Safety on site…

At the moment I am working on a major construction scheme (so as part of my contract I’m not allowed to mention what that scheme is), when it has finished the company I work for will have completed 3 years of archaeological work, covering some amazing Roman, Romano British, Saxon and Medieval archaeology, some being scheduled monuments, over 24km.

The archaeology is important and as such has been given a lot of focus from the project managers. It also means that we are actually included in all of the briefings that go along with this project and as archaeologist (for once in my career) we’re not being overlooked, even if we are subject to some heavy micro-management out on site.

So this is my point and ‘moan’ of the day. We are subject to wearing full PPE, that means walking up and down site dressed as a banana, safety boots, safety glasses (at all times, even in the rain and you can’t see), gloves and of course our old faithful hard hats. I have no issue with any of this, but I realised the focus, of the overriding construction firm, for our safety may be a tad skew wiff. Yesterday after our lunch break we were all called into a meeting about ‘safety’ – Hard Hat Liners only. It was a tool box talk to reiterate that no persons on the project was allowed to wear anything underneath their hard hats (so no woolly hats, hoods from hoodies, jackets etc) except for the regulation issued hard hat liners. We thought to ourselves this is a tad overzealous, but they’ve clearly taken hours to organise this rule, the paperwork to send out to each site (because you have to sign to say you attended this tool box talk) and the conglomerated wasted working hours of every member of the project to take out half an hour of their day for this talk (that may seem trivial however this is a project which works 150,000 man hours a month, so imagine how many people that is and multiply that half an hour across the project).

And then this morning we were all called to another safety briefing. Since the return after the new year a number of incidents have taken place on the project.

January saw a bruised hand, an operative falling over and bizzarely an operative found in the bottom of an excavation for a pond not too far from water… a major incident one may say, given how he was unconscious.

February has seen more bruising, an engineer who had cut his fingers with a saw and in a separate incident a vehicle maintenance man lose a finger… another major incident.

The chap giving this safety briefing emphasised how important our health & safety is to this parent company, how they were trying to resolve these issue and come up with ways to make sure they never happened again, but confusingly, in discussing both major incidents he said “Now we don’t really know whats gone on here, we don’t know how this has happened”

At the end of his gump he asked if anyone had any questions. Another chap to my right correctly said “Now there seems to be a lot of loose ends in these cases, you’ve had a month to figure out what had happened, why hasn’t this been sorted so that no similar accidents take place”

I fully expected an answer such as: we designated x amount of time straight after the incidents and our investigations have not come back with satisfactory enough answers, we still have more questions blah blah blah… the actual response was “well I have to report it to my boss, it then has to go further, I don’t know the answers to why this has happened, I’m not going to stand before you and say this is why…” *allowed the sentence to trail off*

The chap then reiterated his point saying “I’m not asking how they happened, I’m asking why you don’t know how it happened and how it can be resolved and not happen again”

No answer.

SO, this gots me to thinking, our parent company spends so much time ‘communicating’ to us, that maybe when a serious incident arises that’s actually their focus, not resolution. It’s all well and good having superficial safety measures in place, hammering home the important of personal safety in meeting after meeting but not actually saying how to stay safe, just that you should.

If they have to communicate so much to us below, it clearly shows that they have to communicate the same amount of bumf to those above. So we seem to be in a situation where the people on the project have to do so much communication that they actually don’t have a singular person who can say: “You investigate this now, you write the report for the man above and you work with both of these people and find me solutions.” A simple gang of 4 people, or even 2 people has to go through too many channels in order to be resolved.

Tell me… would you feel safe dressed as a banana wearing your hard hat, gloves, glasses and boots, if a machine malfunctioned (in a way they know they can) and could cause loss of digits? Or once again your dressed as a banana with all your gubbins you wake up next to a pond of water and medically you know why you yourself ended up passed out, but not knowing how you were able to get through a number of safety barriers, past measures in place and still ended up abandoned in the bottom of a pond excavation?

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3 thoughts on “Safety on site…

  1. I’m sorry to hear about the condition of your on-site safety!
    Leadership and influence is key to a successful safety management system.. they need to communicate in a way to show the benefits of safety to the worker.. not just communicate incident history.

    Next time you have a safety briefing ask the individual in charge to define what kind of plans are in place for continuous improvement in worker safety. You need to make the safety officer understand your work environment, and make him/her rely more on the workers for information. Employee involvement is just as important as leadership in any safety management system. Maybe you can act as a “champion” employee to further worker relations with the safety department?

    If you have any questions or concerns, let me know.

    -Ken

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  2. Thank you for your comments and advice!
    I too believe that PPE should only be the final frontier in personal Safety, nothing should ever get to that critical point (however much it still happens).
    I am no longer on that scheme, not because of any issue raised on this page but because pastures new came along and I’m pretty sure the grass is greener on this other site 🙂

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