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Construction News' favourite... Health and safety

Construction News associate editor (features) Damon Schünmann

It is a testament to the readership of Construction News that its number one greatest advance is health and safety. And it’s perhaps not hugely surprising that the contractors who make up a substantial majority of Construction News’ circulation, are the people at highest risk and that have by default benefitted the most.

When the final tallies came in, Construction News readers considered health and safety to be a sliver ahead of CAD/CAM and also just in front of reinforced concrete.

While the readers of magazines that have more upstream readerships might feel that advances in project design or execution techniques are of most importance, it’s the people on the ground delivering those solutions that gain every day from a safer working environment.

Onsite safety has a proud record in recent years that has come on in leaps and bounds over the last few decades. Writing in Construction News’ 12 February issue, safety expert Philip Poynter highlighted that in 1958 there were 258 deaths during building operations and works of engineering construction. Deaths fell throughout the 1960s and 70s to around 100 deaths per annum in the 80s.

Construction fatalities went on to fall to an all time low of 59 deaths in 2005-2006. the latest official figure for 2007-2008 stands at 72 worker deaths, although current intelligence suggests the number may fall back to near the all time low during 2008-2009. So the picture of construction deaths is one of progressive reduction over the last 50 years.

However, although I wholeheartedly commend Construction News readers for voting health and safety as being number one, my own view would have been to tie this with sewers, a category that was not a high priority across any of the three magazines. My vote also goes there for the simple reason that sewers have prevented more deaths and suffering than all of the other categories put together – and then some.

Literally millions have been spared from killer diseases like cholera, typhoid and dysentery. But the fact remains that certainly in the UK, the big city sewers have been quietly getting on with their jobs since they were put in (generally well over 100 years ago), and so are not as prominent as other high profile and more visible advances.

And so my vote is split between the highly commendable recent advances in health and safety, and the enormously important engineering and construction legacy of sewers.

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