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July 23, 2007

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Queen rewards member’s construction efforts

An IOSH member’s efforts to help improve health and safety in the construction industry earned him an MBE in the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Tom Harper (55), best practice manager at Pearce Group, said the award had come “completely out of the blue”.

He explained: “Back in 1999 I was asked to speak at the launch of the Working Well Together campaign in the South West. As I reflected on the statistics I thought ‘enough is enough — we have to change the way we are doing things’.”

From this, Tom was instrumental in setting up a regional construction campaigning group. It was this South West-based group that came up with a health and safety course for designers, filling a gaping hole in the system: “Site managers have to go on a five-day course as a basic starting point, but designers had nothing in terms of a nationally recognised benchmark. So we set up a training course in Bristol by talking with local design companies, CITB Construction Skills, and IOSH.”

Another area of work for Tom and the regional team was on micro-SMEs — organisations with fewer than five employees — in the construction industry: “One of the things we had to face up to was that, in our region, 90 per cent of construction employees work for these kind of companies.”

The South West Group organised a series of one-day training workshops for small construction firms on the Health and Safety Executive’s ‘High-Five’ — the most risky activities in the industry. Tom said that key to the success of this was involving building control officers in recruiting delegates.

“While the MBE has my name on it, it really has been a very big collaborative effort. There are great people in this campaign all over the UK. There is a great willingness to try new approaches and get stuck in.”

Given his obvious passion for construction safety, it’s surprising to find Tom has time for another job — he spends one day a week working as a lay preacher!

“I did a degree in theology in my thirties. I am the son of a publican who found a faith. Since then, I’ve always been a campaigner for change and for the betterment of things. You only have to read a gospel to appreciate the love of God for each individual person and the desire to see them safe, whole and well.”

Tom has no plans to stop trying to make the construction industry a safer place: “I’d like to see some sort of sensible way forward for micro-SMEs because I feel they are very badly served — there are 101 initiatives going on but we’re still struggling to get to them in a coherent, co-ordinated way. We are doing some regional trials based on CHAS scheme compliance, and the European Business Competence Licence. If we don’t get this right we’ve lost a great opportunity.”

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