Workplace health and safety is of prime interest not just to the ECA and its members, but to clients and main contractors.
Health and safety questions for contractors are mandatory in construction pre-qualification questions such as PAS 91 in England and SQuID in Wales. In addition, further health and safety questions feature in the main on-site contractor assurance schemes such as Achilles’ ‘Building Confidence’ and OHSAS 18001.
While we all understand the overriding moral imperative to protect the workforce, clients and main contractors have compelling business reasons for asking contractors whether they comply with health and safety law. In addition to a safe and healthy workforce being more productive, here are six other reasons to consider:
- In 2015/16 the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) achieved a conviction rate of 95 per cent, as it issued penalties under new sentencing guidelines introduced in February 2016
- In 2015/2016, the total of UK health and safety fines doubled to just over £38m, from £18m in 2014/15
- This £38m included 14 fines that were higher than any fine handed down in 2014/15. 2016 saw 19 safety fines of £1m or more, compared with just three fines of £1m or more in 2015 and none over £1m in 2014
- More than 11,000 enforcement notices were issued in 2015/16
- Enforcement attracts HSE Fees for Intervention (FFI) at around £127/hour, even if there is no prosecution. In 2015/2016 nearly 7,000 FFI invoices were issued, raising £4.2m from companies - a 26 per cent increase in the value of invoices issued in the previous year
- Finally, HSE prosecuted 46 company directors and senior managers in the year up to 31 March 2016 - treble the 15 in the previous year. Of the 34 who were found guilty, 12 directors received prison sentences
These remarkable national figures are from across all industries, but they include numerous construction and maintenance prosecutions. Even after significant improvements in construction’s safety statistics over the last decade, 43 people died in construction accidents in 2015/16, and there were over 5000 other reportable injuries.
Yet within electrical and other building services engineering, there were no fatalities in 2016 (the year of the latest JIB’s annual accident statistics). This strong safety performance helps to ensure that our sector, as a whole, is regarded as one of the safest in construction and maintenance. But clients, main contractors - and their health and safety assessment schemes - run the rule over individual contractors, not entire sectors. This makes it hugely important that ECA members who operate in the public and commercial sector are legally compliant.
The industry-recognised standard for basic legal compliance is shown in health and safety questions, originally drawn up by ECA, BESA and the HSE, and asked for today by pre-qualification schemes operating under Safety Schemes in Procurement (SSIP) banner, such as CHAS and SMAS. These questions make up the ‘SSIP Standard’, which is already recognised in BSI’s PAS 91 pre-qualification standard and by key industry players such as HSE and Build UK.
A large proportion of ECA members currently meet the SSIP standard, and we are currently consulting on whether ECA should help all members who carry out commercial work to meet the standard before 2021, achieving legal compliance and helping them show that capability to safety-focused buyers.
We've seen above that health and safety sentencing guidelines, introduced a year ago, are already having a huge impact on fines for serious accidents and non-compliance. Moreover, if there is an accident and a contractor has fallen short on health and safety, it increases the chance of a successful civil claim due to negligence. In short, the phrase “health and safety is good business” has probably never been truer than it is today.
The ECA already provides a range of support for members facing health and safety pre-qualification questions. For example, in addition to e-RAMS (the increasingly popular risk assessment tool), there are two ‘CHAS mini-manuals’ for micro and small to medium contractors on the website, along with practically useful templates that help with ‘SSIP Standard’ questions such as those on accident reporting, worker consultation and site welfare. There is also an excellent health and safety helpline, as well as regular updates, briefings and publications.
It seems certain that health and safety management will be essential to the future of ECA members. As such, we will do all we can to help members to achieve basic health and safety compliance, in addition to electrical excellence, and to show buyers that ECA members represent the gold standard in our industry.