A quick thank you to the Pettit Group for featuring me as Wednesday’s Woman of the Week. In particular I appreciate this sort of nod as it encourages the right people to go into the industry no matter their gender.
Some would say that my background in the NHS and an outspoken nature have helped me many times. The thing is I was not always like I am today. You build confidence as you go through life by accepting challenges like those that construction presents.
I have had a lot of help from all sides and acknowledge the great people I have met without reservation. To any woman looking at a move into a previously male dominated occupation I’d say this:
If you think you can do it…Go for it.
Everyone, man or woman, feels the fear especially when young. The thing is you never know what you might have missed out on if you let that fear put you off.
Some would say so, however. I would like to think they would be in the minority. As is the case with many official regulatory bodies the money squeeze has been tightening on the HSE. Budgets have been reduced for sometime and the cuts are not finished yet. For the more, shall I say, casual operators less HSE inspections might be seen as a gift.
I Fought the Law and the Law Won
The courts show that there is no winning. All of the progress made in health and safety has come alongside the raft of legislation that has not been reduced. Even though inspections have dropped by 14% in the last year( with a 4% fall the year before) that liability has not changed. The worse a safety culture is the more likely there will be an event that has the HSE arriving.
As much as it is natural to curse those high pressure days when on top the HSE comes knocking, a figure that can’t be quantified is how many lives have been saved by the knowledge that they could show up.
This has not been seen yet and fingers crossed it won’t be. Fatal injury numbers have still been falling with other categories levelling off. Unite, the main construction union, used a freedom of information request to collate the figures. In some areas the figures are frankly alarming for the future. The North East of England for example saw a 22% reduction in visits with the Midlands worse at 26%.
Unite Seeks Consultation with Government
A Unite spokesperson said: ‘The government has slashed funding for the HSE and it is clear that it is increasingly struggling to make ends meet. With a new secretary of state in place Unite and our members need to know what plans he has for the HSE and safety laws.
We also need answers from the HSE about whether they are taking steps to redress this fall in inspections and whether there are specific reasons for these reductions.’
Holding My Breath
I wish experience had told me that less big brother in safety would mean individuals rising to the best standards. Experience hasn’t told me that. I mean I hate speed cameras, I hate the idea of the fines behind them but do I believe all motorists would behave of their own accord? Does anyone believe that?
The same goes for industrial safety. Most will do their best because they don’t want to see people hurt, many will do it because they don’t want lost production, sadly some will gamble with both factors. Only visits can deal with the latter group.
Lone working happens in all industries. In construction I am thinking of site visiting, administration after hours and lone contractors specifically.
The Suzy Lamplugh Trust, set up following the awful disappearance of a young estate agent in 1986, were recently at the ExCel Safety and Health Expo.
Code for the Safety of Lone Workers
It is easy to think of what happened to Suzy Lamplugh as a totally different set of circumstances to those found in construction, manufacturing or even off shore.
People do work alone and some distance from the nearest available help. By definition the general public are kept away from many of our workplaces. Sometimes the places we work are pretty isolated.
Suzy’s Code for Personal Safety says organisations should:
‘- Implement a buddy system (so colleagues always know each other’s whereabouts and contact details. This should include checking in and out when meeting arriving at and leaving the property, including out of normal office hours)
– Have a system in place for colleagues to raise the alarm back at the office in case of an emergency while working alone
– Have a clear procedure to follow if someone does not return or check in when they were expected
– Where possible, arrange for viewers to visit the office before meeting them at the property so that colleagues have also seen them
– Offer all staff a personal safety alarm and have discreet lone worker devices available. Before conducting a viewing, find out who else will be present in the property (current tenant, contractors etc.) when you visit
– Finally, make sure all staff are aware of and have access to the personal safety measures available’
Looking Beyond the Threats in Specific Industries
Generally our sort of work has a reputation, one that it is hard to get around even when we read the above. Not all construction workers, oil workers or engineers are tough to the point of fighting two burglars who wander onto a site. Our workers are not immune to sexual assault ( sorry to those who haven’t heard- I mean both sexes) none of us are immune to falls or other accidents or finally medical emergencies.
Going through the points in the code our work is covered by all of them at some stage. In addition there is that responsibility to watch out for those working for you. If push comes to shove and horrible people hurt your staff questions may well be asked about assessments that should have been made.
Stay Macho by All Means but Heart Attack!
We could debate all day as to who is vulnerable or who could take on a young Mike Tyson (probably no-one). a medical emergency can happen to anyone, end of debate. So even if you can’t see such and such as being vulnerable in any other way then the above code covers tragic sudden illness.
If I can help with any of the above then please contact me in the comments .
Kirkcaldy Sherriff Court heard a particularly sad case recently that underlines the need for adequate fencing. Don’t get me wrong any work place death is awful but somehow the end that met an 83 year old man in January 2015 struck a cord with me.
Houses were under construction in Kirkcaldy’s Chapel Level. John Philbin was suffering from a number of age related illnesses when he strayed onto the site. There was no-one there due to the holidays. he fell into an excavation that had filled with water and drowned.
HSE presented evidence that the firm in charge, Sandford Park Ltd, had not erected a sufficient fence and they were fined £110,000. A spoke person said,’We accept that there was a failure here for which we apologise unreservedly.’
The Lesson Not the Hindsight
When we look at site security we tend to dwell on thieves and older kids. Both these groups climb. If it is felt that they would be difficult to stop attention turns to securing valuables by removal or placing secure storage. It is easy to miss the fact that someone like Mr Philbin may be vulnerable and as a result be at risk of hazards unlikely to affect a more robust person. All it took was a water filled excavation.
Environmentalists have a cosy notion that you could ditch all the old and dirty and carry on into the sunset powered by water or wind generated electric. One day maybe, but now or even soon? Well we are learning that just because lots of people say a thing is certain that does not make it so. A Russian oil expert makes some good points to support the argument that electric cars might not have a medium term effect on the oil industry.
I’ll state my interest in this. I am a HSE adviser. In some regards it makes no difference if I work on a project constructing windmills, nuclear reactors or an industrial worm farm. I started out in the North Sea on the rigs and many of my friends still work there. It is important to them, their families and the economy that predictions for oil production are as accurate as they can be.
If the Western world turned to electrically powered vehicles in the medium term the oil industry would take a hit it can ill afford. I am not talking about the giants, I am talking about the people putting bread on their family table. If predictions are wrong and oil companies diversify, particularly into developing regions, as a result it is bad for Western oil workers and Western economies.
Tesla Criticised for Uncertain Sales Predictions
Igor Sechin, CEO of Russia’s oil giant Rosneft is quoted in Bloomberg as saying: ‘The unconditional truth remains in the fact that the hydrocarbon power industry has been and will be in demand. The market’s assessment of the prospects of electric car producers, in our view, is significantly overestimated.Until the electric transport industry becomes as user-friendly and attractive for consumers as the cars with internal combustion engines, the prospects for electric vehicles remain largely uncertain.’
Sechin was talking to the St. Petersburg International Economic Forum recently.
The logic behind this seems sound to me. Electric cars are impressive in comparison to only a few years ago, no doubt. What Sechin doubts is that they can compete with combustion driven vehicles. The infrastructure supports traditional cars, the advances in performance and economy have been equally impressive. The combustion engine allows for greater diversity in design, size and range. That is of course now, not in the future. So could an aggressive sales campaign globally force adaption of support services so that electric is just as convenient as oil powered?
I don’t think so and Tesla was singled out as not having the best future business model when it comes to sales predictions. Sechin pointed out that sales are still relatively small with only Norway showing an increase of any note. To balance this it has to be noted that Norway subsidises electric car ownership to a significant degree. Sechin says, and I agree, that for the electric car to make up ground on the internal combustion energy these subsidies have to continue.
If I look at the UK. If I put the current demands for public funding on the table and think of the issue of electric cars one thing is clear. Increased subsidies and increasing financial support for companies to provide recharging stations etc! I’m very doubtful of Tesla achieving the success they desire. It will be interesting to see how things develop but government coffers need filling, especially now. I cannot see masses of people taking on the inconvenience of electric transport in the hope that soon it will be as easy to use as their old car.
That is not strictly true. I do have an opinion on the subject generally and that is that the lessons of the past mean we should wait. We should not wait for long but as the fire was still going strong it was widely declared that the cause and effect had been identified. I don’t accept that.
It is rare, people who know me will say it to my face, that I have nothing much to say on any issue. When it comes to the exterior cladding and its alleged acceleration of the flames up the London residential tower block, it looks highly likely but not proven.
The fire experts say the materials used were substandard, the manufacturers and suppliers insist it was legal to use but in among the media hype and counter claims by the government I am left with questions. Those questions will only be answered in a bit of time. Meanwhile, one thing is clear this stuff is on other buildings, sufficient history exists to call it into question therefore immediate action to remove it seems logical. It is a nightmare logistically i admit but it needs to come off.
Declaring an opinion on that is still withholding one on the specifics of this fatal blaze. There are serious political reasons for skewing the facts in this case and plenty of media commentators with axes to grind. I will wait on the search for evidence and that will apparently take several weeks.
I don’t know how everyone feels about this situation because at the time of writing I am unsure myself. In an article in the Construction Index, CSCS head of communications Alan O’Neile attempts to give guidance on the carding scheme regarding none construction workers.
Catering, Delivery and Cleaners
Of course there are other related occupations that could require access to an active building project and they would not need any qualifications in construction. It seems logical that they should not require a card. Then again, rightly, Alan O’Neile points out that without some qualifications it is up to the site manager to ensure they are escorted or at least inducted on safety in order to stay safe.
How many people would that be on say a project like the Spurs stadium? Yeah it is common sense not to turn everyone without a card away from a site if their roll is not construction. The flip side to the coin is without some knowledge of construction safety how could they be left to go about their business if it meant accessing several parts of a site?
‘CSCS has stopped issuing cards for these and many other non-construction related occupations’
As the article states some sites are still operating a strict 100% card policy and that is causing problems because of the CSCS change. If managers don’t restrict access in some cases and something happens are they liable? The answer to that is yes.
Alan O’Neile continued:’We are not asking site managers to allow just anyone on site. If a worker is there to carry out a construction related activity then a card is required as proof of their training and qualifications. If they are there to perform a non-construction related activity it becomes the responsibility of site managers to induct and escort these people to ensure they remain safe at all times when on site.’
I see what they are saying but I would prefer some clarification for large sites. What do you thing?
I wrote another article on why I agree that electric transport still has a hill to climb. However,I should not be confused with someone so dipped in support for the oil industry that I can’t appreciate renewable energy. One of the problems for solar power (apart from the obvious gloomy British one) is space. The Chinese seem to have found a solution.
Sungrow Power Supply have constructed a solar panel park on a flooded ex coal mine.
China needs renewable energy more than many nations. I guess I could phrase that better, but seriously their smog issues make ours look like nothing. In addition, they have a ravenous population that is developing its need for industrial and domestic power.
The project produces about 40 mega watts which could power about 15,000 homes. Larger land based projects exist but thinking of the converted use of this space does make the imagination run for the future. How many countries have such places? Often the waters are not the best for other purposes, this seems ideal.
Here is a link to the firms website. Encouraging, that is all I will say for now.
These days I think quicker, even to the point of moving my hands than this computer. My day starts at 04.45 hrs and will end when it ends. I can’t be bothered with endless logins. I am not saying that I am hard done by. I enjoy what I do but when it comes to specialist, niche news I often want to scan a well laid out, up to date website without hassle. World Oil takes some beating.
As you know, if you have read my landing page, I currently work in construction in Kent. I love it and I like the people. The project is a fine one, but along with this industry I have an active interest in all Health and Safety areas. I don’t mind paying for my news it is just that time is often an issue and many sites change their styles and requirements for reading. I don’t want to be bothered cancelling out a half dozen subscriptions every year as trends fade and new kids come onto the block.
World Oil lets you browse through global news on projects, trends and the various peripheral governmental strife that influences how much bread you can put on the table. When I was looking at decommissioning ( see article on opportunities click here) I got a nice concise article about the Brent operations. From there I could browse on but instead went to look at how Australia was doing, then what was going on in the controversial shale gas developments of New York state. Hey each to his or her own hobby eh?
The point is World Oil ticks the boxes for being quick, knowledgeable and a nice bonus is it is free. Click here to have a look yourself if you have not tried the website. Time is money as they say and World Oil saves time and cost nothing.
Steve Hoskin Construction Ltd (SHCL) was fined £20,000 for health and safety breaches at a construction site in Dawlish, Devon. Along with Cavanna Homes (SW) Ltd ( who had the primary contract) SHCL were found at fault for not designating safe pedestrian/ vehicular separation.
At around 4 pm on 28th June 2013, 47 year old John Small was walking next to a reversing telehandler when he was crushed. An air ambulance was dispatched but despite him being rapidly taken to hospital doctors were unable to save him.
Both firms were fined £20,000 plus the same again in costs. This case is a good example of the need to look at different sources of information. In some you get the impression that there was no safe traffic plan at all, which is obviously a risk gone unheeded. In other sources a broader set of risks is identified. This is important because if we don’t look at the whole picture valuable lessons could be lost. If we lose valuable lessons more people are likely to die.
The Full Picture
I will put up my sources as usual below. Drawing on all of them I have found so far, Mr Small was the victim of several factors. Originally there was a full plan of safe traffic management put in place. All was well but then some storage containers were added. These containers, on this day, had both Mr Small and heavy machinery moving equipment into them. Devonlive.com says that the victim suffered from tunnel vision but that was not known to his employers. The site had been reassessed regarding the change in safety when the containers were placed but this had not been written down. Mr Small was struck by the rear wheels despite the klaxon sounding and the mirror and cameras being operational.
The judge said:’This is really an unexplained accident. It is quite unexplained why Mr Small should have been walking so close to this dangerous vehicle, why the driver did not see him in his mirror or the reverse camera, and why he did not hear the klaxon which sounded as it reversed or see or hear its movements.’
‘Everyone sympathises with the family of the deceased and any sentence I pass cannot bring him back and is not a recompense for his life.’
Despite a high standard of safety in the past both firms admitted failings and one thing was clear no-one anticipated such an accident.
Telehandlers are big. The visibility available to the driver is restricted despite the technology applied. In addition, you have a driver operating a vehicle with a load so attention is necessarily divided between the manoeuvre going back and the situation to the front. They are also noisy even without klaxons. So how do you end up under the wheels of one?
Sadly, as is often the case we never know for sure what happened. Mr Small was seen walking alongside the machine next thing the accident happened. Did he drop something and swiftly lean in the path of the telehandler to pick it up? Did he stumble? Did the telehandler deviate ever so little from the path Mr Small anticipated?
As there are no definite answers, the judge says that clearly, we can only apply ridged rules based on the terrible consequences.
Big machinery v pedestrian will see the pedestrian lose.
Unmarked and unprotected separation between vehicles and people is a recipe for disaster.
We have to write stuff down and adapt to changes on the site.
Finally, last but not least. I am getting older and it is horrible to admit it yet I have too. If we have some problems with eyesight or mobility we should make others aware of it. At the very least we need know our speed or even just our stability is not what it was. Hear a big machine, see a big machine… Step back and let it go by because it might not see you, step for step and second to second.
Greatest sympathy to Mr Small’s family and I am not apportioning blame to anyone. I just hope that lessons can be learned by me and everyone else from these awful events.