A third risk prosecution by not holding accurate Health & Safety compliance records
70% of SME UK construction companies putting the safety of their workers at risk
SME construction companies in the UK are putting the future of the organisation and the safety of their staff at risk, after a new study has found that 70% of the 1,000 SME construction firms admit that they would fail a formal ‘on the spot’ Health & Safety Executive (HSE) site inspection – or they ‘might scrape through’ – because of internal failings in recording and maintaining accurate, up-to-date health and safety compliance data.
The Health & Safety at Work etc Act 1974 requires every construction company to keep an accurate, up-to-date record of all health and safety matters from personnel training and qualifications to equipment maintenance, to site safety and incident reports; all to be made immediately available to the HSE upon inspection.
But the new study ‘Reducing Risk In Construction’ by Safetybank- the first fully digitalised health and safety management platform of its kind – found that a third (33%) of the 1,000 SME construction companies polled claim to inaccurately record health and safety compliance matters, with nearly a quarter (23%) still recording and filing health and safety data by hand. One in four Health and Safety Directors, Site Managers and MDs surveyed say they have poor access to and limited visibility of compliance records including staff training, medical certificates, equipment testing, accident reports and site inspections, with more than one in five SMEs (21%) saying that the administrative cost to store and maintain such records is too large and complicated to manage effectively.
Half of the SME construction firms polled lack access to internal reports reminding staff what compliance documents and certificates are due for renewal or have expired, and 49% say the business lacks a single centralised system to store and manage personnel training and equipment testing records.
Lack of workplace safety standards
Worryingly, nearly a third (32%) of SME construction companies surveyed are not yet ISO 45001 compliant- the world’s first ISO standard for management systems of occupational health and safety (OH&S), introduced in March 2018 to drastically improve levels of workplace safety. More than a quarter (28%) are unsure what the new standard is, or if the company is compliant.
Safetybank’s study follows recent HSE figures showing that construction, and agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors continue to account for the largest share of fatal injuries to workers (30 and 32 deaths respectively in 2018/19). A series of recent major health and safety breaches by construction firms, fined upwards of five figure sums, also highlights the importance of maintaining watertight data compliance processes.
Michelle Di Gioia, Partner in the Dispute Resolution team at Gardner Leader solicitors and a Tier 1 ranked (Legal 500) health & safety legal specialist for the construction sector comments on Safetybank’s study: “It’s vitally important for companies to keep up-to-date records of employees’ training, personal protective equipment, records of inspection and maintenance of equipment. Do not just pay lip service to retaining these documents; risk assessments and all health and safety policies and procedures should also be well documented, regularly reviewed and updated with health & safety procedures communicated, understood and recorded. Without thorough records an organisation will not be able to show that it has ensured (in so far as is reasonably practicable) the safety, health and welfare of its employees and visitors to the premises.
“Health and safety fines are increasing and the HSE charges for its time in identifying and investigating breaches. With easily accessible, well maintained data management systems companies can quickly provide valuable evidence in the event of an incident, cutting down this investigation time, and most importantly be confident that they’re always compliant,” continues Michelle.
Lucien Wynn, COO at Olive Communications, the parent company of Safetybank and cloud telephony and unified communications specialists, added “Ensuring that all health and safety compliance records are accurately stored and kept up to date can be a logistical nightmare for Health and Safety Directors. They often have multiple site projects on the go, using various subcontractors who can have 100s of workers, and the construction organisation, large or small, is accountable for the safety of each and every one.
“We often hear how H&S Directors rely on the word of the site foreperson or employee that compliance records are accurate and up to date, rather than being able to check for themselves due to an archaic and inaccurate data management system that isn’t centralised or easily accessible. But this is putting the H&S Director at risk of being held accountable for a breach as well as threatening the safety of workers, and the financial security and reputation of the business.
“Poor access and visibility of health and safety data that isn’t being accurately and reliably recorded, is therefore having severe cost implications on construction companies. The HSE charges per hour per person during an audit, and until they receive and check all the necessary paperwork. Our research found that half of SME construction firms are calling for ways to digitalise and centralise their health and safety processes so documents can be quickly and securely created, shared and downloaded for an audit report.
“At Safetybank we have been working with construction firms such as Higgins Construction and Swan Housing for over five years, unifying their safety processes within one secure, easy-to-use, centralised platform, where records can be easily updated and shared, tasks and comments added in real time, and reminders sent on vital compliance processes, all via desktop and mobile – a virtual filing cabinet for a safer workplace.”