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Late engagement costs dear when hazards emerge

Some years ago I was a judge for the annual Construction Manager of the Year Awards. The panel had to tour around the completed project following the interview with the candidate.

I used to insist on visiting the plant room to see whether this had been designed to facilitate safe and efficient maintenance. With one exception I was always disappointed.

Some years ago Loughborough and Salford Universities produced a report for the HSE based on an analysis of 100 accidents. The conclusion was that a design change could have avoided 50 per cent of these.

Lack of consequences

It is extremely rare for those involved in initiating the design to be prosecuted in the shortcomings in design that result in an accident. But on 29 July 2010 Bristol Crown Court fined the architects of the new Exchange Conference Centre in Bridgewater, Somerset £120,000 and ordered them to pay £60,000 costs.

This followed the death of an employee of subcontractor H & F Airconditioning, who fell 9 metres to his death. The main contractor also pleaded guilty to breaches of the regulations and was fined £65,000 with £68,000 costs.

This prosecution raises major issues concerning effective management of health and safety risks within a traditional procurement process. At the heart of the current 2007 CDM Regulations are the obligations upon all parties to cooperate and coordinate their respective inputs to ensure that health and safety risks are being effectively managed.

But traditional procurement processes and the prevailing culture of lowest price and risk dumping militates against this. Traditional procurement inhibits communication between the key parties, especially since they are appointed at different times such that cooperation between them is made impossible.

The evidence is that, by and large, building services contractors are not engaged early enough to help in risk assessing design outcomes. Neither are they receiving any or sufficient information regarding hazards associated with the design of the structure or of its construction or maintenance. Furthermore, they are not involved in design reviews which are supposed to be carried out by the CDM coordinator.
All this, of course, is in breach of criminal legislation - not the civil law.

As long as I can remember there have been countless reports and recommendations directed at the need to engage building services contractors early in the procurement process.

Professor Rudi Klein is chief executive of the Specialist Engineering Contractors’ Group