Safety Behaviour in the Construction Industry

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Health and Safety Authority

Summary Statement

A multifaceted study of occupational safety culture and habits in the Irish construction industry.

HSA Construction Group Organization

There are 16 dedicated specialist construction site inspectors in the Republic of Ireland with 14 in the Leinster region (excluding Waterford and Wexford) Two inspectors are resident in Cork and One in Galway. In addition, further site inspections are "borrowed from" or carried out by inspectors drawn from outside the construction group but within the HSA organization.

Targets are quantified by setting the number of site inspections per year. For the year 2001 the number of site inspections is set at 7000. This converts to 28 man years and an additional "borrowed" 7- man-years per year. In 2000 the number of site inspections was set at 4500 with 5000 being achieved. Individual inspectors have their targets set by senior management.

Site Selection Procedures

Sites are selected to be visited on the basis of
  • Accidents
  • Notifications
  • Complaints
  • Closeness to other scheduled site visits
Sites are selected to be visited based on a number of information sources. These are, accident notifications (IR1 Forms) notification of construction sites (CR1 Forms) complaints from the general public and from construction site personnel. In addition sites are visited pragmatically when other visits enable sites in close proximity to be accessed or geographical areas to be covered.

All complaints and accident notifications are visited as a priority.

Due to resource constraints there has been little accident or complaints analysis carried out. This may be remedied by the recent recruitment of a statistician.

Notifications and visits close to scheduled visits represent proactive site selection by the HSA. However not all sites will notify. The inspectors were of the opinion that between 20 and 50% of sites notify with the bigger sites having high compliance in this regard.

The number of active construction sites in the Republic of Ireland is not known. A figure of 20,000 was quoted by one inspector but is based on anecdotal evidence only.

The system of site selection is seen by inspectors as being pragmatically fair. The majority of inspectors expressed the view that they knew that the smaller sites and rural sites were not being inspected to any where near the extent of the bigger sites. It was generally expressed that it would be difficult to change site selection policy given current notification rates and resources available to the HSA.

There are some proactive visits to construction designers professionals being scheduled for this year. 100 visits to architects and Engineering practices are planned for 2001.

However, due to set priorities and resource constraints site selection is in the main reactive with the smaller sites and smaller rural sites not being visited to any significant extent.

Site Inspection Practices

There are no standardized methods for inspecting sites and inspectors will survey the sites according to received training and experience. There is variation in assessing site documentation and auditing in not a regular occurrence. The definition of auditing used here is as per BS8800 (1996), as follows, "A systematic and wherever possible independent examination, to determine whether activities and related results conform to planned arrangements and whether these arrangements are implemented effectively and are suitable to achieve the organizations policy and objectives.

Inspectors will have a high profile on site by wearing the HSA logo at all times. They will meet with and be accompanied by site management or safety officials as far as possible.

All findings from visits are recorded for site management and safety officials either by advice notes or letters. Formal enforcement action ranges from improvement, improvement direction, prohibition notices or high court injunctions. Voluntary site closure is also an option offered by the HSA on advice from the state solicitor.

The most common reasons for issuing prohibition notices was the presence of imminent risks or the lack of a safety management system. The majority of imminent risks on site were reported as falls from heights issues or overhead lines.

All complaints and formal enforcement activities are followed up. Follow up visits on all other sites depends on the situation with the emphasis on ensuring the rectification of problems discovered by earlier visits.

For the vast majority of sites access is always provided with hostility towards the HSA being rare.

Site Safety Standards Summary

All inspectors reported they encountered falls from heights and unguarded openings as common site problems. Other issues reported were lack of wearing PPE, overhead lines, plant movement and poor welfare standards. All inspectors cited a lack of planning as a principal cause of these issues.

Whilst site safety could be variable across all sites, all inspectors drew a general difference in safety standards between Dublin and rural and or smaller sites. All reported that in overall terms the Dublin region had the best standards overall and the rural and or smaller sites which tended to be worse. The boundary constraints operating on the Dublin region sites was also noted.

All inspectors drew a general difference between house builders and the rest of construction. The developer / housebuilder sites were constantly reported as being markedly poorer in safety terms relative to general contractors.

Other reasons cited for poor safety standards included weak safety management systems, lack of planning at the pre construction stage and lack of coordination between contractors on site.

In the opinion of the inspectors the presence of a site safety officer was taken as showing an increased commitment to safety by management. However all inspectors noted that the presence of a safety officer did not necessarily equate to better site safety standards.

Improvement of Site Safety

In terms of improving site safety all HSA inspectors agreed on the need to;
  • generally improve training levels
  • increase the amount of planning before and during construction
  • increase client and designer influence over safety issues.
  • Introducing more "tool box" talks
  • Introducing more qualified scaffolders
  • Improving management commitment to safety
  • The safe pass scheme to be made compulsory
  • Slowing down construction project timescales
  • Decreasing the level of resistance from clients architects and engineers at the design stage to becoming more involved in planning site safety
  • Reviewing inspection methods to include more auditing
  • Strengthening the regulations to ensure coordination among contractors
  • Increasing the number of safety representatives
  • Increasing site safety meetings
  • Increasing fines for non compliance with the construction regulations
  • Introducing tribunals to speed up lengthy court procedures for non compliance
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