The NASC’s latest safety report shows positive trends, but there’s plenty of work still to be done to improve trainee safety and close the gap between the smallest and largest firms.
Managing safety is the biggest concern for companies working at height.
There are numerous guides to safe working practices, many produced by the National Access and Scaffolding Confederation – which also produces an annual safety report based on statistics gathered from its members.
NASC incidents 1995-2015
The general trend for the last 15 to 20 years has been a steady decline in accidents among NASC members. In 2015, there were 96 incidents of all kinds among the 199 NASC members, with an accident frequency rate of 0.32 (the number of reported accidents multiplied by 100,000, divided by the average number of hours worked). This frequency rate is the lowest it’s ever been.
Adrian Rooney is managing director of scaffolding firm Midlands Scaffolding Services and sits on the NASC Safety Committee.
He says: “The trend for a number of years has been really pleasing. Apart from the odd anomaly, it’s been a steady downwards trend and I don’t think any other sector shows this as consistently as we do.”
A particular ongoing pattern has been the decline of falls from height accidents, which saw a reduction of 29 per cent from 24 in 2014 to 17 in 2015.
The highest descent of an operative falling from a scaffold or working platform was 5 m, with two people falling from scaffolds/platforms at or above 4 m, and three falls from scaffolds/platforms under 4 m. There were no reported falls from a scaffold/platform where the fall was arrested by a lanyard or harness.
Mr Rooney puts this trend down to the introduction of its SG4 guidance some years ago. “It’s now the accepted way to build a scaffold among our members and we see main contractors specifying it in tenders,” he says.
One area of concern has been a significant increase in incidents concerning falling materials.
These incidents increased by 150 per cent from four in 2014 to 10 in 2015, but the majority of these involved materials falling from workplace areas other than scaffolds or platforms.
“21-30 is the age that most operatives join the industry and undertake their training. So if incidents happen, it is most likely to be in that group”
Adrian Rooney, NASC Safety Committee
“It’s a strange one,” Mr Rooney says. “Virtually all of the falls happened in yards and depots. We’ve had a big recruitment drive among our members in the last year or two and a new employee’s first few weeks will be on a yard or in a depot – not out on site. So that could be a factor in having more incidents such as this during training there. We’re asking our members to help recognise what the trend is.”
Linked to this is an increase in the number of seven-day incidents relating to trainees, which rose by more than 30 per cent. In addition, the number of incidents occurring in the 21-30 age group was 42 – making up 44 per cent of the total.
More on Working at Height
“21-30 is the age that most operatives join the industry and undertake their training,” Mr Rooney says. “So generally, if incidents happen, it is most likely to be in that group.
“Our previous president Kevin Ward had an objective of recruiting 450 apprentices under his tenure – we beat that with around 500. So we’re placing a lot of emphasis now on behavioural change, making tweaks to people’s attitudes to certain things to reduce risk where possible.”
Bigger is better?
Another interesting trend thrown up by the safety report is the split in incidents among different-sized firms. Medium-large companies, those with between 201 and 1,000 employees, had an incident rate of 3.9, while large companies with 1,001-plus employees had an incident rate of 1.69.
This compares with the small-medium end of the scale below 200 employees, where the rates are far higher at an average of
9.77 across NASC’s four sizing bands. The highest came in the ‘very small’ range of companies with 1-20 employees, where the incident rate is 11.73.
“The more of those smaller firms we can get the better, as it helps to raise standards across the board”
Adrian Rooney, NASC Safety Committee
This is to be expected, says Mr Rooney, although that doesn’t mean firms or the scaffolding sector more widely should be complacent. “The bigger scaffolders will have full-time safety officers or even safety directors, so training should be better,” he says.
“If you’re a very small firm with six or seven employees, say, it’s probably the owner who has responsibility for that. And while he may be doing a very good job of it, it’s still different.
“Also, a small firm only needs to have one accident to drive that frequency rate up, whereas for a larger company it won’t have as much of an impact.”
New NASC president Alan Lilley is encouraging more smaller scaffolding companies to join the organisation during his tenure, creating a lower subscription tier for firms with turnover of less than £1m.
“The more of those firms we can get the better, as it helps to raise standards across the board,” Mr Rooney says.
Overall, however, Mr Rooney is proud of the work his sector has done in driving up standards and reducing accidents, in what is one of construction’s most high-risk activities. “I’ve been involved in this for years and I’ve seen massive changes,” he says.
“It’s hugely different from how it used to be and we’ve been able to have a significant impact on how people do their jobs.”
This is borne out by the encouraging trends shown in the safety report – but there are still areas to work on, which Mr Rooney and the rest of the safety committee will focus on in 2016.
NASC causes of accidents to operatives 2015