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IMPROVING CONSTRUCTION H&S THROUGH SUPPLY CHAINS

Report on HSE supply chain initiatives reveals a mixed bag of results 

HSE has been working in partnership with the construction industry since the 1990s to secure improvements in risk management by ‘developing solutions together’.

One aspect is the called the ‘Supply Chain Model’ which draws together stakeholders e.g. suppliers, contractors, clients and designers/architects. The Institute for Employment Studies (IES) has been commissioned to evaluated the initiative. A report of the findings has now been published.

What the initiative involved

Seven work strands included within the supply chain initiative were:

  • Kerbs: to increase the use of lifting equipment on road building, road repair and hard landscaping sites, and substitute concrete kerbs with kerbs made from lighter materials, produced in smaller units.
  • Hand-arm vibration (HAV): establishing an HAV database and HAV management system for industry-wide use.
  • Paving: reducing the incidence of manual handling of paving materials by moving from a situation where the majority of (heavy) paving materials are laid by hand to one where mechanical laying is the industry norm.
  • Blocks (masonry units): identifying practicable interventions and lead on their implementation to reduce or eliminate the risk of musculoskeletal disorder (MSD) caused by the repetitive use of heavy masonry units.
  • Panel products (eg plasterboard): encouraging use of mechanical lifting aids in the handling of panel products.
  • Respirable crystalline silica (RCS): to increase good practice within kerb, paving and block cutting by establishing an agreed control hierarchy and providing clear guidelines specifying when water suppression and respiratory protective equipment must be used.
  • Drainage products: to promote the use of lifting aids in construction, for heavy drainage products (ie gully pots, manhole covers and frames) or heavy lintels.
Evaluation report findings

Isolating the impact of the initiative from other influences on health and safety practice was difficult. The information provided on the impact of the initiative is therefore best viewed as:

“an overview of advancements made by the industry, due to the work of the supply chain initiative and other factors in the areas involved”.

Information available for four of the strands was more comprehensive than for the others, reflecting the fact that these appear to have made the most progress. The remainder had encountered a range of difficulties that had led to them stalling. 

‘Little evidence’ of architects designing for safety

Stakeholders and workers/managers on the sites visited were able to highlight how practice in the industry had changed in areas where the supply chain work had been active. 

Kerb handling practices were felt to have improved significantly during the last five years. So too had knowledge of HAV risks and related work practices as well as risks and control measures related to silica.

Manual handling procedures were also felt to have improved. There was some concern, however, that smaller contractors may be some way behind in terms of making changes. The report also notes that:

“There was little evidence that architects are on board with the designing out risks agenda, although most designers did appear to now view this as part of their role.”

Some examples of specific improvements mentioned by stakeholders include:

  • more widespread use of mechanical lifting equipment;
  • substitution of concrete kerbs with plastic kerb products;
  • better access to information on vibration levels and more attention given to these in the selection of equipment;
  • use of cutting equipment fitted with water suppression and dust extractors to reduce RCS exposure; and
  • use of smaller, pre-cast blocks with lifting handles, and inclusion of lighter materials and smaller elements by designers.

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