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May 16, 2013

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SHE 2013: Behavioural change needed in the work-at-height industry

A panel of industry experts discussed the conundrum that despite the plethora of regulations in place, and the amount of specialist equipment available, falls from height continue to be one of the biggest causes of death and injury in the workplace, accounting for more than 50 per cent of fatalities.

Vaughan Burnand, chair of the Chartered Institute of Building (CIOB), said that focusing on how to change behaviour was the way to move forward. Peter Bennett, chair of the AIF, which hosted the discussion at Safety & Health Expo this morning (16 May), argued that although the design of work-at-height equipment has improved, people behave differently after training on these products. He urged better training of managers and a focus on the users of the equipment.

Julia Evans, chief executive of the National Federation of Builders (NFB), expressed her concern about the statistics on falls from height, pointing out that “suicide bidding” by many small builders is not helpful. “Small builders must be trained, have the equipment to do the job properly, and understand the risks,” she said.

In this, the client must assume some responsibility, and not automatically take the cheapest price offered by the builder. She sent a strong message to the HSE that the industry does not need any more laws or regulations; instead, it needs advice and guidance, in bite-sized chunks, tailored around specific issues, such as fragile roofs.

James Ritchie, head of corporate affairs at the Association for Project Safety (APS), agreed that there is a role for contractors not to put in silly prices, but also responsible professionals, such as designers and architects, who visit sites, need to better understand the dangers of working at height and  should speak up to stop work on a site, if necessary.

“They have the power to stop the job,” he noted. “Education is needed at the front end of the construction industry. The equipment is there and there is no excuse.”

According to Peter Bennett, more focus is needed on objects, as well as people. Electronic DROPS calculators are useful for determining the potential consequence of a dropped object and should be used more. “We should be sharing knowledge out there,” Julia Evans added.

According to Vaughan Burnand, posters and handouts on site do not work. “We need a person-to-person response,” he urged. “Project and building managers should talk to the workforce. It is the people on site that get hurt, and they must talk to each other and pull their colleagues back from the edge before they fall over it and become another statistic. The industry should start to install behavioural safety campaigns in organisations.”

James concurred that people’s memories should be refreshed before they start work each day so they are confident in what they are doing.

“Designers don’t have enough knowledge of the link between the design process and what is actually being built. Getting good, free advice and guidance on how to design the building in the first place is essential.”

He believes the licensing of contractors, in a similar way that lawyers, architects and designers have to be licensed, is the way forward.
Julia urged all builders to join trade federations, and called for more partnership between the HSE and trade associations. “There is no easy answer. We have to keep on keeping on,” she stated.

Picking up the reference to the HSE, Vaughan said: “The HSE couldn’t stop a pig in a passage. You only see them when something has gone wrong. The CIOB is writing a code of practice for SMEs to give to its members.
“It is the project managers, who are on site every day, that have to sort things out,” he concluded.

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