Health and safety site risks: on-site issues

More risky business

6 February 2016

In the second of a three-part series on site risks, Gary Blackman looks at the visit itself

Having undertaken our desk-based generic risk assessment and carefully filed this away (see first article in the series, Risky business), it is now time to venture out on site. This is undoubtedly the most dangerous part of our job.

While many of us are aware that we would not be able to enter larger construction sites without an induction, which normally includes watching a video then donning full personal protective equipment (PPE) before being escorted around, the vast majority of sites do not have the same rigour in their health and safety procedures; in fact, some may have very few such procedures at all.

Assessing risk

So what do we as surveyors need to consider before entering the site?

As we walk through the main entrance and look for the site office, we will be undertaking dynamic risk assessments on all the potential hazards around us

We may not be able to see from the road whether the site is safe, so we might need to stick our heads in to check things out. Appropriate PPE must be our first priority, which we would have assessed in our generic risk assessment and taken with us. For guidance, the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) has produced a very useful brief guide to PPE.

As we walk through the main entrance and look for the site office, we will be undertaking dynamic risk assessments on all the potential hazards around us. We are going to be considering lots of things: is there adequate signage to direct us? Are materials stored safely? Is there moving machinery? Some of us may be undertaking the inspection in the role of principal designer, so we will have an added responsibility.

Once we have made it safely into the site office, we should not stop our dynamic risk assessments; sometimes, the condition of the office will reflect how well the site is run. Can we see the HSE’s F10 – Notification of construction project, if the project is notifiable? Are there HSE posters on display? Do we have to sign in?

Assuming we are happy that any hazards thus far are manageable, the risk of injury seems negligible and we are signed in, we can now proceed with the inspection proper. We are not, however, finished with our dynamic risk assessments yet.

css card

Figure 1: A CSCS (Construction Skills Certification Scheme) card, confirming the bearer has the correct skills and qualifications

As part of the visit, we may have to inspect at height, which is normally accessed via a scaffold; from an initial look, does this appear safe? Can we see a scaffold inspection tag? When was it last inspected?

Once on the scaffold, can we see whether the contractor is storing materials on this? Do the work activities appear to be undertaken safely?

Hidden hazards

Not only do we have to consider access and activities around us, we must also consider the hidden hazards. While the site we are using is unoccupied, the likelihood of rats and pigeons frequenting parts of it is high. Therefore, there can be a significant risk of Weil’s disease and tetanus. I always carry a bottle of antiseptic handwash with me on site that has proved invaluable on a number of occasions.

While the vast majority of times our site inspections will be free of incident, there are ways we can improve our site awareness at very little cost.

The Construction Skills Certification Scheme is a great way of doing so, and costs less than £100 to complete, including a book with sample questions and answers: the cost for taking the exam is £19, the book costs £30 and the card – once you have passed – is another £30 (see Figure 1).

There are a number of test centres around the country, normally associated with those assessing driving theory. The test lasts an hour and involves answering around 40 questions randomly selected from six sections on subjects ranging from environmental awareness to demolition. Assuming we answer sufficient questions correctly, we are entitled to a card to show we have reached a suitable level of competence and are sitesafe. As far as I am concerned, this is a win–win situation: not only do we get a card, we can also record this as formal CPD.

Gary Blackman is a director in building consultancy at Lambeth Smith Hampton

Further information

  • The first article in this series is Risky business
  • Image © Gary Blackman
  • This feature is taken from the RICS Building surveying journal (December 2016/January 2017)