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HSE spot checks expose safety concerns at 1,105 sites nationwide

More than 1,100 construction sites failed basic safety standards in a Health and Safety Executive spot check campaign carried out last month.

The HSE visited 2,607 sites during September and served 539 prohibition notices ordering workers to stop work immediately.

The campaign was aimed at refurbishment or repair work sites, primarily being carried out by SMEs, where it was evident that there were unsafe practices taking place.

Inspectors found basic safety standards were not being met on 1,105 sites. On 644 sites, the HSE said that practices were so poor that enforcement action was necessary to protect workers.

A total of 539 prohibition notices were served ordering dangerous activities to stop immediately and 414 improvement notices issued requiring standards to improve.

The most common problems identified included failing to protect workers during activities at height, exposure to harmful dust and inadequate welfare facilities.

“I think there’s a pride within the industry of wanting to get it right, and more willingness to work with each other”

Heather Bryant, HSE

Inspectors arrived at the sites unannounced to ensure workers were managing high-risk activity such as working at height and the control of exposure to harmful dusts. Inspectors were also looking for good site order, sound structures and basic welfare facilities.

HSE chief inspector of construction Heather Bryant said where inspectors encountered poor practice, it “often went hand in hand with a lack of understanding”.

She said: “It is disappointing we are still seeing nearly 50 per cent of sites needing enforcement acts. That said, we are targeting areas of highest risk so I would expect that most of the sites would benefit from our attention.”

Of the schemes that failed safety checks, follow-ups will be conducted by second site visits, telephone conversations and in some cases by relying on photos being sent through by the companies involved to demonstrate they have improved site safety.

Regional breakdown

London, East & South-east: 824 sites inspected; 913 inspections; 308 notifications of contravention

Midlands, Wales & South-west: 823 sites inspected; 993 inspections; 359 notifications of contravention

Scotland, Yorks’ & North-east: 576 sites inspected; 708 inspections; 259 notifications of contravention

North-west: 384 sites inspected; 479 inspections; 179 notifications of contravention

In March, nearly a fifth of construction sites received enforcement notices after failing safety checks in the HSE’s most recent month-long inspection drive.

On the industry’s approach to safety, she told Construction News: “I think there’s a common understanding that reputationally there is a way to go. On fatalities we are not where they should be; 39 last year is still too many (between April 2012 and March 2013).

“People have seen with the Olympics what it looks like when you get it right.

“I think there’s a pride within the industry of wanting to get it right, and more willingness to work with each other and look out across other industries where they have learned similar lessons.”

Work at height was again one of the main issues highlighted, after concerns were raised in August over a dramatic increase in the number of accidents resulting from falls from height.

Ms Bryant said: “There is an issue that sadly there are clearly standards [continuing] that we shouldn’t be seeing.”

Asked whether workers needed to be more vigilant and if companies were ignoring risks, she said: “It has to be a joint effort. You have to have individuals on site who are aware of the risks and know what they have to do personally in terms of complying.”

Ms Bryant added: “Health is a hidden killer and it continues to be an issue in construction. People are going into old properties and we are still finding people going in, not carrying out asbestos surveys and exposing workers.”

The majority of sites visited were run by SMEs. Ms Bryant said that 59 per cent of fatalities in 2012/13 occurred on refurbishment sites, many of which were operated by SMEs and had fewer than 15 people on site, but accounted for around 75 per cent of fatalities.

Fee for Intervention

A total of 312 queries regarding fees for intervention have been made by contractors across all industries to the HSE since its inception.

The Fee for Intervention scheme charges contractors who break health and safety laws for inspections and investigations.

Since FFI was introduced on 1 October 2012 there have been five invoice runs and the HSE has issued invoices totalling £5.53m, of which 36 per cent, or just under £2m, has been in construction.

Out of the 312 queries, 285 have been resolved and 30 per cent of cases resulted in the invoice being either cancelled or amended.

The total number of level 1 disputes received to date is 10. Of the nine disputes that have been resolved, 33 per cent of cases resulted in the invoice being either cancelled or amended.

  • If you missed it, catch up with the Construction News and HSE Twitter chat from Monday 21 September.

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