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Designing in Safety

1 August 2007 No Comment

Figures from the Health & Safety Executive (HSE) show that 59 people died in the construction industry during 2005/06, 13 of whom suffered accidents by falling from a height. In fact, falls from height have long been the biggest cause of construction fatalities, and falls are the second biggest cause of major injury. During the same period, there were 917 injuries caused by falling from a height.

Better management of safety issues, along with the law spelled out in Construction Design and Management (CDM) regulations, has helped to reduce the number of deaths and injuries (15 years ago, for example, the construction industry suffered 154 deaths) but the authorities are pressing for even tougher action. On 6 April 2007 the CDM regulations were tightened up*, putting a greater responsibility on clients and designers for health and safety. A statement from the HSE concerning these new regulations declares:

“CDM 2007 will increase the focus on effective planning and management of construction projects, to improve risk management by ensuring responsibility is placed with those best placed to influence or manage it; reduce bureaucracy; and simplify and clarify the law for dutyholders, so they can easily understand what they (and other members of the construction project team) are required to do.”

Importantly, the law will not seek to eliminate risk – but it certainly seeks to press clients, designers and contractors to identify risk and attempt to minimise it. Crucially, however, the HSE does not particularly want to see more paperwork, escape clauses and facile notes in contracts warning that “working on roofs can be dangerous”. Instead, the Executive wants the construction industry to be taking practical steps to make buildings, and building sites, safer places. In fact, a report commissioned by the HSE to identify products and processes with built-in safety characteristics stresses that good safety management makes commercial and financial sense: “Accidents on construction projects have both direct and indirect costs which frequently exceed any profit margin. A simple exercise to compare the costs of relatively minor accidents against profit margins is worth while for any company.”**

Steel manufacturer Corus and others throughout the construction industry are now making the point that the entire supply chain needs to take its responsibilities with regard to safety more seriously. Partly, this is because the revised regulations are more explicit about where responsibility lies; but also there is the fact that simple common sense can save lives.

Paul Jones is Project Manager at Corus Colors, which manufactures pre-finished steel used as part of the cladding system for roof and walls. He is proud of the fact that the range of materials produced by Corus – such as the Colorcoat HPS200® and Colorcoat Prisma® products – come with guarantees that require no maintenance or regular inspections for periods of up to 30 and 25 years respectively. This is particularly important in terms of roof design, because anything that can be done to minimise roof visits over the life of a building reduces the risk of accident. “The HSE does say that architects should avoid specifying products which require people to regularly climb roofs,” says Jones. “We just don’t want people going up on roofs, basically.”

What particularly concerns Jones is an industry-wide misconception about what constitutes the term “maintenance-free”. Corus Colorcoat® products are maintenance-free in the sense that the company’s Confidex® Guarantee does not require annual inspections in order to remain valid – in other words, no one need even look at a Corus roof for up to 30 years. Other manufacturers, however, appear to be employing the term “maintenance-free” but, oddly, still insist on their products being subjected to scrutiny on an annual basis.

“Some of our competitors have followed us and are describing their products as maintenance free – but they are retaining the clause in the guarantee which says they require annual inspections,” says Jones. “Anybody can write a guarantee which says their product lasts 30 years. But we’ve got the evidence to back that up and we really don’t need people to be putting their lives at risk to check on how our products are performing.”

It is not just Corus that is concerned about this issue. With over 30 years experience, David Clarke, technical co-ordinator at leading Midlands architects Stephen George & Partners, has studied the new regulations and worries that specifying roofing products that require regular inspections could, theoretically, make designers liable in the event of an accident. He imagines the following scenario: 10 years after the completion of a building, a maintenance worker falls from the roof. “The HSE will ask why he was there in the first place,” says Clarke, who adds that the HSE would be within its rights to ask why a high-maintenance product was specified when a zero-maintenance product was widely available.

Engineer and CDM consultant Alan Gilbertson agrees. Gilbertson (one of the authors of the HSE report mentioned above) would prefer all roofs to be designed with parapets, or at least safety rails, but where these elements are absent it is advisable to reduce roof visits to a bare minimum – especially if they are necessary only to fulfil the requirements of a guarantee. “If a designer could specify products that didn’t require any maintenance, then that would be great. And if you have a warranty that dispenses with these things [annual inspections] then that is a commercially attractive proposition,” he says.

Paul Jones of Corus insists that responsible specifiers and clients should now be taking a harder look at the hidden costs of roofing materials – indeed, compulsory annual inspections are expensive as well as increasing safety risks. In fact, Corus information makes the same point: “The peace of mind offered through guarantees can be an important factor influencing the choice of what material to use for a building project. However, not all guarantees provide the same level of cover and it is therefore important to understand what is, and is not, included so that comparisons can be made . . .Some guarantees have very rigid invalidatory clauses regarding proof of annual maintenance. Confidex does not specify mandatory annual maintenance inspections.”

It can hardly be clearer than that.

* For details of the requirements of the new CDM regulaitons, visit www.hse.gov.uk

** The report, “The Commercial Case for Applying CDM” is available as a PDF download at www.hse.gov.uk/research/rrpdf/rr467.pdf



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