The Changing Management of Construction Health and Safety

Disappointingly the Health & Safety Inspectorate (HSI) recently announced that the development of the new and much needed Health and Safety (Management in Construction) (Jersey) Regulations have been placed on hold.  The HSI advised this was due to the present economic climate in Jersey and a failure to obtain the necessary resources required to both develop and administer the proposed legislation.  The new Regulations would have repealed the existing The Construction (Safety Provisions) (Jersey) Regulations, 1970 and would have incorporated new requirements similar to those set out under the UK Construction Design and Management Regulations 2007.

The construction industry therefore continues to be governed by The Construction (Safety Provisions) (Jersey) Regulations, 1970, which set out prescriptive standards such as on the erection and inspection of scaffolding.  The trouble with the existing Regulations are that they do not detail how a construction project should be properly managed which is a fundamental requirement when running a safe building site.  The current absence of any management legislation does not mean that the construction industry should simply stand still as the Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law still applies.  Any construction specific legislation made under this law would not increase the standard required, only clarify the requirements and place specific legal duties on contractors relating to specific risks.  However, despite some contractors in the industry being keen to move H&S standards forward, this can prove difficult whilst still managing to remain competitive. The term ‘level playing field’ is often heard from contractors when discussing standards which should be applied and the idea of legislation is that it sets out the minimum standards required to be met by all contractors.

Other challenges that the construction industry currently face is in relation to the considerable proportion of overseas labour which place an additional burden on the industry to produce its information in relevant languages.  The industry is also faced with cultural differences in the perception of risk which overseas labour can bring.  The recent amendment to The Health and Safety at Work (Jersey) Law attempts to address this issue as it requires the employer to prepare their own health and safety policy in a language or languages which can be understood by all their employees.  It will be of interest to see how this law change impacts on the construction industry as we would expect to see certain health and safety “arrangements” such as site inductions, site toolbox talks, recorded risk assessments and method statements and site notices to adopt the spirit of what this amendment is attempting to achieve.

Much of the industry currently does little to address Occupational Health issues and we would expect a further focus on occupational health issues in the future.  There is considerable room for improvement in the industry in areas such as manual handling and vibration but the industry will continue to be led by designers and rely upon manufacturer’s to provide lower vibration tools.  It is a common problem in any industry that employers are slower to respond to hazards which can take years to manifest themselves in their employees, particularly in the construction industry because of the transient nature of the workforce.  The Jersey Safety Council do have a small working party overseeing Occupational Health in the construction industry and it will be interesting to see what new initiatives are brought forward in the next few years by the Council.

The provision of welfare facilities on construction sites has only become commonplace in the last 10 years, this has driven by workers expectations and the contractor recognising it responsibilities in the immediate social environment.  We expect to see something similar to the UK Considerate Contractor Scheme becoming more commonplace in the next 5 to 10 years with the aim of encouraging building and civil engineering contractors to carry out their operations in a safe and considerate manner.  This is where contractor groups can help in pushing standards forward and perhaps there influence has an even greater role to play than the legislators.

Health and Safety training will continue to be a fundamental driver within the industry and the UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2007 Approved Code of Practice can assist the construction industry in benchmarking itself as it gives detailed advice about assessing the competence of individuals.  The Code advises that site workers should pass a health and safety test and the Jersey Passport to Safety Scheme that was set up in 2005 by the Jersey Building and Allied Trades Employers’ Federation (JBATEF) is ideally suited to meet this standard.  The Code also advises that the site workers should attend a site induction and mandatory in house training together with holding a relevant NVQ Level 2 or 3 or equivalent for site operations and the operative is able to identify defects and unacceptable risk.  Contractors will need to benchmark themselves against this standard and it will give the construction industry food for thought when planning out future training needs.

The construction industry has shown in the last decade that it can substantially improve standards especially when you consider working at height issues.  We all remember the days when steel walking and working over open edges was considered normal, now the use of MEWPS and safety nets is considered normal.  Improving standard is driven by a number of factors including reasonably practicable control measures becoming readily available and small number of specialist contractors locally which make them easy to target and bring about change. This shows it can be done and everyone in the industry should take great encouragement from this.

So where does the industry go from here?  The HSI will be reviewing the need for the Health and Safety (Management in Construction) (Jersey) Regulations in 2013 and should this legislation be adopted fully then it will fundamentally change the management of health and safety in construction landscape and place clear duties on the client, designer and site controller.  We believe that this legislation is a must rather than a nice to have and its enactment will further encourage safety conscious contractors to continue in their efforts and those contractors who do not consider health and safety to be essential to raise their standards or face the possible legal, moral and financial consequences.


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