Construction health and safety trends of 2021
At Havio, we work across a large subsection of construction sites within Central London and the home counties on behalf of main contractors and contractors. We regularly conduct performance reviews for our clients where we analyse, evaluate and provide proactive health and safety strategies for areas identified as “hot spots”.
When conducting site inspections, our consultants collate this data using our revolutionary Altitude software to provide our clients with manageable, actionable tasks. Combining our knowledge and the power of Altitude, we can provide insight into the recurring items and trends we see across our client sites.
We broadly work across three main types of construction clients:
- Main contractors working primarily within high-end residential refurbishments or commercial developments.
Typically, this sub-set of clients work in very high-risk environments: Deep basement excavations and complex temporary works are all part of the day-to-day activities.
- Design and build main contractors in the commercial refurbishment or office fit-out space.
While works are primarily Cat B fit-outs and are typically “lower” risk to our commercial developments, they can include simple temporary works and lifting operations. Often these activities aren’t the everyday norm for the site teams and can pose a more significant hazard if adequate controls aren’t in place.
- Specialised construction activities undertaken by contractors.
These projects vary greatly from demolition and roofing works to joinery, plumbing, flooring and partitioning. However, on average, the risk profile is typically “lower” risk than in comparison to residential and commercial developments with main contractors.
The top 3 areas noted for improvement across our client base included:
1.Working at Height
Working at height and fire overwhelming made up the majority of items that had the potential to cause a fatality. Within our inspection data in 2021, 139 identified occurrences had the potential to cause an immediate fatality. These items, which we mark as critical, made up approximately 2% of all identified non-compliances on-site and were far from being a regular occurrence. However, worryingly around 10% of these were not closed out immediately and were marked as repeat occurrences on our next visit to the site – be that weekly, fortnightly or monthly.
We were less likely to see a repeat critical item on a site for our higher-risk main contractors than our lower risk contractors (where the repeat % rate was almost double). This indicates that while the potential for fatality was the same, these concerns were taken less seriously in typically lower risk environments.
Working at height: The main areas of concern that repeatedly came up in our observations centred around edge protection. In many instances, we found this to be inadequate or missing.
In other situations, scaffolding had been erected and handed over in a non-compliant state, unauthorised scaffold adaptations had also been configured, and operatives were working unsafely by not using (or incorrectly using) fall prevention and restraint PPE. This is of particular concern when combined with working next to a leading-edge or standing on or working from a railing.
Our results mirror the HSE’s Construction Statistics in Great Britain 2021. These stats noted that 50% of all fatalities within construction last year were due to falls from height.
Fire: When it came to concerns with fire, the critical observations noted that fire escape routes were inadequate, temporary provisions had not been implemented, or, more shockingly, fire escape routes were not in place at all. Of particular concern were fire plans not being established for higher risk timber frame buildings where fire is a considerable threat.
Looking across non-critical observations, the main items that consistently came up included concerns with hot works controls, fire exit signage not adequately in situ, and on-site smoking.
Work Environment: When we look at the work environment, we look at access and egress routes, lighting, general conditions on-site and housekeeping, among many other items.
45% of all non-compliances identified focussed on hazardous conditions which could cause a slip, trip or fall. The next most common pitfall was poor housekeeping which we noted in 21% of all observations. These may seem superficial things, but they are not to be ignored.
Of the non-fatal injuries reported to the HSE in 2021, the most common occurrence in construction was from a slip, trip or fall on the same level accounting for 26% of all injuries.
Areas of best practice:
Despite this, it is not all doom and gloom. According to our inspection data, non-compliances made up only 44% of the total on-site observations. Havio always strives to provide a balanced approach in our inspections, and it is pleasing to see that most items are indeed compliant. This highlights the hard work put in by the site teams and the good practice happening each and every day.
Of the “best practice” items noted, we saw both main contractors and contractors providing “H” class dust cubes on-site to protect their operatives and others. Initiatives such as this are ones we hope will be continued and extended further within the industry. Dust and the health implications associated with this has been a considerable focus within 2021, and it is positive to see real headway in change.
The hazard trends that we have highlighted cannot solely be attributed to an individual company. Instead, it indicates a much larger issue within the entire safety culture of the construction industry, which is a huge issue to tackle. For there to be tangible and effective change in the cultural shift of the industry, safety needs to form part of the core value from operatives on-site, the site management team, company leadership and every single person in between.
That’s why, at Havio, we don’t police. Our team guide, coach and mentor site teams instead. We work collaboratively with our clients to develop pragmatic and sensible solutions to concerns that arise. We work in partnership with our clients to help change the negative perceptions within the industry and ultimately help improve safety culture across sites.
Safety isn’t just a concern for the safety manager, consultant or whoever is leading the project but every worker on-site. Humans are our most vital link to impact positive change. We need to reach the hearts and minds of every person involved in a project to inspire, engage, and motivate them towards the shared value of safety. By doing this, we ensure that when they turn up to work, they can return home safely to their loved ones every single day.