The Health and Safety Executive will drive occupational health up the agenda and simplify its guidance to contractors, its new chief inspector of construction has told Construction News.
Heather Bryant said she will concentrate on raising awareness of the “hidden issue” of health risks in the industry to reduce the rate of serious illness.
The HSE estimates that the construction industry is responsible for around 5,500 new cases of cancer and 3,500 cancer-related deaths every year.
Three-quarters of lost working days in construction are also down to ill health.
Ms Bryant, who was appointed to the post in March 2013, said the HSE must “educate and work with the industry to develop solutions that are easy, sensible and practical that they can use”.
“I think there’s a big task to do on that,” she added.
Simplifying the guidance distributed by the HSE to contractors will also form a key part of Ms Bryant’s work to make information more accessible, particularly to smaller contractors.
“It’s better to have a couple of pages that [small contractors] are going to understand, rather than 50 pages that they’re not even going to pick up”
Heather Bryant, HSE
The HSE is currently working on revisions to the construction design and management regulations, which set out how to manage risk and health and safety on site and are due to be finalised in October 2014.
Ms Bryant said the “technical hardware” of the CDM regulations would not change, but that the HSE would simplify the guidance that goes with them.
“If you’ve got small business that has to read a 50-page document rather than a couple of pages – are they going to read it?” she said.
“It’s better to have a couple of pages that they’re going to understand, rather than 50 pages that they’re not even going to pick up.”
But Ms Bryant, who was previously HSE divisional director for London, the East and South-east and has sat on the construction programme board for the past two years, said she was not “coming in to do a quick change”.
She has extended the construction division’s current three-year plan of work for a further year to 2014/15 and its resources will continue to target “high-risk” asbestos removal, small construction sites and refurbishment work.
But she hopes to quicken the pace of change in the industry.
“If I were looking back in three years’ time I would like to see that we’ve made more improvement in the next three years than we have in the past 10,” she said.
Fee for Intervention is ‘not affecting what we do’
The £124-per-hour cost recovery scheme launched in October 2012 has “absolutely not changed our priorities”, Ms Bryant said.
“I tell my teams to get out there, do the work, enforce where they need to enforce,” she said. “Yes it’s got a cost attached, and everyone is learning to live with that, but it’s not affecting what we do.”
The Fee for Intervention scheme charges contractors who break health and safety laws for inspections and investigations.
Nearly 6,000 Fee for Intervention invoices have gone out to the construction industry since January 2013, from which just over 140 have been queried by contractors.
Ms Bryant said the majority were “straightforward” and resolved, while only two queries have progressed to a formal review.
In June 2013, the construction industry accounted for 27 per cent of the total invoices issued by the HSE, compared with manufacturing which accounted for 42 per cent.
Ms Bryant stressed that it was still early days for the scheme and that the figures may change as more invoices go out and longer investigations are completed.
Sites and contractors that comply with the law do not incur a fee for inspections.