Too many employers ‘failing workers on health and safety’

Health and safety chiefs are urging construction employers to do more to protect their workers after a month-long inspection exercise found 40 per cent of sites were failing to do so properly.

Health and Safety Executive (HSE) inspectors found unacceptable conditions and dangerous practices at nearly half the 1,748 repair and refurbishment sites they visited between 22 September and 17 October 2014, with one in five sites (360) so poor that formal enforcement action was required.

The HSE said many of the issues identified could have been easily prevented with straightforward management and planning and basic measures.

More than a third (35 per cent) of enforcement notices served were for issues including management of asbestos, failure to control exposure to harmful dusts, noise and vibration and insufficient welfare.

Failure to provide basic safety measures for people working at height was again the most common problem, accounting for 42 per cent of all enforcement notices served. In total, 548 prohibition or improvement notices were issued

The HSE’s chief of construction Philip White said on 12 November: “These results show that whilst the majority of employers in the refurbishment sector are getting it right, a significant part of the industry is seriously failing its workers.

“The inability to properly plan working at height continues to be a major issue, despite well-known safety measures being straightforward to implement. It is just not acceptable that inspectors had to order work to stop immediately on over 200 occasions because of dangerous practices.”

He added: “We urge industry to ensure the most basic of measures such as use of protective equipment and dust suppression methods are put in place to help protect the future health of workers. The effects of uncontrolled exposure to deadly dusts such as asbestos and silica can be irreversible.

“We need to continue to educate industry through initiatives like this and encourage a change in behaviour on small projects where over half the industry’s fatal accidents still occur and many workers become seriously ill.”

HSE figures show that in 2013-14, falls from height were the most common cause of fatalities, accounting for nearly three in ten (29 per cent) of the total. They also accounted for 2,895 of 18,877 major or specified injuries (15 per cent).

Employers have a legal obligation to ensure that work at height is properly planned; appropriately supervised; and carried out in a way that is, as far as reasonably practicable, safe. They must also ensure that employees using work equipment have been properly trained to do so.

Palmers can assist employers by carrying out risk assessments, to help employers establish how far their business complies with health and safety, including working at height and asbestos and dust control, and advise on any action necessary to achieve compliance. For more information, please contact Lara Murray.

In the event of an investigation or prosecution on a health and safety matter, please contact Jeremy Sirrell.