Over a period of almost 50 years of health and safety legislation has used various strategies to prevent injuries and ill health in construction work. Each of these strategies emerged out of the need at that time and was designed to strengthen and build upon the previous strategy.
Strategy 1 : Safe Workplace
This strategy works on the principle of making the place of work safe and therefore reduces accidents and prevents ill health. It concentrates on introducing that laws to ensure safe working conditions are in place. The main difficulty with this strategy is producing enough regulations to cover all the possible dangerous conditions which of course is not possible.
The Construction Regulations in the 1960s covered issues like excavations and scaffolds. These were updated in the 1996 and 1998 Construction and Lifting Operations and Lifting Equipment Regulations respectively.
Many accidents which occurred were either not covered directly by the regulations or were the results of unsafe acts by people. Prosecutions were corporate (against companies) during this period where specific breaches in legislation could be proved.
Strategy 2 : Safe Persons
The Health & Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASWA) brought a transformation to a safe person strategy.
People cause accidents by unsafe acts which in turn can create unsafe conditions which may not be covered by a specific regulation. This strategy concentrates upon making individuals legally responsible for their actions in the workplace. It also specified clearly what was expected of employers and company policies on health and safety.
These things combined meant that all employees from Managing Director down to the newest employee were legally accountable for their actions and could be criminally prosecuted if failure under HASWA.
HASWA imposed general duties on employers, a range of other groups and individuals to ensure so far as is reasonably practicable health and safety at work. Criminal and or corporate prosecutions could be taken against those in breach. There was now law in place giving every individual at work legal responsibility for their own health and safety and anyone else who could be affected by their acts or omissions. In the event of a prosecution under HASWA the individual must prove compliance with legal requirements. The Health & Safety Executive could bring prosecutions and their inspectors were given wide ranging powers including the issuing of improvement and prohibition orders.
HASWA was a general and enabling piece of legislation which formed an ‘umbrella’ over existing safety legislation such as the Factories Acts and Construction Regulations. The next 18 years (1974 – 1992) saw the introduction of statutory provisions which clarified and strengthened the general requirements HASWA section 2 which we look at in greater detail later.
In 1992 came the most significant change of all when six new pieces of legislation came into force to harmonise health and safety activities across the EEC. The most significant of these was the Management of Health & Safety at Work Regulations 1992 (MHSWR) which imposed legal duties on employers to carry out suitable and sufficient risk assessments.
Strategy 3 : Risk Assessments
The MHSWR made it a legal requirement to do what all good employers had been doing for years by simply looking at each work activity objectively and assessing the likely harm to those at work and others who might be affected. The workplace precautions or control measures put in place were the working rules designed to prevent accidents or ill health. Small companies (less than five employees) have to carry out risk assessments but are not required to record these in writing. All other employers must produce written risk assessments and ensure that all employees are informed of the safety rules which apply when carrying out a particular work activity. Communicating the safety message to all employees through briefings, training and direct supervision became central to preventing accidents and ill health.
Supervisors and management must be vigilant in ensuring that the workplace precautions are being observed. This highlights another important strategy which first appeared in the Construction Design & Management Regulations 1994. Many unnecessary risk assessments needed to be written because those who designed schemes were specifying potentially hazardous materials or designing structures which were difficult to build in a safe manner.
Strategy 4 : Design & Management
The Construction (Design & Management) Regulations 2007 (CDM ) replaced the original 1994 regulations and the Constructions Regulations 1996 and brings us up to date and almost full circle by combining legislation on design, management and safe construction workplaces.
Under CDM parts 2 & 3 the construction methods and materials used are required to be considered at design stage with health and safety in mind and the activities of a number of designers are overseen by a CDM Co-ordinator. The client is given a legal responsibility to appoint the CDM co-ordinator and provide the resources to ensure health and safety as well as appointing a Principle Contractor. Some clients may employ an Architectural or Consulting Engineering practice to discharge these duties on his behalf.
The CDM co-ordinator will provide the link between Client and Principal Contractor as the scheme progresses and is eventually completed.
CDM part 4 deals with specific hazards on site and replaced the 1996 Construction Regulations.
Summary of Health & Safety Issues
- Good design can reduce hazards
- Effective management procedures will ensure safe systems of work are being used
- Dangerous conditions can develop on site particularly where attitudes on site allow
- defects to be tolerated.
- Defects produce hazards.
- Unsafe acts can also produce hazards
- Hazards in the workplace put people and property at risk
- Risks are likely to lead to accidents.
- Accidents lead to injuries and damage.
A source of information relating to legislation is the HSE website which can be accessed by clicking on the link ‘Health & Safety Legislation’. Some additional material relating to this subject area can be obtained from the Open University Openlearn website. In order to access this information you will need to register by using the block in the top right hand corner of the page you will be directed to by clicking on the website below.