Tuesday, 8 July 2014

Health & Safety ‘Overkill’. “Too much is unhealthy”

Typical outfit, but missing glasses and gloves!

Just as the United Kingdom has become increasingly deluged in EU-led ‘red tape’, stifling legislation and undemocratically imposed laws, so another aspect of foreign intervention, that of the ever-evolving Health and Safety rules and initiatives, are taking a ‘swinging ball’ through our Civil Engineering and Construction industries. Having recently returned to operational activities in the Asphalt Surfacing sector this writer, who has some 38 years previous experience in the industry, has been amazed at the quantum change in culture on construction sites today on 2014. Imposed by the EU, but not practiced there, no one seems to actually be bothered about actually ‘building the job’ anymore!

Our industry has always involved long working hours and early mornings are the norm, but today in 2014, it is absolutely essential to be on site even earlier because it takes about half an hour to ‘tog-up’ with all the gear one is compelled to wear these days. A whole sub-industry has been created so as to fit out construction site workers with the accoutrement that is now so requisite. It is akin to a kind of fashion show these days and it is not just hard hats, but gloves, glasses, ear plugs, nose plugs and goodness knows what other kind of plugs and fancy footwear. The list is endless and the cost is huge.

Then there is the endless H&S related admin work: On a site in Buckinghamshire this week, the writer noted at one point that the site engineers spent some considerable time discussing admin points such as site personnel inductions and such-like, than any matters relating to the project itself which, incidentally is to build much needed housing! Yes, we are building something but not until all the paperwork is done and then more created to sign off something, to say they have already ‘signed-off’ something else!

The industry is unrecognisable in many ways, to that which this columnist entered in late 1976. Whole departments are dedicated to Health & Safety and their officers have wide-ranging powers. Whole regiments of these people can ‘parachute’  onto sites and pretty much everything grinds to a halt thereafter as every grain of dust is inspected, papers searched and shuffled as any transgressions are zealously sought out. The script writers of Doctor Who would be hard pressed to match this lot who, on the Doctor Who thread, might not be directly compared to the Daleks robotic intonation of “Exterminate” for by definition, this would be a somewhat ‘unsafe procedure’ but perhaps the ‘Safeleks might be inclined to threaten in a like-manner “You will be inducted, you will be induuuucted”!

The "Safeleks" Wardrobe

 Health and Safety and the application thereof has always been a matter of applying commonsense and quite frankly, the most effective way this can be effected is by looking out for your colleagues and fellow workers. Many is the time on motorway, highway and airport sites, has the writer warned those he was charged to manage to ‘watch out – trip hazard’ or ‘mind your head’ and other such straight-forward applications of safety awareness. 

With stifling counter-productive procedures now in place, building the job has become a very much secondary consideration. The old saying reminds us that Rome wasn't built in a day; well, if a modern day Rome was to be built today, in 2014 it might never be completed because the 'Safeleks' would make sure that it wouldn't get off the ground, physically or metaphorically.

In part, the modern procurement system, which involves pre-qualifying for tender selection lists, is to blame: Companies are not only vying with one another to gain higher marks in their submissions based on their abilities, but they use Health and Safety systems to the same end. In effect they are saying to each other, “we’re safer than you are…” “Oh no, you’re not…” and so the pantomime goes along.

It is hard to visualise quite where the industry will be in ten or fifteen years time, when this old ‘grunt’ will be retired, but the legions of ‘Safeleks’ are likely to grow and grow and they will doubtlessly be ‘inductinating’ all over Europe.


Chris Green

Beşparmak Media Services

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