A robust Health, Safety and Environment (HSE) plan is crucial for any firm looking to operate legally and effectively in the UK. There is no industry where this is arguably more imperative than in the evolving and somewhat unpredictable construction industry.
With construction being an industry in which workers are constantly facing a plethora of risks, ensuring worker safety – as well as environmental protection – should be a top priority. The latest report from the Health and Safety Executive shows the number of fatal injuries in construction totalled 45, higher than in any other industry.
Most construction managers will be well aware of the need to establish strict construction HSE policies, however, start-up founders and entrepreneurs may need to be steered in the right direction.
In this article, we’ll outline key elements to include in your construction HSE plan, along with tips for implementation, to help you create a watertight strategy aligned with UK regulations.
Conduct thorough risk assessments
The foundation of an HSE plan is comprehensive security risk assessments and safety inspections.
Every construction site and project will have unique hazards that need to be identified and controlled. Some larger and more remote sites will naturally have a different set of construction health risks than those located in urban settings with lots of foot traffic.
Conduct an initial site walkthrough to spot potential dangers, such as risks associated with working at heights, noise, dust, falling objects, and hazardous substances. For each risk, determine its likelihood, potential consequences, and who could be harmed. From then, you can start to pinpoint how these risks can be eliminated and accidents prevented, or, should injuries occur, how quickly and proactively help can be arranged.
Some important areas to assess include:
- Excavation work
- Lifting equipment
- Power tools
- Electrical systems
- Use of controlled substances or irritants
- Traffic management and site access control
- Workplace transport like forklifts
Make sure risk assessments are done systematically by trained individuals. Situations can develop rapidly on construction sites, so review the assessments regularly and update them as needed.
Establish effective incident response
Even with stringent controls, accidents can – and often do – happen in construction. Your HSE plan needs to outline emergency response procedures for different incident scenarios, from administering basic first aid to securing sites and practising optimum situational awareness.
Some suggestions include:
- Have evacuation routes mapped out and communicated to workers. Conduct practice drills regularly and ensure alarms are in good working order.
- Train first aiders to provide immediate medical assistance if needed. Have first aid stations clearly marked and have individuals retake training regularly.
- Keep spill kits on-site for containment of any chemical leaks or spillages that could irritate the skin.
- Have a communication protocol for notifying management, emergency services, and regulatory authorities in the event of a serious incident.
- Prepare investigation procedures to assess incidents objectively, including their root causes and how to prevent them from reoccurring.
Implement strong security measures
Construction sites, despite being as temporary and non-obstructive as possible, often contain valuable equipment and materials that can attract thieves and vandals. More often than not, thefts and trespassing incidents are opportunistic, but it pays off to ensure your HSE plan accounts for the site’s physical security and containment.
This should incorporate security measures like:
- Performing pre-employment background checks before hiring
- Installing integrated, high-quality security lighting, CCTV cameras, and alarm systems
- Fencing off the perimeter with padlocked gates and robust interlocking concrete barriers to deter trespassers
- Designating SIA-licenced personnel to monitor the site after hours
- Requiring visitor passes, identification, and sign-in logs
- Safely storing and locking up tools, equipment, and materials when not in use
Adequate security keeps unauthorised individuals away, reducing the risk of site accidents or theft.
Outline environmental protection steps
Construction work can impact the environment in several ways, from waste generation and dust and noise pollution to habitat damage and chemical spills.
Your HSE plan should define how you’ll minimise environmental harm as much as possible, as corporate social responsibility and sustainability are two goals to be completely transparent about, especially considering the construction industry’s environmental impact.
Useful measures include:
- Using silencers or mufflers on machinery to reduce noise where possible
- Spraying water to suppress dust around the site
- Establishing proper waste sorting and disposal procedures
- Containing and cleaning up any spills to avoid contamination
- Identifying ecologically sensitive areas to avoid
Following environmental regulations and using best practices to reduce your project’s carbon footprint will go a long way in creating a robust and reliable HSE plan.
Provide extensive training
HSE awareness should be integrated right from project induction, but employees and external contractors should willingly demonstrate alignment and commitment to ensuring optimum safety.
Therefore, if it’s within your remit, provide as much training as possible and cast your judgement over whether anybody needs a refresher session.
Provide training on:
- Site hazards and control measures
- Proper use of Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Safe work practices for high-risk activities like confined space entry or scaffold use
- Emergency and evacuation protocols
- Hazardous materials handling
- Incident reporting procedures
Refresher training is highly recommended from time to time, even for the most experienced contractors. Set daily tasks to review hazards and precautions for specific projects and sub-tasks, making it clear that any potential risks or hazards could develop. Well-trained personnel help sustain a safe work culture and ensure a project runs smoothly and to a deadline.
Perform inspections and audits
While gifting all contractors autonomy is recommended, appointed HSE managers should check that their stipulated HSE processes are being followed consistently. It’s always possible that corners may be cut (metaphorically speaking). This is why it’s important to conduct daily site and PPE inspections, alongside regular safety assessments with contractors who are spotted having deviated from your recommendations, even if unconsciously. You may find that conducting an investigation with an external auditor may be worthwhile if an incident occurs.
Use inspection findings to improve policies and provide additional staff training where needed.
Stay up to date on legal requirements
Construction regulations get reviewed and updated regularly. Your HSE plans must evolve to ensure that you are not at risk of non-compliance and that they align with the most up-to-date UK legislation.
This includes but is not limited to:
- The Health and Safety at Work Act (HSWA)
- Work at Height Regulations
- Manual Handling Operations Regulations
- Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH)
- Provision and Use of Work Equipment Regulations (PUWER)
- Construction (Design and Management) Regulations
- Reporting Injuries, Diseases and Dangerous Occurrences Regulations (RIDDOR)
Review your HSE plan frequently to check if it meets UK building legislation criteria, and seek legal advice if you are unsure about compliance.
Get approval from all parties
Meet with clients, contractors, subcontractors and employees to communicate your HSE programme openly. Encourage all parties to give their feedback to refine the plan and ensure it accounts for all potential risk areas.
Ensure that all parties are clearly aware of who the appointed contact is and who is personally responsible for health and safety responsibilities. Having agreement and cooperative participation from all parties ensures the HSE plan is most effectively implemented across the project lifecycle.
Prioritising worker health, safety and environmental protection should be at the heart of construction operations. Following all these tips will help you develop a comprehensive HSE plan tailored to your projects, manage risks effectively, and ultimately create an incident-free workplace.