SAFETY performance comes from the top.The one thing that will bring about the required step change in our industry is a set of management standards, agreed by the industry, that will apply personally to each director.They can then say what everyone wants to hear - that they are taking responsibility - knowing that they are meeting an accepted standard of management.
The standards would include duties that directors should incorporate into their regular work and be far more specific to the construction industry than the Directors' Responsibilities for Health and Safety and Successful Health and Safety Management, published by HSC and HSE respectively.
Few directors are irresponsible, greedy individuals who place their employees at risk in order to maximise their profits. All of them would like to comply with the law and they would like the site management and the workforce to do the same. But in this respect the law is not helpful and gives no comfort to a director as to whether he or she is in compliance or not.
It is a false hope to believe that a revision to the CDM regulations, or any other construction regulations, will make everything well. In any case, what does it say about our industry if we need to depend on our regulators to make us safer?
The Government has for a long time promised a new Safety Bill, which would introduce the concept of corporate killing and tough sanctions on directors if found guilty.Directors are clearly in the firing line.
How much longer does the industry need to digest this before it sorts itself out?
The solution is for the industry is to take responsibility and publish standards of safety duties that should be carried out by directors.These should allow for relevant duties to be undertaken by directors of all disciplines - finance, service, managing and operational.
The duties must describe what a responsible director should do to achieve a rigorously applied regime over the organisation and what has to be done to have confidence that such a regime is effective.The standards should include techniques such as the application of documented management systems as well as the creation of a positive and just culture among employees and subcontractors. Leadership, continuous improvement, reward systems, disciplinary measures, good communications and many other established safety management principles need to be embraced.
Many of the top companies are setting their own standards and are achieving considerable improvements in their records. But the best construction organisation cannot guarantee that serious accidents will not occur. In such an event, a court will have to decide whether or not the standard of management fell below the legal requirement that a company is likely to have to meet to avoid a corporate killing conviction.
In the event of a serious accident, could a company convince a court that its management had acted reasonably in the absence of an accepted standard?
On the other hand, with such an industry standard in place, the courts would take note. Directors would have some comfort in knowing that their own conduct has met, or exceeded, a reasonable standard.
More importantly, with the responsibility being taken from the top, the number of accidents would reduce.