The Government has announced a package of changes to the UK’s health and safety system, including a large cut in the number of at-work inspections. These cuts have a significant impact across not only the construction industry but also in terms of career opportunities within Health & Safety.
In April, construction’s largest union UCATT organised 21 memorial services across the UK for people who has suffered fatalities within the construction industry and with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) being accused of putting workers within the construction industry at risk – unions argue this anniversary has an added significance this year. With cuts of 35% to the industry’s safety watchdog – the HSE, coinciding with the fact that employers will no longer face automatic health and safety inspections, health and safety within the construction industry has been recently scrutinised in the media.
Will HSE cuts lead to more fatalities within the construction industry?
Each death within the construction industry is underpinned by the dangers of the working environment and sadly, as a result, the number of risks could increase if the already low levels of inspections and enforcement are reduced. George Guy, UCATT’s acting general secretary, said: “The Conservative-led government’s financial attacks on the HSE will make workplaces more dangerous and will lead to increased deaths and injuries of workers in future.” Reports suggest the number of construction related deaths is already on the rise. The HSE’s figures were revealed by its head of construction, Philip White, at the London conference on Safety Schemes in Procurement, earlier this month. The provisional statistics revealed that the 2010/2011 period saw an increase of 15% on last year’s low of 42 deaths.
Meanwhile experts warn the increase may also be down to increasing client demands and corner-cutting during the recession. For example, companies are facing the consequences of pushing construction workers too hard – last month two construction firms in Northern Ireland were fined a total of £61,000 after 150 tonnes of concrete collapsed injuring six workers.
Beware of Rouge Traders
With fewer health and safety inspections, due to HSE cuts, the British Safety Council suggests a public debate is needed on how best to deal with the reality of fewer resources for public bodies involved in health and safety regulation. At the centre of the debate is how budget and staff cuts at the HSE will result in rogue traders and inspectors being increasingly unlikely to be visited by the HSE; with the threat of prosecution lessened as more corners are cut. This in turn will create an uneven playing field, in which rogue traders will be able to undercut legitimate businesses that are already vulnerable to cash flow pressures. Vigilance is a top priority to ensure fraudsters to not take advantage of organisations that are forced to cut corners. In light of this, added responsibility is placed with corporations creating a demand for high quality Health and Safety professionals within organisations.
How the HSE Cuts affect Careers in Health & Safety
The HSE is under pressure from the Department for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform to limit the number of on-site inspections it carries out. HSE Chief Executive, Geoffrey Podger, also said the department would have to adapt to a ‘tighter budgetary situation’ and cut up to 350 jobs. With fewer inspections, the responsibility to ensure a safe working environment lies even more with the corporation. Sources have revealed that industry bodies will be asked to ensure their members self-regulate while HSE inspectors focus mainly on high-risk sites. Researchers at the Bureau of Labor Statistics agree. They predict a job growth of 14 percent for safety technicians over the next decade. This is considered a “faster than average” rate with jobs expected to increase to 12,500 in the UK by 2018.
Worker requirements and expectations are also a reason for this. Employees expect to work in a safe environment regardless of economic conditions. Judging from the most recent statistics, employers may need to work harder to meet those expectations. In addition, safety professionals themselves can also make an economical as well as humane argument for the increasing value of their role within corporations: one health and safety incident occurs and the lost productivity and the accompanying costs are staggering and ultimately hurt the economy of the corporation and as a whole.
Health and Safety professionals that are highly-motivated and aim to recognize, evaluate, and control risks to people, property and the environment are in demand.
Although the economy may be hurt by the large number of safety violations, employers, according to National Safety Council’s May issue of Safety and Health, have been forced to cut many safety support jobs. This puts more responsibility on those who remain and adds to their workload. While this condition may create job security for those safety professionals who remain, it also increases their stress. Health and Safety professionals that remain and are newly placed within corporations therefore have to be the highest of calibre; professionals better able to deal with such stress and pressure become in demand. More specifically, within construction, companies have to be constantly on guard to keep employees apprised of OSHA construction regulations and standards, construction firms therefore increasingly need to hire the best people available to train and oversee workplace safety on the job site.
Victoria Kenrick is a specialist at Allen & York, a leading international Sustainability Recruitment consultancy, offering jobs in Environment, CSR & Sustainability, Renewable Energy and Carbon Management, plus Health and Safety Management. Allen & York has also witnessed an increase in Health & Safety roles within the UK and the rest of Europe, particularly in the areas of Renewables, Retail and Consultancy. To see our latest job opportunities, please visit: http://www.allen-york.com/health-safety-jobs/worldwide