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Construction inspections

Welcome to the HSE podcast

This month we follow HSE inspector Luke Messenger as he visits a construction site to check that they're working safely.

Contractors have to make sure the site is kept safe and that people who aren't supposed to be in the site are kept out, children in particular for example, so it's typical to see fencing of that type around the site to keep people out.

We also talk to Principal Inspector Jo Anderson about how HSE is working with the construction sector to help them improve their health and safety record. But first, here's a round up of other health and safety news.

HSE is encouraging people to stand up to the jobsworths who want to use health and safety as an excuse to stop outdoor street parties to celebrate the Royal Wedding. HSE wants to show how simple measures based on common sense are all that are needed to ensure a successful event. New information on the HSE website, which includes a myth of the month cartoon, sets the record straight, showing what needs to be done and what's over the top.

A man with learning difficulties died and five others suffered agonising injuries after they drank dishwasher fluid on a council-organised day trip. The adults were all from the St Nicholas centre in Lewes and drank what should have been orange juice but the liquid actually contained sodium hydroxide. Some suffered burns to their mouths, throats and stomachs and sixty year old Colin Woods died 17 months later. East Sussex county council was fined £50,000 after pleading guilty to health and safety breaches. The container holding the fluid looked similar to that of orange squash, and the council failed to make sure it was safely locked away.

The interim chair of the new Office for Nuclear Regulation has been confirmed as Nick Baldwin. The ONR will be responsible for making sure that those authorised to carry out nuclear activities in both the civil and the defence sectors do that in a safe way. They'll cover everything from power stations and nuclear waste through to submarines and the transport of radioactive materials. The new office, which will sit inside HSE until legislation establishes it as a statutory body, brings together functions from HSE and the Department for Transport. Nick Baldwin is the former chief executive of Powergen and has extensive board level experience in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

The UK construction industry employs more than 2 million people. Last year 42 workers were fatally injured and more than 2,500 seriously hurt. We spent a morning with HSE inspector Luke Messenger as he visited a site in Worcester to take a look at what they were doing to protect people during the building works.

Now Luke, this morning we're here in Worcester and we're going to have a quick look at this construction site here and looking at it there's a lot of scaffolding up there and it's also in quite a unusual situation, isn't it, in the sense that it's between a road and a railway line?

The way I'm looking at it from this distance is thinking about transport risks, vehicle movements around and about the site, pedestrians out on the road here. As far as the railway line's concerned, I would have thought during the construction they needed to think about obviously not coming into contact with the railway line and also any foundations and footings that were going on, taking into consideration the embankment and the stability of railway line.

As we walk forward we can see there's the traditional mesh fencing on the outside and a few road signs saying pedestrians please use other footpath, is that the kind of thing you expect to see?

Yes, that's right. Contractors have to make sure that the site is kept safe and that people who aren't supposed to be in the site are kept out, children in particular for example, so it's typical to see fencing of that type around the site to keep people out, signs warning people that it's a construction site and the risks on the site, protective clothing they might have to wear.

My name's Mark Palfrey and I'm the site manager for Spectus Construction.

So what are you actually building here, what's this project?

It's 19 flats.

So, 19 flats. What is the situation with the inspection of this scaffold? You know it needs to be inspected every seven days?

I inspect it every seven days but every two weeks I actually get the scaffolders back and we go through it together.

Okay. So you've had some training in inspection of scaffolds Mark?


The sorts of thing we're looking for there is prevention of people falling off scaffold, is that we've got a top guard rail and a middle guard rail, and also a toe board or an up stand so that objects cannot fall off. What you've also got up there, which is good, is because you've got bricks and blocks and other bits that could fall off, you've got some brick guards there to stop objects falling off on to people, some debris netting as well to stop debris coming off. And what I'm generally looking at is, does it look right to me, has it got the right edge protection, has it got some bracing on it so that any movement of the scaffold is prevented? Is it footed on some suitable footing, some nice stable ground? This is all sitting on concrete so it should be nice and stable, and I can see that there are base plates and wooden boards under the scaffold. Okay. Right, I think we've seen as much as we can see from this side of the road. Shall we go and have a look at what some of the lads are doing inside?

Spot and dab. On the walls.

The plastering. Any particular risks with this activity?

Not particularly, no. Just lifting really.

Are they using any hop ups?

They're using hop ups.

To get a bit of access? So that's a relatively low step or something for them to reach up to plaster the ceilings. Just walking around as we walk into the site here as you get to this sort of stage what are you doing in terms of making sure that they keep the amount of debris on the floor to the minimum from the slips and trips point of view?

They're all responsible for their own mess. If they don't clear the mess up they get counter charged for it. If I have to get a labourer to come in, we counter charge. Plus they get a warning.

Mark, when we were in the site office I noticed up on the wall there you had some sort of emergency plan, a fire plan. How are you managing fire risks on site?

During the induction they are given all the fire exits, the position of all the fire extinguishers, emergency exits, the meeting area and the plan is always on the wall anyway. The only thing I need to do at the moment I think is to adapt it for each flat. There's only one way out of these flats.

As the build is developing you're getting different staircases, doorways and that built, your plan is changing, so you'll review that on a regular basis?


So, we've come up on to the scaffold, so we've had a good look at it from below, so we've seen that it has all its guard rails on it that it needs to have. I noticed when we came up, a bit of good practice you've got there is a gate at the top of the access ladder, so that should be inwardly opening and shut behind you when you come up so that the access way is kept safe. We've come up to have a look at these guys who are doing some roofing work. The thing I'm interested in here, if they're cutting any tiles, are they aware of the risks from breathing in silica dust.

They should be wearing a mask, and they should be wearing goggles and ear protection.

So we're here in the site office now and what kind of things are you looking for in the paperwork?

Well in the paperwork, what we must remember, is it's a means to an end. It's what's going on out on site that's most important for me i would say as an inspector, Mark here as the site manager has certain responsibilities to keep certain pieces of paperwork on site. So initially the sort of things I'm looking for is he's got a copy of the notification of this site to the Health and Safety Executive up on the wall. I can see that up on the wall as well he's got his loading plans, so a plan of how he's moving materials around the site, a very simple diagram but that's all it needs to be, if it's clear to the workers on site then it does it's job.

Mark, just also before we finish today, engagement with the workers, keeping the workers informed of health and safety issues and how you're keeping them safe and them raising issues with you. How do you do that on your site?

Usually first thing in the morning we all meet to discuss the days work and then if there is a certain issue coming up, as in dust, noise or anything else, everybody on the site is warned in that sort of little meeting.

So you have a meeting every morning when you can express to them or tell them about particular risks on site or things that have changed. Is that also a forum where they can ask you questions and raise concerns?

Certainly, yes. I always express to them, if they've got any issues come and see me. If there's a mess somewhere been left by anybody come and see me. If there's a trip issue come and see me. So yeah, we've got quite a good little circuit going on there.

Thank you very much.

Right, well I've taken off my hard hat and my hi-vis jacket and I'm back here in the Worcester offices of the Health and Safety Executive, and I'm joined now by Jo Anderson. Now Jo, you're a principle inspector working for HSE. It's fair to say that construction and refurbishment in particular, those are areas that still face a big challenge, don't they?

Oh absolutely, yeah. Particularly in the refurbishment sector. It's basically the same old problems that we'd hoped had been eradicated through the years. We're seeing poor work at height, we're seeing poor control of working with steel saws, dust, you know, that kind of thing. Manual handling's a big issue. Actually employing the right sort of people and the right competent people, that's another issue as well, we're finding across the board. I mean I think one of the issues is that the larger contractors are really starting to get it right and are starting to make an effort to bring protective measures into place to control risk. But again at the lower end of the market we're still trying to influence them. We've revamped our publications. We've got a series out called the Busy Builder leaflets, principally aimed at smaller contractors, you know, a couple of sides, just basic advice, what they should be doing, what precautions they should be taking.

So by calling that the Busy Builder, you're acknowledging the fact that people are busy, but even so, they still should be making time for health and safety?

That's right, yes.

The responsibility still lies with the contractor, doesn't it? It still lies with the person who's running the site. And actually also with the person who's actually lifting the bricks, who's cutting the tiles, we all have individual responsibility for our health and safety don't we?

We do, yes. And it's really at the smaller end of the market, the smaller contractors, making them actually understand what their responsibilities are, trying to influence them, trying to make them aware actually of the risks they do face day to day at work.

And obviously, the consequences, if you get it wrong, obviously there are consequences in the sense that we're talking about accidents, we're talking about fatalities, and also there's consequences in the sense that HSE is going to take action, isn't it?

That's right. Where we come across significant and serious breaches of the law, then we do take action, we don't hesitate to take action. We'll serve prohibition notices which basically stop the work or we'll prosecute the people if the breach is that bad. Initially of course we would try and engage with people to try and make them understand why they shouldn't be doing what they're doing, but at the end of the day if they don't, or they can't or won't listen, we will take enforcement action.

That was Principal Inspector Jo Anderson, from the HSE. And you can find all those resources on the HSE website at

Visit the transcript for this podcast episode at for more information about the issues discussed in this interview.

Updated 2016-04-26