Health and safety in the construction industry
With a remit to protect the working population, today’s health and safety professionals take a proactive, preventative approach to problems such as injury, accidents and equipment failure. Their role is of paramount importance in many industries – but perhaps none more so than construction, where risks are particularly high. Perhaps you have what it takes to join them on-site? In the case studies that follow this feature we focus on the stories of ex-Service people who did just that.
Health and safety are key concerns across all sectors, but in construction – an industry with a fatality rate four times higher than across all other industries* – they are of particular importance.
The activities on a construction site are changing constantly across daily tasks as well as phases of work, and include a potentially hazardous combination of moving objects, construction vehicles, lifting equipment, heavy loads and uneven terrain. Additional risks come from moving around construction sites, with the uneven ground surface presenting the risk of trips, slips and falls.
A vast industry such as construction, with a relatively large number of employees, might naturally be expected to have a higher number of industry-related fatalities. However, this does not make those fatalities acceptable and the number of deaths in relation to the number of industry employees remains grossly disproportionate.
What are the main problems?
Whatever kind of construction work is going on – roadworks, demolition, building, refurbishment – construction sites present significant health and safety risks[JP1] . And, while no workplace is completely without risk, there is a clear and enormous difference between the risks present on a construction site compared with, say, an office or shop.
Risks on construction sites arise because of the hazardous nature of the working environment, the physically demanding nature of the work, and the fact that some of the most damaging occupational injuries or health conditions happen or develop over a considerable period of time. Active risk management through prevention is crucial, as is the need to follow Health and Safety Executive (HSE) recommendations across all aspects of the major risk areas. Prevention also includes a full (and frequent) schedule of risk assessment, monitoring and reporting to help reduce the human cost of fatality and injury in construction, and to maximise health and safety. It is of course vital to address these risk areas – and that’s where trained health and safety professionals come in!
These days, health and safety roles often include an environmental remit, so those working in such areas are typically referred to as HSE (or SHE) officers for short. HSE officers use their skills and knowledge to promote a positive HSE culture, ensuring that both employers and employees abide by safety legislation, and that safety policies and practices are adopted and observed. They play a vital role in preventing and controllingoperational losses and occupational health problems, as well as accidents and injuries. These days,HSE roles have moved several steps away from reactive, accident-based management and towards a more preventative approach, as highlighted by NEBOSH’s Certificate in the Management of Health and Well-being at Work.
NEBOSH Certificate in Construction Health & Safety
For the skills and knowledge to identify, evaluate and control a wide range of construction workplace hazards
HSE officers (or advisers) help to plan, implement, monitor and review the preventative and protective measures that companies are required, or choose, to follow, and work to minimise accidents and injuries, occupational health problems and operational losses.
The law requires employers to appoint ‘competent’ people with responsibility for HSE matters, irrespective of the size of the organisation or the field in which it operates. A ‘competent’ person is somebody with the necessary experience, training, knowledge and/or other qualities to undertake the role, particularly risk assessment. Because organisations are obliged by law to employ such a person, training and experience are legal requirements for the management of HSE.
In smaller organisations, the HSE ‘competent’ person function might form one part of a wider role, with the individual concerned responsible for it as part of their job while having other responsibilities too. Larger organisations will employ a specialist (or specialists), or use a consultancy.
The day job
If you are thinking of a career as an HSE officer or adviser in the construction sector, what are you likely to find yourself doing on a day-to-day basis?
As your aim is to prevent health problems, accidents and injuries at work, part of your role will call for you to draw up health and safety policies, and make sure that both the employees and employers stick to them, as well as following national safety legislation. In the construction field, your role could cover areas such as occupational health, noise, safe use of machinery and control of hazardous substances (for other risk areas that are likely to be present on construction sites, see the accompanying box ‘Risks on-site’).
Other key tasks might include:
- carrying out inspections and risk assessments, and thinking about how risks could be reduced
- investigating accidents and recommending improvements to safety standards
- keeping records of accidents and inspection findings
- writing reports to suggest improvements
- advising on protective clothing and safety equipment
- ensuring equipment is safely installed
- organising safe disposal of hazardous substances (e.g. asbestos)
- providing training (to both managers and employees) in HSE issues and risks
- staying up to date with changes in the law.
On an average day, you will probably also be required to wear protective clothing like overalls, ear defenders and safety glasses. You will also need a clean driving licence if your job calls for you to travel between sites.
Skill up while serving
It almost goes without saying that most Service people work, for at least some of the time, in potentially hazardous environments or with dangerous equipment, or both. Across all branches and trades there are those with practical experience and awareness of HSE at work – you may well be one of them! Indeed, many Service people actively involved in HSE work may not even recognise that is what they are doing, or might consider it a relatively unimportant part of their job.
Forces-run modular training courses in HSE, leading to a certificate, offer an opportunity to gain relevant qualifications while you are still serving. You may currently be in a post that enables you to gain significant HSE qualifications (e.g. N/SVQs or NEBOSH qualifications). There are also courses you could take that are aimed at the potential manager who sees HSE as part of a job description (e.g. the IOSH Certificate in Managing Safely) or the person looking to specialise in this field (e.g. the NEBOSH National General Certificate, seen as the essential minimum qualification for any full-time health and safety job).
NEBOSH National General Certificate
The essential first step to a career in HSE
To become an HSE adviser, you can either study for health and safety qualifications once you already have a job, or take a relevant training course before you look for a trainee position. The type of training you choose will depend on the industry you work in, or wish to work in. All workplace HSE practitioners need a basic core of knowledge in order to practise effectively. If you are new to HSE, you can start by taking an introductory course that covers the basics (health and safety in the workplace, regulations, risk assessment and basic accident investigation). Courses are usually available on a part-time basis or can be done via online and distance learning. Courses for which you could use your ELC include:
- level 3 Award in Health and Safety in the Workplace
- level 3 (NVQ) Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
- National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety.
In particular, N/SVQs at levels 3 and 4 in occupational health and safety practice will provide you with good career opportunities. N/SVQ level 3 is comparable to a NEBOSH Certificate recognised by IOSH for Associate membership[JP3] . Other NVQs are at level 5, while the NEBOSH Diploma is recognised for GradIOSH membership. NEBOSH Certificates can be achieved in two weeks, however the Diploma takes longer to achieve (it can be done in a year but may take longer). [JP4]
ELC and SLC cannot be used together but, if you’re looking to use your SLC for training that is below the level 3 threshold, you might want to consider, say, the level 2 Award in Health and Safety in the Workplace, which provides essential knowledge and understanding of health and safety in the workplace. There is also a level 1 Award in Health and Safety in a Construction Environment, if you are looking to work in a HSE-related role in the construction industry; this qualification will give you the essential knowledge to manage health and safety, and holding it will also allow you to take your CITB test and apply for your CSCS card.
To work as a full-time health and safety officer, you may need a higher level of qualification approved by the IOSH (see below). You can progress to more advanced qualifications as your skills develop and your level of responsibility grows.
The NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety is seen as thequalification for HSE practitioners, designed to provide students with the expertise required to undertake a career as a safety and health practitioner. The National General Certificate is not a mandatory entry requirement for the Diploma, however it is highly recommended for anyone who needs to gain a sound understanding of the principles of workplace health and safety.
NEBOSH’s HSE-related courses include the following:
- National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
- International Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
- National General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
- National Certificate in Construction Health and Safety
- International General Certificate in Occupational Health and Safety
- International Certificate in Construction Health and Safety
NEBOSH National Diploma in Occupational Health and Safety
Find out more at
Membership of IOSH is seen as essential by most HSE professionals who are beyond ‘competent’ person status and specialists in their field. Membership grades depend on a combination of qualifications, experience and achievement. IOSH also runs a series of courses that promote a culture of safe working, such as its Managing Safely course. You can find out more on its website (see ‘Key contacts’).
Scientific, engineering or technical degrees, HNDs, HNCs, National Diplomas and National Certificates are particularly appropriate for HSE roles. There are also postgraduate qualifications in HSE, with particular emphasis on occupational, environmental and hygiene aspects. Some universities have MSc distance learning programmes that focus on HSE and can lead to chartered membership of IOSH [JP5] (see above) within a year. Training can be expensive, but there is financial help available.
There are numerous areas of risk on a construction site, including the following:
- equipment and tools
- getting trapped
- hand and vibration syndrome (HAVS)
- harmful dust and toxic materials
- long-termmusculo-skeletal conditions
- manual handling injury
- moving vehicles
- objects falling from height
- on-site activity leading to lifelong disability
- potential for sensory loss
- risk of building or ground collapse
- vibration injury
- working at height
TRANSLATE YOUR SKILLS
The skills and qualities essential for an HSE professional are very likely to be familiar to military people like you:
- an eye for detail
- problem-solving skills
- systematic approach to work situations
- diversity of work environments
- good communication skills (for writing reports, or dealing with both employers and employees)
- wide-ranging responsibilities
- the ability to analyse what went wrong and, importantly, how to put it right.
FIND JOB VACANCIES AT …
- HealthandSafety-Jobs www.healthandsafety-jobs.co.uk
- Safety and Health Practitioner magazine www.shp4jobs.co.uk
- IOSH Magazine www.ioshmagazine.com
- Major online job sites and recruitment agencies
- Websites of large organisations and multinationals
- Websites and publications relating to the industry in which you’re interested – in this case, construction
- National and local media
Use your ELC
Under the ELC scheme, a wide range of learning can be taken, provided it is offered by an approved provider listed on the ELC website at www.enhancedlearningcredits.com and is at level 3 or above.
As noted above, most HSE officers/advisers get into this role by either completing a qualification and then looking for work or studying while working. Note, though, that it is becoming more common for advisers to enter the profession with a degree-level qualification. Some good advice is that employers tend to favour job applicants who have good people management and interpersonal skills. Health and safety professionals should also keep their skills up to date by joining a professional body and maintaining their CPD (continued professional development). And, if you can bring a range of additional skills – such as being able to provide in-house training in areas like manual handling or first aid – that’s another benefit as far as employers are concerned. In addition, the Management of Health and Safety at Work Regulations outline the legal requirements for safety management issues and, if anything, this increases the need for companies to employ ‘competent’ persons themselves, as opposed to dealing with safety issues via consultants.
In the construction sector, jobs range from a small company employing an individual to a major organisation that has an entire safety team. Many employers look for HSE advisers to also have training qualifications, and to be able to assess the need for, design and deliver safety training.
What can you earn?
Note: the following figures are intended as a guideline only.
Salaries vary widely depending on role and responsibilities, location and type of company. They can range from £22,000 to £35,000 a year, again depending on the exact role. The current average salary for HSE professionals with up to four years’ experience is £30,811, rising to £37,671 for those with up to nine years’ experience. HSE trainers are also well paid by today’s standards. A NEBOSH National Diploma holder could earn £25,000-plus per year, depending on experience and managerial responsibility. With experience and more responsibility, senior HSE advisers could earn £50,000 or more.
With thanks to NEBOSH for their help in the preparation of this feature.
See Mark stevens case study
* HSE fatal injuries report