Can Guernsey Build Safer?

From my experience of working in Guernsey’s construction industry I have noted health and safety standards vary immensely from site to site even within the same company.  This variation in standards often appears to be down to the health and safety perception and attitudes of the site management team and their workforce rather than the actual physical size of the site and the development’s value.   Interestingly, the UK Health and Safety Executive have a different experience, the statistics that they gather illustrate that most fatal injuries in the UK construction industry now occur on smaller building projects involving refurbishment of existing homes and workplaces.

In Guernsey, the number of RIDDOR reports between 2002 -2008 averages out at 93. Unfortunately, I can see no reassuring downwind trend in the number of reports being made by the local construction industry which has been seen in the UK.

So what can Guernsey’s construction industry do to reduce the number of RIDDOR events and other less serious accidents from occurring ?  It is quite easy for a director of a building company to ignore completely the issue of health and safety and hide behind the fact that the construction industry is high risk and serious accidents, therefore, do occur from time to time.  If the construction industry in Guernsey is to become safer within the existing regulatory framework, then it will be down to the company’s senior management and directors to provide health and safety leadership,  implement safe systems of work that can actually be followed and ensuring that the workforce they employ is competent to carry out the work task the company requires of them.

A director or senior manager must lead from the front, for example, by turning up on site wearing their personal protective equipment and conducting a health and safety tour of the site from time to time.  This single act will send a powerful message to the site management team and their workforce that health and safety is in fact seen as a priority by the business rather than an actual hindrance.  Directors and senior managers should also read, understand and own their health and safety policy and health and safety should appear as number one on the agenda for staff meetings.  By actively following and implementing the health and safety policy the company should begin the long term process of creating a vibrant health and safety culture.  The development of this culture can be observed in the changed behaviour and attitudes of company employees, for example, employees will be more inclined to report hazards.

Local construction companies have a duty to implement safe systems of work and this requirement can be met by ensuring a competent person writes out a suitable and sufficient risk assessment of the task before the works begin.  Method statements should also be developed for higher risk work and the document should detail how the work will be carried out safely and in a written language that is understood by each employee. Further information on safe systems of work are detailed in Guernsey’s Organisation and Management of Health and Safety in Construction Approved Code of Practice which is available from the Health and Safety Executive.

Everyone who works in the industry must have a basic understanding of construction dangers as this essential underpinning knowledge is necessary to be safe on site and avoid accidents.  Combine good experience with this knowledge and suitable training and you will have all the vital ingredients to be able class a workforce as being competent. I have witnessed employees adopting a safe working practice because they understood the reason for the system of work.  This understanding was as a result of the supervisor giving them a toolbox talk after it had been identified that the employees were not working safely whilst using a vertical goods hoist.

So when it comes to training a workforce where should a company start? The company should analyse their training needs in order to assess whether employees know what the hazards and risks that they face are, the employee should know how to deal with these hazards and risk and know the site emergency procedures and rules.  The training needs that will be identified do not always result in a formal and expensive ‘classroom’ course being organised, in some circumstances the employer will decide that a short toolbox talk will be sufficient, for example on the safe use of ladders.  Some employees will of course have particular training needs such as new recruits will require inducting and persons  taking on staff responsibilities will require risk assessment training.

I would also recommend that the employer keeps a record of the training that is conducted so that the company can assess when the training might need to be repeated, for example employees whose work may result in them being exposed to asbestos fibres should receive refresher training on an annual basis.   Records are also useful if the company has to demonstrate an employee’s competence to a client or an enforcement agency.

The UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 Approved Code of Practice can assist the local construction industry as it gives detailed advice about assessing the competence of individuals.  The Code details that a site worker should pass a health and safety test, attended a site induction, attended mandatory in house training, hold a NVQ Level 2 or 3 or equivalent for site operations and is able to identify defects and unacceptable risk. The site worker should also demonstrate a good attitude and be capable of working safely with a minimal amount of supervision.  I am not convinced that every building company in Guernsey can match this UK standard but at least it gives the local industry something to aim for.

Jonathan Coyde


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