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A Chartered Civil Engineer, Chair of Institution of Civil Engineers Expert H&S Panel and an editor of ICE Manual of Health and Safety in Construction, Second edition shares some of his excellent opinions of how we could view health and safety in construction. 

ICE Publishing at the Frankfurt Book Fair
‘Elf & Safety’ bugs the life out of me
  • Updated: 15 Oct 2019
  • Author: Dr Ciaran McAleenan CEng MICE

I rarely read a whole book…
There was a time when I felt honour-bound to read a book, cover to cover, once I opened it. Like I had some allegiance to the authors to inwardly digest their every word. But why? They didn’t write their books for me! They wrote it for them. Or did they? I can’t say that for sure but what I do know is that I can read as much or as little as I like. I believe I have an eclectic taste, a diverse range of interests that what make me Me. And these interests and tastes are not pre-programmed to appear at set times for set periods; they move on. 

My opening thought, “I rarely read a whole book…” concludes with “…but I read parts of a whole lot of books”. Why? Because I either get what I want or need from a partial read, I get bored with the content or I disagree with the book’s premise (and I didn’t sign up for that). The book has to speak to me in whole or in part and this I keep in mind every time I put pen to paper (or tap the keyboards). 

The inquisitive, the enquiring, the creative mind demands much of its surroundings and its influences. Ours is not to disappoint.

‘Elf & Safety’ bugs the life out of me
As much as my life is about safety, health and wellbeing in all its forms, but particularly in its practical outworkings I get it why so many cringe or shy away from doing ‘health and safety’. The ‘safety police’, the ‘clipboard checkers’ the ‘naysayers’ of the past have instilled a negativity, almost immortalised in the press that health and safety spoils fun and unnecessarily burdens individuals and businesses. 

But consider this: who in their right mind wants to design or construct something that will cause harm? I submit that nobody does! And that those who resist the interference of health and safety into their working lives have been the victims of inaccurate and inappropriate interpretation of what the law intends. So, a fresh way of thinking is called for.

Prevention through design
In the ICE Manual of Health and Safety in Construction one author opens with the words; “There is a way of thinking that considers hazards that occur on construction sites do not occur naturally, and they arise as part of the design process. This means that as designers you will have the power to eliminate many of the hazards before they occur on the job site. This gives rise to the idea and indeed the ideal of prevention through design.” 

Early design decisions, with safety, health and wellbeing at their heart, are key to better onsite construction practices, a notion, which when properly understood and nurtured in education and in the workplace should receive prominence across the entire design community. The driving force being, prevention from harm and enhancement of human and social wellbeing. As a profession we hold that ensuring that the safety, health and wellbeing of those impacted by our creations is central to the designer’s very being. Health and safety is not the ‘millstone around our necks’ it is the catalyst to releasing our creative and innovative passions on the designs of greater construction projects. 

But how?
Often what is missing in all of this is practical guidance; “I understand why, but I don’t always know how!". ICE brought together prominent practitioners to tell their stories; the brief being, imagine you are having a one to one conversation with a colleague who needs to know how to safely do… What would you tell them? And how would you tell it to them? And in that way the book should read like a personal series of conversations with topic experts. 

The point being that learning is a constant throughout our working lives and knowing when to gain additional assistance and where to get the best advice is a part of our own professional competence. In the words of our past president, David Orr; “[This Manual] demonstrates how working safely can become second nature, improve the way we do things, and provide the key to successful construction”.

Discover the print version of ICE Manual of Health and Safety in Construction, Second edition and visit ICE Virtual Library to find it in an eBook format.

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