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Construction inspection initiative

Welcome to the HSE podcast.

In this episode we look at HSE's work on construction site safety.

The main problem as always has been poor control of work at height, people working in unsafe places where from where they can fall and be killed or seriously injured.

And HSE's Rachael Jones answers your questions about building regulations. But first here's a round up of the latest health and safety news.

A director of a fuel tank manufacturing business has been banned from running any company for five years after breaching a raft of health and safety regulations. Brian Nixon, the managing director of Transtore UK Ltd in Stratford on Avon, was also fined £17,000 for exposing workers to lead and other harmful chemicals whilst paint was used at the plant. HSE investigated after receiving a complaint from an employee. The company was condemned for allowing workers to spray paint containing toxic lead chromate without adequate controls in place. Long term exposure can lead to irreversible central and peripheral nervous system damage and kidney damage as well as gastrointestinal problems.

The UK's largest sweet manufacturer has been fined £300,000 after an employee was crushed to death in one of its sweet making machines. The Health and Safety Executive prosecuted Tangerine Confectionery Ltd following the death of Martin Pedril at its Poole factory. Mr Pedril was clearing a blockage in one of the machines. As he climbed into the machine, the mechanism started and he was trapped inside. After the hearing HSE inspector Simon Jones said the case highlighted the need to ensure machines were safely isolated before any maintenance took place. "Simply pressing a stop button is not adequate isolation" he said.

A BBC documentary has helped to convict a Hackney-based construction firm after the death of a twenty five year old. Balwinder Kumar fell from scaffolding at a building in Croyden. But when HSE went to investigate, the scaffolding had been taken down. However, during the investigation, it emerged that a BBC TV crew filming for the documentary Trauma had been with medical staff who attended the site after the accident. HSE was able to get footage showing the scaffolding in very poor condition. The company Regentford Ltd of Hackney was fined £250,000.

You can stay up to date with the latest news and updates from the HSE by visiting the news pages on our website hse.gov.uk/news. If you'd rather get the latest news by email then sign up for free regular eBulletins on a range of different health and safety subjects. Sign up at hse.gov.uk/news/subscribe.

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HSE conducted a series of unannounced visits to over two thousand construction sites in March, and one in four of those sites failed safety checks. During 2008/2009 there were fifty-three deaths in construction and over eleven thousand injuries. Mike Cross, head of construction for the North West, told us about the campaign.

In March, inspectors around the country were undertaking intensive inspections of refurbishment sites to check on standards and where necessary to enforce the law.

What is the point of this initiative?

The point is to bring home to the refurbishment sector that they must improve the standards that we see, they must take better care of their workers, and to prevent the toll of accidents that this sector is producing.

So you're focusing on the refurbishment sector of construction?

Exactly, refurbishment is disproportionately poor by comparison with the sector as a whole.

And so just to sort of be clear about that, that's things like redeveloping a property rather than starting from scratch basically.

Exactly, it's working on existing buildings, it's not down to the minor stuff such as painting and decorating, but pretty much everything else is, retiling a roof, rebuilding a damaged part of the building, adding an extension, whatever it may be, that may be commercial property, domestic property. So it's a quite diffuse sector, quite a large sector of the industry. So we have a real problem with refurbishment, typically smaller sites where the accident rate is much higher than on other sites, for example in house building or in new commercial projects like new hotels or new shopping centres, things like that. Smaller companies, less competent people running them, less organisational skill in managing health and safety compared to the larger contractors who have done a lot in recent years to improve their performance.

And when you were doing this, whereabouts did you go? Were you going all over the country?

Yes, this was a national initiative. We targeted specific areas, specific activities. but those were based on local decisions, based on local knowledge from the inspectors in the areas where they needed to be, what was going on etc.

And the people who work on these sites or the people who run the sites are made aware that this is happening, but obviously they're meant to be unannounced visits, so how does that work?

Well they know where we're going in terms of the towns or cities that we will be targeting and the dates we will be going there, but they won't know which sites we will be visiting on a day-to-day basis. They should expect an inspector at any time, but during these particular initiatives we always put out press releases, both nationally and locally, to let people know we're coming, because we actually want people to improve things, not to catch them out for doing things that are wrong.

So it's kind of like a preventative measure in fact?

Exactly that, yes.

What you have found this year though is that one in four construction safety sites have failed the inspections, so that's quite bad isn't it? That's quite a high figure.

We're not undertaking a market research survey, we're going out targeting poor performers. We're looking at a poorly performing part of the construction sector, refurbishment, and we're looking at particular sites where we can, where we know there might be problems. So this was not an initiative to measure performance, it was actually to go out and find where things were wrong and to put it right.

Can you give me an example of the kind of things that you've found this time around?

The main problem as always has been poor control of work at height, people working in unsafe places where from where they can fall and be killed or seriously injured, so for example we still find people working on domestic roofs doing retiling who haven't got the basic precautions right, such as putting up a scaffolding. So that has been one of the major things, but we've found the full range of problems, electrical safety, poor structural stability where people have been making structural alterations to buildings, poor site order, looking at housekeeping, looking at storage of materials.

So this is the third time, the third year that you've done this kind of blitz on construction sites, has there been a change? What's the trend been over the years?

Well, as I said, we're not doing these initiatives in order to take a statistical sample and find out what conditions are like, but over the last three years we have seen a slight improvement compared to the first year when we did this. When we were looking at one in three sites that were so poor inspectors had to take enforcement action, on this occasion we're down to one in four sites where enforcement was needed.

What do you think is responsible for that change, is it because people are aware that this is what you do?

Well we hope it's because the action that we've been taking, they have greater awareness of the standards that they were expecting to see, and that the messages that we've been putting out have been heeded.

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts for more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

The HSE, protecting people's health and safety at work.

Now in our regular feature we put HSE Infoline's Rachael Jones to the test by asking her to answer one of your popular health and safety questions.

Good afternoon, HSE's Infoline, Andrew speaking, how can I help.

Hello, my name's Rachael Jones, I'm here to answer all of your health and safety questions.

Imagine I own a shop and I've decided I want to just put a little extension out the back, do I have to tell you about it?

Well if your work is going to last more than thirty days, thirty working days.

The building work?

The building work itself, then you need to give notification to the HSE, which would be in the form of an F10 form. So it's a legal requirement to tell the HSE that your work's taking place.

So this is really just to make sure that anything that I build is going to be safe for me and the people at work?

That's correct, and people around you as well. The F10 notification, which is what the notification is, requires details of all people working on site, a variety of things really, so all the information's there for the HSE.

So is the idea here to sort of stop any kind of cowboy jobs?

It does help the HSE obviously keep track of the number of construction sites and building projects taking place. Obviously if it's more than thirty days, a bit more of a larger project, more people involved, more building materials, there could be more risk, so the HSE has that notification.

So what is this F10?

The F10 form is the formal notification required by the HSE. But they have produced an F10 form which is easier to use, which you can actually go online and fill out and just submit to the HSE.

So if I'm doing any building work that takes more than thirty days, I need to make sure that I've filled in this F10 form as a way of recording the work that I've done?

That's correct. If you need to amend it at any point because the project changes, you can just re-enter it by entering in your details, you get a unique login and then you can just amend and send it, it's quite easy to use.

So it's all online?

All online, you can just access it at the HSE website www.hse.gov.uk.

If you have anything to say on what's been covered in this podcast, just let us know at hse.gov.uk/podcasts.

Don't forget, if you want to find out more about anything covered in this or any HSE podcast, you can access a transcript of each episode at hse.gov.uk/podcasts.

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Updated 2011-04-08