Deaths and injuries on UK building sites could increase as the industry comes out of the downturn, the Heath and Safety Executive’s chief inspector of construction has warned.
Speaking to Construction News after a worker was killed on a Mayfair residential conversion site last week, Heather Bryant admitted there was “definitely a risk that injuries and fatalities will increase” as workloads rise.
She said fatalities usually fall during a recession and then increase again as the volume of work on site picks up and the industry’s workforce expands.
Ms Bryant acknowledged there was “pressure to build, build, build” and warned that “contractors need to be careful about who they bring into the industry” to fill the skills gap.
“What we want to make sure, and it’s still early days, is that we don’t let history repeat itself and we do not see that rise.”
The number of construction worker fatalities in the year to April 2014 will not be confirmed by the HSE until July, but Ms Bryant said she expected the figure to be “broadly similar” to the 39 fatalities in 2012/13.
Major contractors improved their health and safety performance in 2013, according to UK Contractors Group data, which showed the average number of reportable injuries per 100,000 people at work among its members was 307 in 2013, down from 357 in 2012 and 407 in 2011.
UKCG director Stephen Ratcliffe said in the next 12 months, contractors would have to ensure they employ qualified people and provide appropriate inductions as the industry grows.
“This has a huge impact on performance and we must not take shortcuts because the skills are harder to find,” he said.
Prime minister David Cameron this week said £36bn of planned UK infrastructure investment for 2014/15 could support more than 150,000 construction jobs.
In January, CITB research revealed the constructionm needs to recruit 36,400 people a year to 2018 as a skills shortage loomed.
Ucatt regional director for London and the South-east Jerry Swain said he expected the number of construction fatalities to get worse before it improved and warned contractors not to take shortcuts as work picked up.
14 April 2014 Dainius Rupsys killed at McGee’s 20 Grosvenor Square site during demolition works, London.
7 March 2014 Rene Tkacik killed in Crossrail’s Fisher Street shaft while delivering spray concrete lining works for BFK, London.
2 March 2014 Kevin Campbell killed on Docklands Light Railway site while supervising piling works for Clancy Group, London.
7 February 2014 Subcontractor for Ram Fabrications killed on Morgan Sindall’s Matalan headquarters project, Merseyside.
8 November 2013 Richard Laco killed at Laing O’Rourke’s Francis Crick Institute site in King’s Cross, London.
The warning that incidents could increase in the coming years follows recent fatalities on high-profile construction projects in London last month.
In March, 46-year-old Kevin Campbell was killed on a Docklands Light Railway Stratford site while supervising piling works for Clancy Group.
In the same month, 43-year-old Slovakian national Rene Tkacik was killed when he was hit by a falling piece of concrete while working for a Bam Ferrovial Kier joint venture subcontractor in Crossrail’s Fisher Street shaft.
It was the first fatality on the £14bn Crossrail project.
An inquiry will be held at St Pancras Coroner’s Court in September, when a jury will decide what caused the fatal incident and whether it could have been prevented.
Asked whether she was concerned about major contractors’ safety standards, Ms Bryant said 70 per cent of fatalities continued to occur “in the smaller end of the market”.
“Larger organisations have a better record, but they are still not good enough. Nobody can be complacent, they have to be very vigilant,” she said.
According to data released to Construction News, the number of injuries to construction workers on Crossrail almost doubled in 2013 to 39 from 20 in 2012, as workloads increased.
The lost-time rolling accident frequency rate improved on Crossrail in 2013/14, falling to 0.48 per 100,000 hours worked from 0.70 in 2012/13.
RIDDOR reportable injuries of 0.33 per 100,000 hours worked were recorded in 2013/14, compared with 0.36 during 2012/13.
Crossrail health and safety director Steve Hails said the project’s safety record was better than the UK construction industry average, but said that “there is more to do to manage risk and eliminate injury from our industry”.
He added: “Slips, trips and falls are the main cause of injury on Crossrail as they are in the wider industry.”
Crossrail has a Health and Safety Performance Index, which scores contractors on their safety processes and identifies emerging areas of concern.
It is exploring how it can apply this index to other large-scale projects to help improve industry standards.
President of the Association for Project Safety and member of the Construction Industry Council’s health and safety panel Richard Habgood said major contractors have “fantastic systems in place”, but expressed concern that proposals to replace the HSE’s Construction (Design and Management) regulations would not reduce the likelihood of accidents on site.
Among the proposed changes, which are out for consultation until 6 June, are to simplify regulations and incorporate the role of the project’s CDM co-ordinator into that of the principal designer.
“The proposals on the table do not significantly improve or introduce improvements to site safety,” Mr Habgood said.
He added that avoidable incidents were down to “poor supervision and a lack of understanding” and said the industry needed “fresh dialogue on what we have learned in the past 20 years [to] see if we can bring some significant improvements in the next five to 15 years”.
Ms Bryant said the technical standards required by the CDM regulations would not change, and added that she believed the proposals “will help to drive fatalities down and not the other way around”.
McGee worker killed in partial building collapse
Father-of-two Dainius Rupsys was killed at McGee’s 20 Grosvenor Square site in Mayfair, London, on 14 April.
Mr Rupsys was killed at the residential conversion site when a mini-digger demolishing a concrete floor slab of around 12 sq m fell through the second floor to the first floor level at approximately 3.45pm.
A 29-year-old man who was operating the machinery was taken to hospital with minor injuries, but was released later the same day.
McGee chief executive Declan Sherry said: “This is a difficult time for all involved and we extend our deepest sympathies to the families of the men involved.”
The former US Naval Headquarters at 20 Grosvenor Square is being converted into luxury apartments.
The HSE has launched a full investigation into the incident.