
If the premises/sites are unoccupied/vacant, it is essential they are left secure when a surveyor leaves (if they are the last person). The repercussions of not doing so and enabling children or other intruders into a potentially dangerous property may make the surveyor liable for any incidents.
In occupied properties or construction sites, it is necessary to inform the occupier or contractor you are leaving the site to ensure, in case of a subsequent emergency, they know you are no longer on the premises.
Surveying safelyThe Surveying Safely booklet, produced by RICS, provides a more in-depth summary of the key hazards and risks all surveyors should consider before visiting, and on arrival at premises and sites.
There is also a ‘mind map’ to assist in the site risk assessment and safe systems of work to be adopted.
All employers should provide instructions to their employees to identify hazards and assess the risks they face before visiting premises and sites, reviewing them on arrival and then ensuring the control measures are implemented.
If a surveyor has an accident or suffers ill health from visiting a premises or a site, the employer and employee will need to demonstrate and show evidence that they complied with the MHSW Regulations to carry out risk assessments, (including recording, reviewing and revising), applying the ‘principles of prevention’ and implementing appropriate health and safety arrangements.
The Work at Height Regulations 2005
Watch your step, page 18, Building Surveying Journal, March/April 06
Surveying Safely: Your guide to personal safety at work can be found on the Health & Safety Group pages on www.rics.org
Ian Watson is chairman of the RICS Health & Safety Advisory Group and director of PCM Safety Management Ltd.
This article first appeared in the RICS Building Surveying Journal.