By James Ritchie, Head of External Affairs and Deputy Chief Executive at the Association for Project Safety.
Politics and construction health and safety are perhaps two subjects never to be spoken about at a dinner party but at present they seem to be inextricably linked.
July saw the appointment of not only a new Minister of State for Construction, Nick Boles, but also a new Minister responsible for Health and Safety, Mark Harper. Add to that the announcement that the Chief Inspector of Construction, Heather Bryant, is leaving the HSE after 26 years to work for the ‘dark side’ and suddenly there appears to be a touch of turmoil surrounding construction health and safety.
The HSE’s long awaited Consultation Document which came out at the end of March was ‘long awaited’ partly due to a new minister being appointed back in October 2013 who wanted to get his feet under the table before making any decisions regarding CDM. So the big question might be “Will the new Minister need time to get acquainted with the CDM proposals before signing anything off?” If so, whilst the HSE are determined to push the CDM changes through, any further delay might kick the HSE’s proposed changes into the proverbial ‘long grass’ at least until after the general election. If this is the situation then the result of the general election in May 2015 may prove to be particularly interesting to the construction industry.
If the construction industry is to maintain its role leading both Europe and the world in construction health and safety then now is the perfect time for it to start thinking about the future. We have seen changes within government; we may see possible changes to the government in May 2015, changes within the HSE and its possible privatisation and, of course, changes to health and safety regulations.
Our construction health and safety standards and CDM2007 Regulations are being used across the globe on some of the most prestigious projects, as examples of ‘how to do it’. If we wish to build upon this and maintain or improve on our own domestic performance, we have to continue with the approach to CDM that the major contractors and clients have adopted for the last seven years – providing construction clients with good, sensible and proportionate advice and guidance regarding their projects and the health and safety implications that need to be considered.
If the HSE’s proposals, to remove the CDM Coordinator and remove explicit competence requirements, progress to enactment on April 2015, our industry needs to recognise that, in a less regulated world, it may be harder work to persuade some clients of the business benefits of good construction health and safety, to set realistic health and safety goals and be prepared to appoint a person or company with proven ability to work with the project design team. But if we are to make serious step changes to construction and turn it into an attractive, safe and healthy workplace proposition for young people this approach is exactly what is required. The top end, professional, clients in our industry know exactly why they employ capable people to advise them on health and safety. A good CDM consultant allows designers to get on with designing and coordinating the design effectively, provides appropriate advice to both clients and designers where required, plays an active part in project team meetings and does not dictate but offers solutions through persuasive discussion and generally becomes a key player in an integrated project team.
The HSE’s CDM2015 proposals provide an opportunity for the construction industry to reduce bureaucracy, streamline the pre-qualification process through greater use of SSIP and PAS91 and try to introduce construction health and safety in a proportionate manner to those smaller projects where the majority of accidents are occurring. For the very smallest projects, probably in the domestic market, health and safety coordination should be simple enough for the lead designer to manage without the need for a CDM consultant but it will need a concentrated effort by both the HSE, based around un-announced inspections of smaller sites, and greater education of both designers and contractors by their professional bodies. There will always continue to be a ‘rump’ of designers and contractors who are not part of a professional body; government and industry perhaps needs to think about how they can be brought into the fold.
For all but the simplest of projects, those taking on the role of Principal Designer or Principal Contractor will want to make sure they have access to good construction health and safety advice and the industry needs to determine what they are looking for in terms of construction health and safety risk management consultants i.e. someone who is professionally qualified to Chartered level in a relevant construction related institution, has validated CPD in this field, and a typical additional qualification – for example the NEBOSH Construction Certificate, member of the health and safety register administered by the ICE, membership of the Association for Project Safety, membership of the Institution of Construction Safety and of course, most important of all, evidence of significant work on similar projects with comparable hazards, complexity and procurement route.
This is an approach that many of the construction industry’s leading commercial clients are now advocating through the use of experienced, knowledgeable CDMCs as construction health and safety consultants having discovered the tangible benefits they bring to their projects for remarkably modest costs – and it is not only the clients that have been benefitting from this service but also the designers and contractors. So, if clients are wanting to employ advisers with demonstrable skills, knowledge and experience in design, construction and health and safety, and so many designers are apprehensive of taking on health and safety responsibilities being suggested in the HSE’s proposed Principal Designer role, then the answer is surely for project teams to equip themselves with a competent and capable CDM Consultant, with a capability proportionate to the complexity of the project involved.
We can only hope that, with the proposed changes to CDM, the construction industry, especially the SME sector, takes a sensible, pragmatic and proportionate approach to health and safety and that clients, designers and contractors all realise their limitations and when they need to employ a specialist CDM consultant to advise and assist them.