When we heard that the new CDM Regulations (Construction, Design and Management) would be changing from April 2015, the French saying “PLUS ÇA CHANGE, PLUS C’EST LA MÊME CHOSE” came to mind – “The more that changes, the more it’s the same thing”. So will the new changes actually make a difference to health and safety on a deep level, or will they just maintain the status quo?
Health and Safety Executive’s (HSE) objectives
The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has stated that the objectives of the changes are to:
- maintain or improve worker protection
- simplify the regulations and meet better regulation principles
- improve health and safety standards on small construction sites
- discourage bureaucracy
- implement the Temporary or Mobile Construction Sites Directive (TMCSD) in a proportionate way.
In the current climate of deregulation, it’s great to see that the HSE are still wanting to maintain and improve worker protection, and not just focussing on removing bureaucracy.
But how will the new regs actually create the behavioural change needed to reduce accidents and ill health on construction and refurbishment sites? Before answering this, we need to look at the causes of accidents…
The causes of poor health and safety
HSE research shows that poor health and safety standards in construction are caused by the following factors:
- Clients and designers giving insufficient consideration to health and safety, despite their obligations under the CDM regulations.
- Price competition among contractors giving advantage to companies less diligent with health and safety.
- Key documentation, such as the construction phase health and safety plan, method statements and risk assessments being treated as a paper exercise, having little practical benefit.
- Lengthy supply chains resulting in elements of the construction team being distanced from responsibility, inadequately supervised, and with low commitment to projects.
- Frequent revisions of work schedules leading to problems with project management and undesirable time pressure.
- A long hours culture in the industry resulting in fatigue, compromised decision-making, productivity and safety.
- Bonus payments act as a strong incentive, but encourage productivity over safety.
- A skills shortage in the industry leading to increased reliance on inexperience workers, coupled with difficulties in verifying competency.
- Problems exist with the availability, performance and comfort of PPE.
- Training is seen as a solution to all problems, but with content often superficial.
New CDM regulations, new focus
The new regulations put greater focus on:
- clarifying and tying down the responsibilities of the designer
- making the client, as head of the chain, more accountable
- ensuring better documentation availability
- using a shared concept of competency (PAS 91).
However, many construction and refurbishment projects still see last minute changes, poor communication, a long hours culture. This creates fatigue, and a highly competitive environment where contractors are tempted to cut corners. All of these causes involve human factors issues.
Improving human factors
The construction industry needs to recognise that greater concentration on improving human factors will deliver a range of benefits:
- Better reliability and efficiency
- Improved productivity
- Reduced potential for human error
- Lower accident, illness and near miss rates.
The silver bullet?
While the CDM changes are a step in the right direction, they’re no silver bullet.
Health and safety improvements occur when people, culture, the working environment, management systems and facilities are managed effectively together. So even with impactful new regulations like CDM, we still need to tackle day to day human factors issues, if there are to be any significant and lasting improvements.