Construction industry failing to demonstrate serious approach to disaster risks
In 2009 HSE contracted the Construction Industry Research and Information Association (CIRIA) to explore “risks with catastrophic potential” in the construction sector. In February 2011 the findings were published in Research Report RR834 – Preventing Catastrophic Events in Construction.
HSE subsequently established an industry CONIAC Working Group (WG) to ensure the construction industry acted on the report conclusions. The WG has now reported to CONIAC.
Failure to take catastrophic risks seriously
The WG sought to gauge the extent to which RR834 was being considered within the construction industry through a survey of the Top 100 construction businesses conducted in August 2012.
The companies were invited, by letter to Directors of Health and Safety, to complete a short on-line questionnaire. There were no responses to the survey which was therefore re-run in September 2013. The second survey attracted forty-six people to view the questionnaire although only 5 went on to complete the survey.
The WG states that since the RR834 was published events with catastrophic potential have continued to occur citing the following examples:
- pile augers penetrating a live underground tunnel;
- major gas escape during city centre refurb project;
- quadruple fatality when rebar cage collapsed; and
- collapse of a steel frame building during construction.
The WG concluded there is limited evidence that awareness has turned to action or that awareness is sufficiently widespread to be self-sustaining. The awareness and action seen has been confined to Principal Contractors with clients and designers lagging behind, adding:
“At a time when there are many other pressures on the construction industry it is not difficult to envisage, catastrophic risks might not be at the forefront of organisations’ minds. It is likely therefore that even the levels of interest seen in the last 2-3 years might be on the wane.
Overall, it is the considered opinion of the Working Group, that construction industry as a whole has yet to demonstrate it is taking the topic sufficiently seriously”
The WG recognise there is no “silver bullet” that will instantly raise levels of awareness but nevertheless conclude that “urgent action is required”. To assist industry the WG has produced a set of factors to determine where to focus efforts which it plans to publicise.
Professional duty of care to share incident information
The WG believe that “learning from previous catastrophic events is, self-evidently, an important process” although this is “hampered by practical constraints” around the dual role of regulators (principally HSE) and reluctance of individual companies to share information.
The WG suggests that action is required by Professional Institutions to make it clear to their members who become aware of events of concern to them that consideration should be given to reporting the technical issues to CROSS, as part of their professional duty of care.
The Institutions might also look at the way expert witnesses work and its relationship with their personal duty of care and Codes of Conduct.
HSE might also explore further measures on information release, including greater use of the provisions under the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974. There may also be useful insights to be gained from a study of how other countries and other regulatory models approach the issue, e.g. CAA and RAIB in the UK and the Dutch Safety Authority.
Next steps proposed
The WG identified the following potential Next Steps:
- Priorities guidance – the set of factors developed by the WG publicised to assist companies to determine where to focus their efforts;
- Performance indicators – the construction industry encouraged, as a matter of urgency, to develop leading performance indicators that are appropriate to credible events with catastrophic potential in construction;
- Awareness raising – discussions with UKCG, CECA, CITB and others to provide a way of rectifying current systemic deficiencies in the awareness and knowledge of catastrophic risks in the industry and how they can be managed. Discussions with the design community on their role;
- BIM potential – construction industry invited to consider how to drive forward with the progressive uptake of BIM with a specific focus on maximising its potential to improve the identification and mitigation of risks at the design stage;
- Key roles – UKCG invited to promote understanding among its members of the critical importance of ensuring personnel in key supervisory roles have the appropriate knowledge and experience to be able to identify events with catastrophic potential and the strength of character to take the right action;
- Temporary works – building on recent successes there are two areas of temporary works management where further progress might be possible: (i) development of recognised competencies for key personnel, e.g. TwCs; and (ii) reduction or elimination of the need for TWs through improved design and construction processes;
- Independant review – representations to relevant bodies to stimulate increased use of independent review; and
- Sharing information – views of the Professional Institutions and HSE sought on how further improvements in to the release of information about incidents and near misses can be taken forward.