John Crockett is Acorn Safety Services’ health and safety manager. He has worked in the Health and Safety industry for about 30 years. Prior to that he had been a project manager and a fitter for various construction companies so in total he has worked in the construction industry for around 45 years.
In this blog, John reveals how he got started in his career and the changes he has seen in the industry over the years.
How did your career begin?
My uncle ran a construction firm and I was looking to improve my life. He told me if I went to work for him my wage would rise from £8 a week to £10 a day. I was about 17 and that was a lot of money then. Initially, I worked in the fitting side of things and then moved into project management.
In the mid-1990s I worked on a project for a company and it came to an end and I had the option to join a department as M & E PM or another department as a CDM Planning Supervisor – they offered to train me so I jumped at the chance to be a CDM Planning Supervisor.
I moved into health and safety because I’ve always been fascinated with investigations. I like to find out what’s going on, why things have happened and how we can improve upon them.
How have things changed since you entered the industry?
People’s attitudes to health and safety have changed a lot. It used to be that people wanted to see what they could get away with quickly and cheaply whereas nowadays they are more concerned that people are okay. It’s important that this message comes from the top of firms though and that people are aware of their roles and responsibilities.
What health and safety issues do clients face?
Clients are understandably focussed on their own business and as a result they are not always aware of the health and safety issues they face so it is down to firms like Acorn Safety Services to help them realise what their responsibilities are.
Under the old Construction (Design and Management) regulations (CDM), the client was basically the money man. Under the current CDM regulations, the client has to take on the responsibility of the project and appoint dutyholder role of Principal Designer and become the duty holder themselves. They have to make sure health and safety issues are managed properly.
Other duty holders specified within the regulations include the principal contractor. This person is employed on projects where there are two or more contractors and this arrangement needs to be made in writing or the client accepts responsibility by default.
What projects fall within the Construction (Design and Management) regulations?
All construction projects fall within the CDM regulations – even changing a washer or satellite dish. If you are a domestic client, you have the chance to appoint someone. The architect may be responsible but if the job doesn’t start for a year their duty falls away and the contractor takes the client’s duties onboard under Regulation 7 and becomes the principal contractor / contractor.
Are people taking more notice of the regulations?
Things are improving but the situation is still not good and too many clients are still not aware of their responsibilities.
I do refresher courses and even architects are surprised by some of the things I tell them they should be doing to be compliant. Designers must be aware of hazards and identify how they are going to control or eliminate them. This information should be recorded and passed on to the contractors so they are aware and they can price the project properly.
What is one of the biggest challenges in the industry?
Clients don’t normally contact health and safety experts until something happens. If an accident happens they will bring an external consultant in to record it and say what can be done about it.
Clients need to be more proactive and get health and safety experts involved in their projects at the beginning. If we are employed in the first place, we understand the project and the client can take our lead on what to do. If they don’t get in touch with us until a problem has arisen they end up paying for an investigation, costs for remedial works and they may have lost time on their project and earned themselves a bad reputation. The Health and Safety Executive (HSE) records its findings online – you can look at anything.
What’s the most important thing a client should do?
The business owner, directors and management team should be familiar with the company’s health and safety policy and the current regulations. Alternatively, they should employ an internal person or an external consultant to do this for them. It’s best to hire an external consultant because you can use them when you need them and they can advise you appropriately. They can look at what the business does, make sure the correct risk assessments are in place and review any changes in legislation and technology which may mean the firm needs to change its processes.
What is the best thing you have seen in relation to health and safety?
It’s very simple but one of the best things is in the onsite welfare toilets – there are always mirrors which sometimes have written on them: ‘You are looking at the person responsible for your safety.’ It’s so important that everyone takes responsibility for their own safety. You have control over your own safety. If you think something isn’t right, tell someone.
Is there a difference between the big construction sites and the smaller ones when it comes to highlighting hazards?
Big construction companies tend to be better at drumming it in and putting processes in place and making sure workers follow them. They also penalise people if they don’t follow the processes.
What does Health and Safety Management mean to you?
Health and safety management starts at the top of the tree. People need to aware of their roles and responsibilities. You need to make sure that you have recorded the necessary information and understand your risk assessments and method statements. It means making sure people challenge things that aren’t right and that they are aware of the regulations. It means clients should employ someone who knows what they are doing.