Why a Safe System of Work Really Matters for Demolition and Construction Companies

The HSE recently urged construction and demolition companies to ensure they thoroughly plan and manage demolition and refurbishment work and to ensure they double-down on safety. Incidents and ill health can both be caused by an insufficient focus on Health & Safety Management, however ensuring safety, isn’t simple or straightforward.

“It is easy to get it wrong even on small, straightforward structures, which makes it even more important to put the planning in place when it comes to demolishing large, complex structures. Demolishing these types of structures is a particularly hazardous activity and doing it safely is highly complicated and technical, so relevant expertise is vital,” says Sarah Jardine, the HSE’s Head of Construction.

From checking for the presence of asbestos to ensuring the structural stability of a building, a range of checks should be carried out in order to understand that all eventualities have been planned for. The HSE advises that poor planning causes incidents; bad risk management has “substantial human costs”.

In their press release about these issues, the HSE give a range of helpful – if often hair-raising – examples of how things can go wrong if safety principles aren’t appropriately applied. These cases resulted in prosecution too, highlighting the potential for punishments should things go wrong.

In one example, an employee sustained injuries to his shoulder – as well as a fractured heel and ankle – when he was hit by falling debris from a wall in that was being demolished in an “unsafe manner” and in another a contractor was prosecuted for disturbing asbestos and damaging underground cables – that they had not checked for beforehand – during demolition works.

In each case, proper preparation – and appropriate mitigations – would have prevented not just the prosecution but most important the incident and its associated injuries.

“A systematic approach to demolition projects should be a team effort,” the HSE advises. “Clients must appoint professionals who have the relevant skills, knowledge, experience, organisational capability, and who are adequately resourced.

Clients, principal designers, principal contractors, sub contractors and site managers – they all have their role to play in ensuring safety on site. Whether it’s a client or principal designer providing essential and relevant information to a principal contractor or a contractor planning and co-ordinating the work to ensure it is carried out without health & safety risks, or a site manager ensuring workers are carrying out their roles safely and are properly supervised.

Digital technology can now offer a real helping hand when it comes to ensuring proper procedures are in place on a construction site and indeed the Under Construction app was designed to make it easier – and more efficient – for contractors and site supervisors in these circumstances. With a Safe System of Work built into a digital process. risks, hazards and controls can be easily documented. Under Construction, for example, not only makes achieving a safer work environment more achievable, it also helps ensure that compliance is easily demonstrated, in line with what the HSE not just recommends but requires across the whole construction industry.

Indeed, Under Construction was devised specifically to be adaptable to a very wide range of construction environments. Its focus is regulatory compliance in its broadest sense, and management teams can implement the app in a range of ways to ensure specific projects and types of work are approached in a structured, strategic and safe way.

The numerous examples cited by the HSE, whether it’s unsafe excavation works or failing to ensure appropriate welfare standards, safe electrical systems and adequate health and safety provision on site all demonstrate why a systematic approach to ensuring compliance is fundamental – and that’s why we’ve sought to make it much easier to achieve.

Jardine is quoted by the HSE as arguing: “As well as being morally right, it is simply common sense and good business to ensure rigorous planning, organising, managing and monitoring of the whole project.”

A safe workplace also influences an employee’s work ethic, and feeling safe and listened to contributes to a positive environment overall. It is the team collectively who make a project run smoothly and they can only do that under safe working conditions.