Dealing with risk

Author: Gillian Birkby

Identifying a pattern of accidents is a useful first step in managing the risk which has led to the accidents. In a domestic setting, the London Fire Brigade has identified that one in four people who die in a fire have alcohol in their system, and that three quarters of alcohol related fires are caused by cooking when under the influence, most commonly because someone has fallen asleep. They therefore ran a campaign along the lines of: “Been out for the evening? Keep out of the kitchen – grab a takeaway”.

The equivalent risk on construction sites – the most common killer – is falls from height. Fragile roof lights are still a particular issue. Obviously this risk can only be managed and not entirely eliminated; roof lights are important in providing good natural light for a variety of processes. For instance, the building where the Madame Tussaud’s models are made has significantly more windows and roof lights than a normal factory or other industrial unit. So those who are responsible for the maintenance of buildings where there are roof lights should make sure that no one can go near them without knowing exactly where they are and how the work on the roof can be done safely.

To deal with the issue in another way, over the years manufacturers have responded to this risk by producing stronger roof lights, and those that are shaped in a way which makes it less likely that they will be walked on accidentally. For new build and refurbished buildings, this is an important contribution to reducing accidents.

Falls from height are not the only high risk areas for a developer to consider; the HSE has produced a variety of regulations, setting out requirements that are best practice for dealing with other common risks where there is a pattern, such as asbestos, vibration and the correct use of lifting equipment.

Those who build or manage structures are required to run their business in a way that does not put workers at risk, whether they are directly employed staff or external contractors. Having procedures in place, or taking advice to see that this side of the business is being run effectively, is crucial. This has to be done even if the human factor can also influence the outcome. At home, the management of risk is something we all do automatically; usually, though not always, successfully. At work, whether in the office or on a construction site, we also need to take care of our own personal safety and that of others, often to a higher standard than we would at home, in order to provide a safe system of work.

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