Malcolm Davies, from South Wales, has worked on building sites for over 30 years. As a UCATT health and safety rep he has represented workers on some of the country’s most high-profile construction projects – including Heathrow Airport’s Terminal 5, Crossrail, and the Millennium Stadium in Cardiff.
He currently oversees health and safety on behalf of the union at Hinkley Point C nuclear power station, representing around 1500 construction workers on the ten-year building project. He tells us how the Union movement has helped turn around the health and safety record of UK construction.
All big projects now have a trade union rep for health and safety.
In the first decade of this century 700 people died on UK construction sites. That’s more than the number of British soldiers killed in Afghanistan. That’s changing. While a construction company will always appoint their own health and safety manager, a safety representative from the union side complements their work and reduces the likelihood of accidents, according to Malcolm. “Workers talk to reps a lot more easily,” he says. “They tell you things they’ve noticed that they don’t necessarily tell management. Then I can do something about it.”
Heathrow’s Terminal 5, completed in 2008, was a turning point.
“The people behind T5 put a lot of money into health and safety, and we had training as never experienced before. Trade union members felt they had a say too,” says Malcolm. Instead of just accepting risks, workers were given permission to say “no” to tasks that could be unsafe. The investment paid off: T5 achieved among the highest safety standards in Europe at the time.
London 2012 was the first time ever that an Olympic park was built with no fatalities.
Malcolm says he was “really proud” to work on the Olympics. He looked after workers building the stadium, media centre, car park and village and helped make London 2012 the safest Olympic build in history. It’s all the more impressive given that the project engaged 46,000 workers delivering 62 million man-hours. “If we can build such complex stadiums without killing anyone, we should be able to build anything,” says Malcolm.
Construction projects are now asking builders for their input on safety.
“It’s unusual to engage directly with the workforce on safety,” says Malcolm. But during the Olympic build, the contractor was ready to listen. They asked builders where they thought the next accident could happen – and made changes where they were needed.
Hinkley Point C is another opportunity to improve standards.
“Safety is improving all the time thanks to big projects like this one – they’re a chance to set new standards,” says Malcolm. “Hinkley Point is on its way to becoming the best site in Europe, both in terms of safety and interaction between workforce and management.”