Avoid hefty fines by placing health and safety as your top priority

Richard Powell, head of personal injury at YouClaim

Construction firms that flout health and safety regulations could face fines of up to £20 million if they fail to improve working conditions for members of staff.

Since the introduction of new sentencing guidelines on 1st February 2016, the value of fines collected from the construction industry for breaches of health and safety law are up 83% – from £7 million to £13 million in 2016. Tougher penalties for health and safety and corporate manslaughter offences vary according to the turnover of the company and, in the worst cases, can exceed £20 million.

What’s more, individuals responsible for health and safety breaches could also face jail time of up to two years.

Fines against the construction sector accounted for 21% of the overall penalties collected by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in the year ending 31st January 2017. The highest fine imposed so far is £2.6 million to Balfour Beatty for the death of a worker after a trench collapsed on an offshore wind farm in Lancashire.

Construction has always been an industry that has a significantly higher workplace injury rate than other sectors, and accounts for one third of all workplace fatalities. The HSE has a 94% conviction rate when prosecuting firms for health and safety breaches, which means the consequences of breaching legislation designed to protect employees and the general public are apparent.

What should construction firms be focusing on?

Businesses flouting health and safety laws have always faced prosecution for unsafe practices that increase the risk of harm, even where no one was injured. However, since the new guidelines have been introduced, the HSE has been prosecuting more clients and publishing the results.

Although employers know health and safety is important on a construction site, many are still unaware of, or don’t conform to, best practice when it comes to the application of health and safety guidelines. Putting the right procedures in place, as outlined on the HSE website, means employers will be doing their best to keep people safe on site – and are likely to avoid tough penalties from the HSE.

The three most common types of non-fatal accidents are slips, trips or falls on same level (24%), injuries while handling, lifting or carrying (21%) and falls from a height (18%). The latter is also responsible for almost half (49%) of fatal injuries in the construction sector.

Below is some advice on how you can handle these types of accidents to keep people safe on a construction site.

Reducing slips, trips and falls on a construction site

Those responsible for a construction site must ensure that it is safe for people to move around and do their work. Sites should be kept clean and orderly, and staff should be encouraged to contribute to reducing risks by sorting or reporting hazards.

Uneven surfaces are often responsible for injuries on a site; the ground that’s being worked on may change over time. Risks of slipping or tripping on uneven ground can be reduced by providing clearly designated walkways that are kept in good condition, properly signposted and adequately lit.

Slips and trips are also caused by obstacles in a person’s way, such as building materials or waste. You can avoid these type of incidents by ensuring everyone keeps their work areas clean and tidy, planning deliveries appropriately to minimise materials on site, and setting up designated storage areas. If you need to use cables on site, try to run them at high level to avoid anyone tripping over them.

Following best practice for manual handling

Poor knowledge of correct manual handling is one of the biggest causes of back and upper limb disorders such as osteoarthritis, carpal tunnel syndrome and repetitive strain injury. To avoid risks involving manual handling, you should assess, control and review such situations.

When assessing a manual handling task, you should think about the following:

●      Load

●      Frequency

●      Working area

●      Who will undertake the task

●      Any other factors which may cause an injury

You should then assign the level of risk based on the HSE’s manual handling assessment chart. Once you understand the risk involved, you need to decide whether the task is necessary and take reasonable steps to reduce the chances of an injury. The law requires manual handling operations to be avoided if there is a risk of injury that is far from reasonably practicable.

A reasonable step may be to provide lifting equipment, such as cranes and slings, to help with higher risk activities. If you do provide this equipment, it is important to remember that there are strict legal requirements concerning the thorough inspection of all of this equipment. Records of examinations should also be readily available to any authorities.

Paying attention to working at height

Working at height can be a dangerous activity  and that’s why there are multiple regulations set out to govern the practice. The two main concerns for working at height are falls and falling objects, so it’s important that you understand the risks involved in both sets of circumstances, to reduce the chance of them happening.

Working on roofs can also be dangerous. A full assessment of the roof should be carried out and the appropriate access equipment and protective equipment should be provided before any work is carried out. In brief, roof ladders and crawling boards supported by load bearing structures should be used on fragile roofs, guard rails and toeholds should be used on flat roofs with unsecured edges, and fall arrest equipment should be in place for pitched roofs.

Weather conditions, in particular strong winds, can cause serious risk by compromising access equipment, making workers unstable and blowing loose materials around, whilst rain, snow and ice can increase the risk of slipping. If adverse weather threatens workers’ ability to complete tasks, they should be postponed until weather conditions improve.

For some companies, fines issued for health and safety breaches could be the difference between staying in business or facing bankruptcy. However, penalties are in place to urge companies to assess their current health and safety procedures and commit to further improving standards. The industry is getting safer and although these new sentencing guidelines are tough, they are there to make sure that health and safety is taken seriously by everyone.

Post to Twitter