Speech for ABB Health and Safety day
Judith Hackitt CBE, HSE Chair, Birmingham 6 October 2008
- Many people view HSE as the enforcer of health and safety law - one of our important roles, but we have others and one of them is to encourage and support examples of good practice where we find them.
- This engagement arises from a visit made to a demolition and remediation site at Milton Hill in Oxfordshire in May.
- The site presented many challenges – removal of heavy machinery, asbestos, toxic contaminants with many associated risks to health and safety - eg removal or asbestos and toxic/flammable contaminants, working at height, on-site transport, manual handling, working in confined spaces etc.
- But with the involvement of ABB, the site owner and the contractor had assessed the risks, planned the whole operation thoroughly and were carrying it out in a spirit of collaboration (including engaging the workers) and with a genuine commitment and enthusiasm for health and safety.
- Not only was the site a first class example of safe demolition, it was also clear that the work was being done more efficiently because of the way it had been organised. So much so that the contractors involved told me during the visit that they had been won over by the approach to Health and Safety and would take it with them to other work.
- The approach I saw being taken by ABB to dealing with health and safety issues in demolition and remediation was impressive and I am therefore delighted to be here today to give it support as an example of good health and safety practice.
- Good to give support to an example of good practice which comes from the construction industry.
- Not that such examples are rare, but generally construction has a poor safety culture and is still one of the least safe or healthy industries in GB.
- Last year (2007/8), provisional figures show 75 people (72 workers and 3 Members of the Public) died as a result of construction accidents.
- Of these deaths, 6 were as a result of demolition work.
- Demolition work used to be a bigger source of risk to health and safety. In the period 1981-85 there was an average of 19 deaths each year during demolition (accounting for an average of 14% of all construction deaths in each of these years). Improvements in recent years (eg arising from greater mechanisation) have resulted in demolition accounting for a smaller proportion of construction deaths (8% in 2007/8), but the risks are still substantial.
- In addition to deaths in construction:
- There are many injuries caused by construction accidents (3,711 major injuries reported in 2006/7 – figures for 2007/8 not available until end of October).
- There is substantial ill-health experienced by people working in the construction industry. A survey of self-reported work-related illness done in 2006/7 showed 90,000 people whose current or most recent job was in construction suffered from an illness caused or made worse by their job.
- lllness incidence rates show construction industry has heightened rates for illnesses such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, dermatitis, vibration white finger and upper limb disorders.
- Asbestos is a particular concern, with around 1000 people who worked in the building trades dying each year from mesothelioma, lung cancer or asbestosis – this figure is still rising.
- There have been significant safety improvements over the long-term and this comes through in the long-term decrease in numbers of deaths and injuries – the current figure of 72 construction workers deaths has come down from a peak of 154 in 1989/90. The rate of fatalities for workers employed in the construction industry has also come down from 6.6 per 100,000 in 1990/1 to the (provisional) figure of 3.4 in 2007/8 but that is still much too high at 4 times the average rate for all industries.
- What is especially sad is that we are still seeing accidents which are entirely preventable with proper planning and foresight. Still people being killed in common place, foreseeable accidents involving falls from height, excavation collapses, on-site transport accidents.
- Moreover evidence suggests these improvements may have plateaued. There has been little change in the rate of fatalities in construction in the last 5 years.
- This plateauing may also be true of fatalities occurring during demolition. The figures from the last 8 years have varied from 9 in 2000/1, to 3 in each of the 2005/6 and 2006/7. The recent provisional figure of 6 is close to the average for these years of 5.4.
What is being done?
- Although the work of ABB and others shows that there is a lot of good work going on, it is clear that all involved in safety and health in the construction industry need to make further concerted efforts.
- The main effort must come from all those in the industry who create the risks – the clients who procure the work, the designers, the contractors who have the responsibility to ensure safe systems of work are in place during construction, those that have responsibility for maintenance during the life of a building, those involved in its demolition at the end of the building’s life plus the workers involved at each stage.
- The work of these people needs to be:
- collaborative with each member bringing their own expertise, experience etc to matters such as assessing the risks, planning the work properly, ensuring adequate resources are available; and
- committed to continuous improvement in levels of competence, the ways they work and in achieving better health and safety practice.
- Having seen such a process really working in practice in one location, my challenge to you today is “how do we make it the norm?” Being safer and more efficient is an obvious goal to go for.
- HSE, as the main regulator, has an important role. Of course, it must take appropriate enforcement action where it finds non-compliance. We continue to do this - eg the recent inspection initiatives which focused on refurbishment jobs and resulted in serving over 900 enforcement notices - but I am firmly of the opinion that no-one does Health and Safety properly if their prime motivation is fear of getting caught by the regulator. Far better that you do it because you believe it is the right thing to do and because you see it as being integral to business success and efficiency.
- HSE’s role can then be substantially to support industry by working with them to help raise awareness of the risks and the necessary protective measures, provide technical input, support best practice where needed.
- For example, we are working with stakeholders to raise awareness of the risks of slips, trips and falls (including working at height) as part of the ongoing campaign on this.
- We are doing the same in relation to the risks of asbestos. A successful pilot with a regional focus was run earlier this year and this is to be repeated on a national basis in October/ November.
- Other examples of HSE’s work include providing input to the work of the Strategic Forum for Construction in its work on Tower Cranes and have supported work in relation to the risks to health arising from kerb laying.
- The main thrust of our philosophy is to encourage the industry to take greater responsibility for controlling the risks it creates. This was an important focus of the high level summits held in 2001, 2005 and 2006 and of the setting up of the Strategic Forum for Construction.
- There has been much other good work by industry – a relevant example here is the publication by the Energy Institute and the Association for Petroleum and Explosives Administration of guidance on the “Design, Construction, Modification, Maintenance and Decommissioning of Filling Stations” which was produced by industry working groups that included HSE representation.
- Guidance is an important element in improving levels of competence in health and safety practice - but it is also important that lessons are learnt from practical examples of good practice.
- Examples such as ABB’s activities which I saw in May show what can be achieved from working on a site when the risks of demolishing a building are properly assessed (eg how it is constructed, the hazards it contains etc), the work is properly planned and is carried out by people who are competent and who work collaboratively to ensure safety and efficiency go hand in hand.