Health and Safety in Construction
Title: Health Safety Construction – This report is as an advisory document to surveyors. It provides a critical appraisal of legal, economical and ethical issues relating to health and safety, considering the role of organisations and individual employees in complying with current legislation, and specifying limitations imposed on the conduct of the property professional.
Health and safety is an area of concern which every surveyor and property professional must address. The costs of failing to do so may be felt by the professional in question, or may be borne by the property organisation or their clients. Understanding of health and safety issues necessitates knowledge related to three specific areas of concern – strict parameters regarding legislation, and economic concerns, and the more general but nonetheless important area of ethical conduct. Legal concerns comprise statutory regulations regarding site visitation, health and safety inspection, on site conduct, and provision of safe and reliable equipment. Economic issues are related to the necessity of budgeting for health and safety training, insurance against injury, and loss of revenue resulting from legal action in cases of health and safety breaches. Ethics relates to the individual nature and integrity of property professionals, and the establishment of specific codes of conduct within organisations.
When visiting premises or sites it is compulsory for a property professional to possess appropriate legal certification. To this end, certification via a valid CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card is mandatory to gain access to all major UK construction sites (CITB, 2016). The purpose of schemes such as the CSCS is to ensure all construction professionals are competent and have the necessary training and qualifications for the work they will undertake (CITB, 2016). In addition, guidance issued by the Royal Institute of Chartered surveyors (RICS) states that, prior to any visit to a site or premises, a property professional should conduct a pre-assessment process to determine hazards that may be encountered on the visit (RICS,2011). To this end, it is important for the employer to have clearly understood procedures in place, and to provide suitable training and information for the employee (RICS,2011) This guidance should facilitate the organisation’s compliance with statutory regulations such as the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health 2002 (COSHH). Under COSHH legislation an employer must to decide how to prevent harm to health, for instance by appropriate risk assessment.
Consideration must be given to the risk associated in regards to work-related health and safety of an employee in the working environment. Under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HSWA) “employers must ensure, as far as is reasonably practicable, the health, safety and welfare of all employees” (HSE, 2016). Section 2 of the act specifies general responsibilities owed by an organization to its employees. For example, for the purposes of site visits, the employer is obligated to provide personal protective equipment (PPE), and the employer must ensure the PPE meets the minimum required standards and is fit for purpose. This stipulation is further supported by Personal Protective Equipment at Work Regulations 1992. In terms of this legislation, employers are also obliged to provide and maintain a safe working equipment (Rics, 2011). Compliance necessitates regular inspections to certify the fitness for purpose of PPE and all other on-site equipment. Failure to meet this requirement will result in a breach of section 2 of the HSWA, and may result in prosecution, as seen the case of HSE v Zurich Management Services Limited (Zurich) and Railcare Limited (Railcare).
Another key responsibility for employers is the provision of employee health and safety training. This should be facilitated by regular attendance on training courses covering current health and safety regulations. The employer must also provide employees with all relevant information regarding the company’s specific health and safety policies and procedures. It is important to note that the employer is not solely responsible for the health and safety of the organization. HSWA section 7 describes a statutory duty for the employee “to take reasonable care for the health and safety of himself and of other persons who may be affected by his acts of work” (Legislations.gov, 2016). Therefore, employees must follow procedures, training and policies given by their employers. If an employee is unclear on any policies, or feels they are not adequately trained to complete a task, they are obligated to communicate this to the employer. Breach of HSAW section 7, often results in litigation relating to professional negligence, as seen in the case of HSE v Barry.
Surveys and Reports
Lone working is common in the property industry. There is no legislation against this practice; however, in the absence of appropriate risk assessments provisions and procedures, lone working may be hazardous. For this reason, under the Management of HSAW Regulations 1999, assessment of risk pertaining to lone working must be conducted every day prior to work commencement. This is further enforced by the HSE regulations stipulating the responsibility of employers to ensure the safety of their works (HSE,2013); prior assessment should be supported by clearly established procedures for communicating with the lone worker, and scrupulous maintenance of records by employer and employee alike. If it is deemed overtly hazardous, lone working should not be considered, or an extensive rescue and recovery plan should be implemented to reduce risks.
Hazardous surveys must be conducted in accordance with current regulations. Rulings and standards to this effect may be obtained directly from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE). This means that professionals are bound by strict methodologies when conducting surveys and writing reports.
When acting as Contract Administrator (CA) the property professional is obligated under the Constructions Design Management Regulations to manage health and safety risks throughout the construction process (HSE, 2015). The CA should prepare a written construction phase plan detailing the main dangers inherent in any given project, and suggesting appropriate control measures. For example, working at height necessitates a plan for the installation of gable ends, toe boards and guardrails. In general, the acting CA should have the relevant training, knowledge and experience necessary to carry out his duties safely. Again, this is supported by HSE regulations specifying the employer’s responsibility to ensure all employees are suitably trained to conduct specific tasks to which they are assigned.
Legally all organisations must meet certain criteria in order to comply with current health and safety legislation. Under the Employers’ Liability (compulsory insurance) Act 1969 employees based in Great Britain are required to obtain Employers’ Liability insurance (HSE, 2012). The cost of the insurance premium is solely dependent on the nature of the business and risks associated. The nature of activities in construction-related professions means that higher insurance premiums are to be expected. Failure to meet this requirement may result in fines of up to £2500 (HSE,2012). Additionally, the HSAW act 1974 requires employers to finance the provision of information and training to ensure the health and safety at work of their employees. For instance, it is mandatory for a construction-related company to provide for employee attendance at courses covering the incidence of work with hazardous material. Further expenditure will be incurred in the provision of equipment necessary to complete work safely, such as PPE. However, the cost of meeting statutory requirements may be subsidised, on the basis that it facilitates improved standards of health and safety. According to HSE documentation, in the year 2014, 3% of workers in the construction industry sustained a work related injury (HSE,2015). This amounted to 65,000 separate incidents, resulting in 1.7 million working days lost. Increasing health and safety standards will help to minimise the potential for work related injuries, consequently, decreasing the chances of loss in working days and resultant economic burden to employers.
Breach of HSAW regulations may pose significant economic threat to an organisation, as it often results in a monetary sanction. The HSE can bring prosecutions before the magistrates’ court in which penalties of up to £20,000 per breach may be imposed (RICS, 2011). Furthermore, under HSAW (offences) Act 2008 imprisonment is also a possibility for almost any offence (RICS, 2011). In more extreme cases, persons may be prosecuted under the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act 2007. The prosecution process whether it be for minor or substantial breaches, is bound to have a negative impact on the reputation of the organisation, resulting in a loss of clients and eventual a loss of earnings.
There are grey areas which are not governed by legislation in this case the moral integrity of an organisation or professional is relied upon. Regardless of the type of task being carried building surveyors should recognise that they have a responsibility to the public and should at all times act in a manner which affirms this (2008,).
Conclusion and Recommendations
Interpreting legislation can be problematic; ambiguous terminology such as ‘reasonable and practicable’ is often cited to summarise the necessary level of compliance to legislation. Documents such as the Surveying Safely RICS guidance note 1st edition (Gn 74/2011) provide advice on how a property professional may meet current legislation. While these guidance notes are not enforced by law, in circumstances in which allegations of legislative breaches are made against a surveyor, a court or tribunal is likely to take account of the substance of RICS guidance. By conforming to such guidance notes, a surveyor should have at least partial defence against allegations of professional negligence. Hiring a health and safety office may also be advisable to ensure that an organisation is practising in such a way as to comply with current legislation. In relation to economic issues, good practice may minimise the incidence of expenses incurred in consequence of breaches of legislation. While ethical conduct is significantly related to personal and professional integrity, appropriate ethical conduct may be further encouraged by the establishment of codes of conduct within individual organisations. Such measures allow for in-house disciplinary proceedings, and bring the added advantage of improving the public image of the organisation in question.
CITB (2016) CSCS FAQs (Frequently asked questions)
Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors (2011) Surveying safely 1st edition, guidance note. Coventry: Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. 1-13
Health and Safety Executive (2013) Working alone Health and safety guidance on the risks of lone working. London: Health and Safety Executive 1-5
Health and Safety Executive (2012) Health and safety training A brief guide. London: Health and Safety Executive 1-6
Health and Safety Executive (2016) Principal contractors: roles and responsibilities.
Health and Safety Executive (2012) Employers’ Liability (Compulsory Insurance) Act 1969 A brief guide for employers. London: Health and Safety Executive 1-6
Health and Safety Executive (2016) Construction industry