by Jeff Lee
18 June 2009
CDM 2007 represented more than just a legal tidying-up exercise. Its aim was to make duties clearer and emphasise the need to plan and manage construction with a focus on practical implementation rather than paperwork. Ultimately, the changes had one main goal: to reduce construction accidents and injury.
The benefits of CDM
Crucially, the regulations recognise that clients set the tone for the project. The budget and timeline they set and the contractors they appoint to a project will shape how central health and safety will be. On a project with a tight budget or schedule, decisions that clients make to cut costs may mean they find themselves responsible for accidents.
But it is not clear how many clients are aware of these responsibilities. Having the client involved is a good idea in principal, but in practice what can happen is that costs come to the fore, and carefully thought-out procedures are overlooked.
CDM 2007 helps clients to ensure that their construction project is safe to build, use and maintain. It is designed to focus those working on a project on planning and risk assessment, rather than reacting to issues of health and safety as they occur. The regulations have a more practical tone and aim to cut down on bureaucracy.
When CDM is carried out properly, anyone working on a project should know what is expected of them, and designers, clients and the CDM coordinator should coordinate and cooperate on a regular basis.
CDM certainly has gone some way to foster a new environment for health and safety, but whether it has gone far enough is still unclear.
Has CDM worked?
Has CDM had a major effect on accident numbers? Not really. In 2005/06 there were 59 fatal injuries on construction sites, in 2006/07 the figure rose to 77 before a drop last year to 72. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) estimates that around 2.2 million people working in Britain's construction industry, making it the country's biggest industry, but it is also one of the most dangerous.
In 2007/2008, 31 per cent of workplace fatalities occurred in the construction industry. On average there are 8,250 accidents a day, about half of which are major incidents. In the summer of 2007 and February 2008 the HSE embarked on a series of site inspection initiatives. During both initiatives they found that approximately one in three sites and one in four contractors inspected were found to be working below the acceptable standard and also found that almost one in five sites were failing to address work at height risks on site an area which accounts for a large proportion of accidents.
The HSE plan to visited 1,500 sites to assess safety standards on construction sites in an attempt to clampdown on poor practice. The HSE has also placed information on its website outlining the responsibilities under CDM relating to property developers.
The drawbacks of CDM
The real drawback seems to come, as ever, in resourcing issues. The HSE simply does not have enough people to police the regulations in the way it needs to, nor the resources to create working partnerships with those working in the construction industry that could make a real difference.
In some sectors of the construction industry the spirit of the regulations hasn't really been taken up. In fact the management processes are more or less the same, with the same inductions, site visits and audits.
The future of CDM
CDM was designed to be the next step in ensuring improved health and safety standards in the construction industry. It was supposed to drive out needless bureaucracy and develop a positive safety culture. Whether it has achieved this is still being played out, but many in the profession view it as an investment in the skills and safety of the work force.
Money should be spent on funding more HSE inspectors, who have a knowledge of the industry and spend more time building the effective relationships that make a difference on-site.
Jeff Lee is group compliance officer for Beacons Business Interiors
Top tips: CDM 2007
Check all appointed persons are aware of their duties under CDM 2007
Eliminate hazards and reduce risks during design stage of the project and provide information about risks that remain
Design considerations should take into account the construction, future use and maintenance of the project
Allow sufficient time for all stages of the project
Check competence of all persons/organisations appointed including contractors and site operatives
Employ the right people for the right job at the right time
Plan, manage and monitor work of contractors
Provide information and training for all site workers
Encourage cooperation, coordination and communication
Ensure adequate information, instruction, supervision and training is provided for all involved in the project