The Construction Industry: Health and Safety

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Introduction

Although the number of companies convicted of offences as a result of deaths of construction workers have declined, in real life situations, people still die due to over exposure to risky conditions at construction sites. Recent conviction rates average at 21% down from about 40% in the 1980s while fatal injuries presently average 26%. For example, in the UK’s construction industry which employs some 2.2 million people, 2,800 people have died as a result of construction work related injuries in the last 25 years. In 2005/2006 24 deaths were reported by HSE on the account of fall from height (41% by proportion) and 8 more others were hit by moving vehicles. In the same period, there were 30 fatal injuries in construction sites involving employees of various companies and self-employed workers. This was quoted in ‘’shuttered lives’’ on BBC by HSE while discussing suits filed against construction companies amidst recurring convict rates marked with slow progress.

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The recent charge of a crane owner in New York for the death of 2 workers due to the company’s negligence is one scenario illustrating the level of seriousness of work related fatalities at construction sites. In another event, Driffield-based Shane Homes limited was fined a total of 1799 Euros after pleading guilty to Work at Height Regulations (2005) thereby exposing workers to risk using unsafe scaffolding. While “Falls from height remain the largest cause of fatal and serious injuries in the construction industry’’, other causes of accidents and deaths forms the course of this essay with the objectives to minimize the dangers and risks involved in the building sites while observing the enacted health and safety policies.

Main Discussion

Health and safety in the construction industry can easily be achieved if the relevant bodies come up with right statutes and appropriate health and safety regulations to make sure that “those violating the requirements of the set standards become legally responsible for their actions” (National Audit Report-NAO, 2004). The various players in the construction industry should ensure that safety management and health are safeguarded through sound planning, efficient delivery and proper monitoring (Department of Work and Pensions, 2009). According to Construction Federation, the legislation of Construction, Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2007 launched an Approved Code of Practice (ACOP). Clause 2.1 of JCT O5 compels a contractor to comply with the statutory requirements that expect them to comply with the CDM regulations (Construction Federation, 2008, p.267)

This Act has prompted the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) to compel organizations to present senior officers capable of responding emergencies promptly. Article 118A of the Rome Treaty (1957) compels member countries including the UK to improve its working environment, with regard to health and safety of workers. Following wide public outcry to address the situation of work related injuries and deaths, National Audit Home office established the Group investment Board in 2003 to monitor and approve all of its 30 major projects. Other regulations include Reporting of injuries as per Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulation (1995), the construction regulations of 1996 and the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health (Amendment) Regulations 2002. NAO and Committee for Public Accounts have further increased its support to Home Office thus demonstrating its commitment to serve all the major projects in the nation. The department has since set up a centre of excellence aimed at training construction managers (National Audit Office 2004, p. 27).

CDM coordinators under regulation 20(1) (a), are required to give suitable and sufficient advice and assistance to their clients on issues relating to measures that are supposed to be taken into consideration while complying with the duties of employers over the safety of their employees. The coordinators are expected to ensure that appropriate arrangements are made and implemented in order to help realize the health and safety measures in the construction industry. The coordinators are obliged to take decisive steps in the identification and collection of pre-construction information. This helps in advising clients to take action to fill gaps in the available information (March, 2009 p.68).

The CDM officers provide adequate and timely information to all constructors regarding all possibilities of health risk occurring in the construction site. The coordinators need to make sure that reasonable steps are taken to ensure synergized operations occur between designers and the Principal contractor during the construction exercise inherent to any design or design change. They update, in case of a vacuum, by preparing the Health and Safety file. The coordinators liaise with the Principal Contractor on the contents of the Health and Safety file, information needed for construction phase plan and design development which may impact on planning and management of construction work (Coble, Hinze & Haupt 2000, p. 143).

The coordinators pass the Health and Safety File to the client on completion of the construction process. Employers are obligated to ensure that any people not in their pay roll who may be affected by their work are not exposed to health and safety risks This category of people includes visitors, those delivering goods and other cadre of people. Even the trespassers enjoy this legislation. The proprietors of construction works have to make sure that other people are not exposed to the risks as a result of their actions. Employers, especially owners of construction industries have an obligation to provide information on their undertakings and how they may affect the health and safety of others in section 3 of health and safety regulations. Section 4 of the regulations touches on the duty of owners of construction companies to persons other than their employees who use the premises for work with a lot of attention given to plant or substances provided and access and egress (Construction Federation 2008, p. 8).

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In section five of the safety regulations; it is clearly spelt out that the contractor during construction process should use the most practicable means to prevent emissions to the surrounding. They should devise ways of ensuring that dangerous substances are first of all rendered harmless before they are emitted into the surrounding. These substances are not limited to smoke, grit, dust and noise. Section six of the regulation act compels any person who designs, manufactures, imports or supply any commodity for use at work to verify that it is safe for use when used properly. This calls for doing of tests and conducting of research to eliminate risks they may have on health and safety of the people around. Those charged with the responsibility of installing devices have to make sure that they are safe for use. Sufficient information has to be provided to the users to guarantee their safety. Systems of control have to be robust (March, 2009 p.68).

Section seven of the safety regulations captures the general obligations of employees at work. It compels employees to take reasonable care for their health and safety. They also have duty of care to anybody who may be affected by anything they are doing or are supposed to do at work. Negligence relating to leaving a piece of wood with a protruding nail exposing others to dangers of stepping on them, spilling anything on the floor that is slippery that may make others to trip, may attract punishment if there is proof of responsibility for such action. Employees have to cooperate with the employers under this section to make sure that both the parties comply with the law.

Section eight covers on duty not to interfere with or misuse things provided pursuant to certain provisions. It literally makes it illegal for any individual to deliberately or recklessly interfere with or misuse that has been provided to safeguard safety, health or welfare. Section nine of the safety regulations stipulates that employers have no right to charge employees for those things done or provided following specific requirements. Employers cannot charge the employees for doing anything or provision of safety equipment and clothing that is required for them to carry out their duties effectively and safely. To make sure that these legislations are enforced, three stages of enforcement have been proposed to factory inspector to ensure that they are followed (Cobble, 2000 p.68).

Reporting of Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations of 1995(RIDDOR) requires that any incidences covered by the regulations that happen at the construction site has to be reported to the HSE Incident Contact Center without further ado depending on the nature of the incident. This is supposed to be the work of the Principal contractor. If the incident occurs at the head or regional office in the UK, then it is only wise that it is reported to the environmental health department at the local authority level. The proposed reporting process enables the HSE to come up with the possible areas where the risk could have emanated, and therefore have opportunity to investigate serious accidents and provide evidences backed with statistics on safety performance of all types of commerce and industry. The HSE will then be in a position to inform the legislature appropriately pertaining to decisions regarding revised legislation. A report will be written in case of death or serious injury. When a directly or indirectly employed person succumb to death or sustain serious injury including those relating to physical violence, or when a member of the public is hospitalized due to injuries sustained from the construction site, the enforcing authorities have to be informed in good time. In the 1994 health and safety regulations, two new roles were created: Planning Supervisor and Principal Portfolios. Planning supervisor is supposed to coordinate the health and safety aspects of design and planning phases. The principal contractor plans, controls and manages aspects of health and safety of the construction process (HSC, 1997 p.56).

Infringement of health and safety regulations has made many corporate construction companies and their proprietors pay heavily for their negligence (Davies, n.d p.22). In R v. BBRM and Railtrack (2005), 54 separate charges were brought against the two companies responsible for the track, railtrack and Bailour Beauty Rail Maintenance and 12 other employees. Railtrack was the owner and the operator of the UK railway infrastructure, including the stretch of the track in question and BBRM maintained the rail safe conditions. The employees charged were the CEOs of the two companies. Each company was charged with corporate manslaughter of the four passengers who died. The employees were charged with gross negligence manslaughter. After several appeals, the case proceeded on grounds of health and safety and in September 2005, all individual defendants were acquitted. The two companies were found to be guilty of having breached section three of HSWA and were fined 3.5 and 10 million dollars respectively. BBRMs fine was later reduced on appeal.

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Violation of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007 led to prosecution of many people who have infringed the law. Most of these cases were initiated and followed by the HSE. In October 2002, Julian Clothier, the director of Dennis Clothier and Sons was subjected to 240 hours of community service for manslaughter of Stephen Hayfield in 2000. In the month of February 2003, William Horner, the chief of Teglgaard Hardwood UK Limited, was subjected to five months suspended sentence and suspended for two years for death of Christopher Longing in April 2002. Lee Harper, the managing director of Harper Building Contractors was imprisoned for 16 months in 2005 January for death of a contractor Daryl Arnold in June 2003.

Conclusion

The move by the Health and Safety executive together with the National Audit Office to safeguard the self-employed and company workers against possible risk while operating in construction sites is an important initiative by the government. House owners can therefore look forward to insured constructions by companies which are conditioned to ensure all stipulated safety precautions are followed. Pending court cases involving construction firms are evidence justifying the necessity to address the plight of workers whose lives are threatened by risky working conditions. Thus the demand of health and safety regulations should make sure that companies hold duly care to its workers or any other person working for it. The role of intermediaries such as KPRL in the process of helping HSE keep to its goals while tracking the efforts of NAO is equally important. This way the government can ensure that fatalities arising from construction sites are greatly minimized. The existing framework provides that NAO investigates and HSE follows the execution process.

Reference List

Coble, R. J, Hinze, J, & Haupt, T.C., 2000, Construction Safety and Health Management. New York: Prentice-Hall.

Construction Federation., 2008, House builders Safety Manual. London: Construction industry Publication Limited.

Davies, A., n.d, Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act Special Report. Cambridge: Workplace Law Publishers.

Health and Safety Commission, 2004, Comprehensive Statistics in Supporting and Revitalizing Health and Safety Programmes. Construction HSC. (Online). Web.

Health and Safety Executive, 1997, RIDDOR explained. Reporting of Injuries Diseasesand Dangerous Occurrences Regulations. HSC. (Online). Web.

House of Commons Works and Pensions Committee., 2009, TheWork of HSC. London: The Stationary Office.

March, C., 2009, Operation Management for Construction. New York: Taylor & Francis.

National Audit Office., 2004, Improving Health and Safety in Construction Industry. London: The Stationary Office.

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