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Viewpoint - There's still a long way to go to safer sites

AGENDA - Do not become complacent about safety gures, warns Simon Mantle

THE HEALTH & Safety Executive's Fatalities Report, released just a few weeks ago, revealed that the construction industry has seen a massive 14 per cent fall on last year's figures, the lowest accident rate for the construction sector on record.

This is an excellent result, but the danger now is that complacency will set in. As an industry we must continue along this path, as there is still a long way to go if we are to maintain and further improve our standards.

Health and safety can be a difficult issue to elevate as a priority within an organisation. Ideally, board members and senior managers should be setting policy and pushing health and safety best practice to the top of the company agenda before it is filtered down through the organisation.

In order to be successful, an effective health and safety programme must be driven from the top downwards - or the issue will remain peripheral and only a temporary consideration.

Experience has shown that if a management team is committed to and willingly supports a concept, it has a greater chance of succeeding.

Establishing a relevant and realistic policy that suits the nature of an organisation and that sets realistic targets for its employees is an essential pre-requisite for health and safety success. But putting health and safety into practice is a further challenge for the management team.

In most organisations, what gets measured gets done. Companies that keep track of health and safety performance and recognise at a senior level the importance of this aspect of their business are much more likely to develop a successful health and safety culture.

In turn employees, particularly those working on site, are more likely to embrace this culture than those who work for a company that places a shifting emphasis on the health and safety of those it employs.

Crucially health and safety policy should be implemented by a carrot rather than a stick approach, with best practice recognised and rewarded. Individual exemplars need to be held up to acclaim and all successes celebrated where possible.

All of this will help to develop a pro-active health and safety attitude.

Health and safety needs to be at the top, or as close to the top as possible, of a board's priority list. It cannot be moved around or replaced on the agenda by short-term considerations. If senior management takes its eye off the ball there is the potential that the rest of the organisation will follow suit and standards will fall.

Once a thorough health and safety policy has been developed, the management team must work to ensure that all operatives are kept informed about health and safety matters.

Additionally, it is important to listen to the views of operatives as they are the ones who have to work within the guidelines that an organisation imposes on them. At site level, health and safety has to be a team effort, with everyone working towards common aims and objectives.

The challenge to develop a genuine culture of health and safety rests firmly in the hands of the senior management team. Health and safety is not the responsibility of an individual or a department, it is the responsibility of all employees.

This year's fall in fatality numbers demonstrates that many companies are now taking this message on board. More must follow.