Ensuring health and safety training is fit for the modern construction site

Kingsley Clarke is operations lead at Southern Construction Framework

With a recent report by the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) finding that there were 45 fatalities in the construction industry in 2022/2023, up from 29 the previous year, it’s more important than ever that the right health and safety training initiatives are implemented on site.

“Technology such as augmented reality could allow people to walk around the building to see where hazards are located”

With changes to the Building Safety Act coming in late last year, there is increasing pressure on the industry to embrace a change in behaviour and culture that places greater emphasis on everyone involved throughout a building’s lifecycle to evidence and prioritise safe working practices.

The role of technology

Modern methods of construction (MMC) have evolved significantly over the past few years, as increases in costs and resource pressures have called for greater speed and efficiency. This is introducing hazards that trades might not have seen before.

For example, many contractors are working with their electrical supply chains to build large cable trays, requiring workers to be trained on using lifting equipment. Virtual reality is increasingly being used to immerse learners in situations such as these, allowing them to take an ‘active’ role in different scenarios.

As MMC evolves, and we see more advanced construction technology such as robotics for handling equipment, contractors and training providers must look ahead to other industries such as aviation and the automotive sector to see how they are integrating training in these areas. For example, AI-powered flight simulators are becoming increasingly common in the aviation industry, helping to immerse pilots in different flight conditions, preparing them for potential incidents.

Technology can also be scaled up in the future to support people across the whole lifecycle of a build to really understand how to mitigate risk.

While the industry has been talking about BIM modelling for a long time, in the future it will be integral to engage clients early in the process so that detailed, interactive models can be built.

Technology such as augmented reality could allow people to walk around the building to see where hazards (such as asbestos) are located. Training would then be provided on the best approach to safety before work begins.

Communication is key

Often, when new regulations come in, it is the responsibility of tier one contractors to drive training for subcontractors and the wider supply chain – mainly due to a lack of available resources. It’s therefore vital that they work with training providers to ensure new programmes are rolled out to support the wider industry.

For example, Morgan Sindall developed a short training programme following fire safety changes last year around how hot works should be managed after finding that there weren’t any existing courses available. Alongside this, an e-learning package was built that was shared across the supply chain.

In a similar instance, ISG worked on a high-rise project in South Wales and identified that a training course was needed to support contractors to plan the most appropriate tools needed when working at height and how to safely operate these.

Soft skills come to the forefront

Ensuring workers have the right soft skills is vitally important. When workers can effectively communicate the importance of health and safety and understand how to deliver clear safety instructions in different scenarios, this in turn determines the safety of a site.

For example, after identifying a training gap for soft skills and leadership qualities within the supervisor community, Morgan Sindall is currently reviewing how training could be delivered to its supply-chain partners, including topics such as problem solving, time management and effectively briefing a team on hazards.

It’s important for contractors to roll this type of training out not just to supervisors and more senior members of staff, but to those who are making thousands of decisions every day about the safety of themselves, their work colleagues and projects.

Looking to the future

Modern construction projects have become more complex and involve intricate designs, advanced tech and tight schedules. These are introducing new risks and challenges and can increase the risk of accidents or injuries.

While the sole onus to understand the gaps in the industry should not just be on contractors but also training providers  it’s important that contractors keep lines of communication open and collaborate with each other and providers, driving forward progressive training programmes fit for the future.

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