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In the face of increasing regulations from the UK’s new watchdog, health and safety documentation needs a digital rethink before the construction industry gets buried, says David Hunt, CEO of Illeso.

Health and safety is a fundamental, front-line lifesaver, which has revolutionised society and enabled everything from long-term health to affordable insurance. Sadly, the libertarian instinctual distaste for forms, laws and paperwork reframes this essential industry from heroic watchman to pen-pushing bureaucrat. Unfortunately for health and safety’s image, the mass prevention the sector provides remains largely unsung, and its exacting administrative overload means it struggles to get buy-in from the industries it affects. 

That’s why a new national watchdog for England is set to assign clearer responsibilities and prevent the hot-potato-passing compliance behaviours that have previously allowed unsafe materials and work practices to slip through the cracks. 

The Building Safety Regulator (BSR) will be headed up by Chief Inspector of Buildings, Peter Baker, and will apply to buildings over either 18 metres or six storeys tall. The new team will check construction at three points: planning approval, start of construction, and handover. The watchdog will take control from the hands of local councils, and will have the power to halt construction at any point if critical breaches are found. 

Construction firms will have to follow, and provide evidence of complying with these new regulations and rules, in addition to the wealth of health and safety documents already required. In parallel, an inspectorate for construction products is also being set up. Both of these also come on top of the 2015 Construction (Design and Management) regulations. Which may begin to explain health and safety’s admin-happy image problem. 

Piles of files

Unwieldy, prolonged and overlapping documentation is mounting into an administrative labyrinth for the construction sector. To work through an example: a health and safety document can be between 25-350 pages, depending on development size. The average number of site workers is 50 (though there can be upwards of 700). Each worker could have up to 12 qualifications, while each lifting plant will also require at least one piece of paperwork. In addition, Toolbox Talks, qualification cards, new starter registration, disciplinary logs and PPE registers all require multiple ongoing documentation. Developments can stretch on for up to 12 years, certifications need regular renewals, and employees will join and leave. With so much paperwork to keep hold of, even physical storage space becomes a huge issue for housing developers – let alone archival management. 

Trying to find something in a subcontractor’s office is a complete nightmare. In practical terms this equates to reduced productivity as site managers struggle to locate forms, and present or send them to building inspectors, contractors or admin staff. Faced with an endless backlog of expiring files, managers become overwhelmed.

The paperless approach

Taking health and safety paperless with the Illeso Health and Safety Compliance Application, in partnership with Intelastel, alleviates all these issues. By uploading documentation to the cloud, a sharing community of information across the industry is being created – not just isolated housing developments – that increases productivity for everyone. All stakeholders will be able to access documentation on demand, cutting out swathes of administrative legwork and freeing up site managers for in-situ safety supervision. Certifications that require renewal can generate reminder notifications to assist management, reducing the potential risk of litigation. Storage is no longer an issue as documentation is held on the cloud, and archival and document location becomes a breeze. With a pay-per-login system, Illeso is entirely scalable and suitable for all business sizes.

The bloat of health and safety bureaucracy is threatening to derail its own cause. Paralysed by paperwork, sub-contractors ‘teach to the test’ instead of recognising the significance of audited safety. Ironically, it’s literally hampering on-site safety as site managers spend their time in the back office instead of supervising operations. The sector needs to reduce outlay and pressure on sub-contractors by improving its approach to Health and Safety compliance. Taking documentation digital is the next logical step, allowing sub-contractors, contractors and operatives across developments to pool resources and reduce admin time by sharing access within a paperless online eco-sphere.

The Illeso Health and Safety Compliance Application, in partnership with Intelastel, is available to anyone working across the construction industry. Find out more about how the application will enhance your operations here

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