3.3 Safety assessment
Most health and safety effort goes into the planning stage of site work and predicting potential safety hazards. It is then necessary to modify the work and how it is carried out to reduce the hazards to a minimum. Safety is also about work on site and avoiding accidents; this is a lesser, but still important, part of safe operations. Although it is always necessary to have a set of emergency procedures in the event of an accident on site, only a small proportion of time spent on safety should be spent on planning for things to go wrong; the majority of the time should be spent on predictive plans that identify risks and avoid accidents happening in the first place. Under the Construction, Design and Management Regulations there are two types of safety plan: the pre-tender health and safety plan, prepared by the planning supervisor on behalf of the client; and the safety method statement (called a tender method statement in the regulations), which is prepared by the person in charge of carrying out the work – very often the contract team leader on path projects. Both plans have the same aims:
- to identify the potential hazards for your project;
- to evaluate the risk associated with each hazard, identifying who will be affected, and the frequency, exposure and severity of the outcome if something goes wrong;
- to evaluate the solution, i.e. to consider the standard ways of managing the hazard and whether these are appropriate on the site and will reduce the risk to an acceptable level on the site;
- to modify the work planned and the way it is carried out to further improve safety and make the solution specific to your project and site.
In a well-planned project, this cycle of identifying, evaluating and modifying work to reduce risk is carried out four times!
- The first time is for the whole project: looking at the whole site, the timing of the project, type of work proposed and procedures to manage the whole site during construction; this is carried out once by the client.
- The second time is by the construction team.
- The third time is for each operation that will be carried out by site workers as part of the job; this is covered by a risk assessment (see Section 3.4).
- The fourth time is when the risk assessment is prepared by the client and then by the construction team.
The site manager and the contract team leader prepare the whole-site safety assessment and the individual step-by-step risk assessment. It is important that both client and contractor are involved in both stages of safety preparation. The manager often knows the site, its use and the design of the path in great detail, whereas the contractor often has more extensive construction experience and knows the team’s capabilities. The planning process should combine the strengths and experiences of both sections of the team; it is the planning supervisor’s role to ensure that this happens.
You can employ a health and safety consultant to prepare the plan, or in a large organisation you may have to use an inhouse specialist. In both situations, it must be remembered that pathwork is a specialised and slightly unusual type of construction work. In some ways it is less complex, for there are relatively few construction hazards, such as dangerous materials or scaffold construction. In other ways it is less controllable as work takes place in a harsh and remote environment with extreme hazards of weather, slope and exposure. If you do use a consultant or an in-house specialist, then work very closely with them, making sure that they visit the site with you, and that you review the safety plan with them face to face.
Whole-path safety planning
Stand back from your project and look at the information you have available: site surveys, resources, use data, local knowledge. How can you best divide the management of the whole path into discrete projects that can be individually managed? Most paths will require more than one period of management, and more than one type of construction work. You may have a combination of contractors, in-house teams and volunteers available and a variety of construction solutions to be used. Make a plan to divide up the whole path into a series of individual projects before you focus on safety planning, which takes place largely at the project level.
Timing when the work will take place is usually the most important factor that influences the conditions you will face on site: the weather while the team is working, the likely level of use by the public and the safety of carrying out work on slopes. Timing is the single most important safety factor when planning the whole path: on a mountain site work taking place in January will be far more hazardous than work taking place in May. The timing of the project may be the most important decision you make affecting safety on the site.
An example of a path safety plan is given below for the Craig to Diabaig site. Two of the construction projects during the 3-year renovation of this path were poorly timed and took place during winter, which resulted in additional risks to team workers, additional costs through time lost due to poor weather, and a long walk in during short daylight hours. However, it is not always possible for all work to take place during April to June and September to October, the best time of the year for pathwork. For Craig to Diabaig, the work undertaken also had to fit in with team availability for 12 other mountain routes being managed in the area that year. Other factors were at play: resources were only available up to the end of the financial year in March; the availability of teams with the right skills; access to the site during the stalking season; and optimum use of the path between mid-June and mid-September (with peaks of visitors staying at the youth hostel and using the short walks close to the road end of the path).
Whole-path planning for safety for Craig to Diabaig – carried out in June 1995
|Whole path||Division into sections||Key features and tasks||Order worked and optimal timing||Actual timing||Reason for timing chosen|
A coastal footpath running adjacent to Minch coastline at an elevation of 300 ft. Approx. 6000–8000 users per year. Length 4801 m. Divided into 11 sections, all surveyed in 1994.
Generally a very level site with only one steep section on the descent to Craig Youth Hostel.
An unbuilt path requiring complete reconstruction and new surface.
Poor availability of materials on site, with almost no surfacing aggregates available. Site very exposed to westerly gales.
|1–3: 1073 m||Raised stalkers’ path; machine accessible; croft ground adjacent to road; materials brought in from road by tracked dumper.||4th out of 5 October to March||November 1997 – February 1998||Work when path infrequently used, due to machine tracking alongside. Good timing achieved.|
|4–5: 1045 m||Old path line; new drains and repair surface; 30-min walk from road; materials dug on site by hand.||1st out of 5 May to October||October 1995 to January 1996||Manual work with little disruption; therefore, can be carried out during peak use. Teams unavailable therefore done in winter. Much wetter and took longer, although little extra danger. OK timing achieved.|
|6–8: 929 m||New path with two long sections over deep peat; floating path construction; all surfacing brought in by helicopter from road end; 45-min walk in.||2nd out of 5 April to June||November 1996 to January 1997||Preferably early season with good weather but less use. Teams unavailable therefore carried out in winter. Short daylight hours, cold conditions, and helicopter postponed three times by weather. Poor timing achieved.|
|9–10: 1134 m||New path with one deep peat section with floating path; helicopter to bring in all surfacing materials from road end; 1-hour walk in.||3rd out of 5 April to June||April to June 1997||Preferably early season, which was achieved this time. Significant safety benefits on work completed on time. Good timing achieved.|
|11: 620 m||Steep descent on wet bedrock through broken crags; steep pitching required and some stalker’s path. Close to Craig Youth Hostel; 80-min walk in.||5th out of 5 March to May||February to March 1998||Used Youth Hostel for on-site accommodation during closed season. Work on bedrock when not iced up. Slightly later would have been better, but pressure to finish by end of financial year. Poor timing achieved.|
Pre-tender health and safety plan
The pre-tender health and safety plan is a statutory requirement and is prepared by the planning supervisor to describe the path project to be carried out, its safety implications and the preparations that the contractors will have to make to manage safety on the site. It is prepared along with the other contract documents and sent out to contractors when they are asked to bid for the work. It focuses on factors affecting the whole site: the design of the path and the implications this has for the types of construction work needed; the types of hazards they may encounter on the site; and rules and risk controls that the contractors will have to implement to manage the site safely. The pre-tender plan does not tell a contractor how to work safely. It identifies the potential risks and asks the contractor to tell the client how – and sometimes it may not be possible – they will carry out the contract to achieve both a good product and a safe site.
Site and environment
- Location and land use: Describe the site, where it is, who owns it and major land uses (even open hillside may be used for sheep grazing or deer stalking, and these will affect when and how work takes place).
- Planning constraints: Most mountain access sites fall within nature conservation designations, including Sites of Special Scientific Interest, Special Areas of Conservation and Special Protection Areas. They are often within landscape designations such as National Scenic Areas. These designated areas will require permissions to work from SNH or local authority planning departments. Safe operation on the site may be constrained by the need to minimise disturbance, and this will need to be discussed in advance with site managers and can affect timing.
- Services: Point out any public services, including gas, water, sewage, electricity and phone cables, crossing the site, both below and above ground. It is the obligation of the manager to point these out, and for the contractor to contact the service operator and make arrangements to work around them, with temporary disconnection if necessary.
- Access: Identify the route for access on foot, parking for vehicles and the extent to which vehicles can be taken on to the site. Also identify walk-in times to the start of the contract site.
- Ground conditions: Make a note of the vegetation, slope and conditions under foot.
- Design drawings: A full list of information available, including site surveys, bills of quantities, specification drawings, and so on.
- Existing safety information: A list of any existing safety files, as a useful point of reference and experience from earlier work on the site.
- Significant hazards: This is the single most important section of a pretender plan, and identifies the most significant hazards relating to the site – the factors most influencing safety, and the factors which contractors should spend most time assessing and describing in their method statements. Most sites have significant hazards, including:
- exposure to extreme weather, high rainfall and strong winds
- mountain terrain, including steep slopes, uneven surfaces and hidden drops
- use by the public, particularly if the public cannot be diverted off the path line while work is taking place, and work and public use will coincide and have to be managed as people cross the site.
- Each site will also have its own intrinsic hazards, for instance:
- materials may be imported by helicopter if there are none on site, or an excavator may be taken on to the site to dig borrow pits;
- sites may have to be accessed by crossing a river, and the associated hazard of the river level rising and blocking retreat;
- Hazardous materials: Pathwork requires very few imported construction materials or dangerous materials to be handled. However, most jobs will include petrol use and fuel storage on site, especially where excavators and other machines are in use. The contractor will have to carry out an assessment in line with the COSHH Regulations, and also manage potential spillage to avoid leaks into the environment.
- Waste removal: List the types of waste that are produced and will need to be taken off site and if any special disposal is required.
- Public use: Identify the line used by the public on site and any sections of this path that will need to be cordoned, or reroute the line the public should take.
- If a helicopter or other machinery is needed, identify the need for a lift area or road closures or other controls.
- Site accommodation: Some sites have existing accommodation, such as bothies, or remote sites may have cabins taken out to them. Accommodation must be identified and a separate assessment made of its condition and suitability. Accommodation remains part of the work site at all times.
- Other restrictions: Work on site may be restricted by stalking activity, or on the West coast by Sabbath observance.
- List the type of site rules that the contractor must supply, describing the normal working pattern on site. Standard sets include site rules for training, induction, equipment use, personal protective equipment, permits to work, accident reporting and emergency response procedures. Identify any other site rules that the contractor should submit with the tender.
- Emergency procedures: identify the location of the nearest hospital, doctor and contact for mountain rescue. Point out to the contractor whether any additional emergency procedures are required.
Of all the information contained in the pre-tender health and safety plan, the identification of significant health and safety hazards and of pedestrian routes and controls across the site will require the most careful judgement. If a hazard is identified as being significant, then the contractor must prepare a risk assessment as part of the tender submission. If the route continues to be used while construction is taking place, which is usually the case for pathwork in Scotland, then a short description of how the public will be safely managed across the site will be required as part of the tender. It is the responsibility of the planning supervisor to identify all significant work or public use hazards. If a hazard is not identified at this stage, it will be omitted from the risk assessment and may not be properly managed. It is good practice to ask a colleague who knows the site to check that you have correctly identified these elements early on in the safety planning process.
Safety method statements
The safety (or tender) method statement is prepared by all contractors who are bidding for the work. For inhouse work, or where only one contractor is bidding, it is still necessary to produce a method statement. The method statement builds on the pre-tender plan by elaborating the techniques that will be used to manage the site and the significant safety hazards. There are two parts to the method statement: the larger part is standard information that is held for every contractor and is often best submitted to the client at the beginning of every year as it remains largely unchanged from site to site. The smaller part, but in many ways the more important aspect of the method statement, is a project-specific description of how the team will carry out the contract safely – and this is particular to each site.
The safety method statement is usually quite brief and contains the following key information:
- The team to be used: Their experience in the type of work that is required gained on similar contracts, and details of the team leader and their strengths. The training that the team has received for short health and safety-specific courses, such as first aid, plant operation, radio training, etc., and also vocational qualifications held by the team, including SVQ awards at Level II, III or IV.
- The sequence of operations: The order in which the work will be carried out on the site. There are two main options: The first is to carry out all of the work on one short section of path that is closed while work is taking place and reopened when completed; work then moves to the next short section of path. Alternatively, it may be decided to carry out all of the operations along the entire section of path to be worked, leaving the site open for an extended period of time. This may be necessary if materials are to be flown in by helicopter at the end of the contract, all in one go. The sequence of operations will determine where the focus of safety management is needed. When work takes place one section at a time, there is a danger that the work site will become crowded and most safety effort will be directed at protecting the workforce. When the site is left open and the operation spread out, the greater hazard is to users and visitors to the site, with open trenches and borrow pits, etc., and the emphasis will therefore be on protecting open parts of the sites or rerouting users for the duration of the work.
- Operations breakdown: Identify the specific operations that the workers will carry out to undertake the construction work. The aim is to identify all of the different operations for which a risk assessment will be needed. For the construction of a cross drain the following operations have been identified:
- marking off the path and controlling public access to site;
- digging the hole – small tools operation; manual handling; safe storage of excavated material on site;
- collecting the building stone – working on steep slopes; power winch operation; lifting and manual handling; constructing the drain – small tools; manual handling and lifting;
- rebuilding the path up to the drain – borrow pit operations; use of power barrows.
- reinstating the site – environmental practice; manual handling.
Breaking down the different tasks in this way identifies the types of work the team will do, for example lifting, winching, working on slopes. Each of these operations then requires a risk assessment to be carried out (see Section 3.4). Break the operations down into the range of tasks, rather than the type of construction (for instance crossdrains, aggregate paths, kissing gates, etc.). The hazard arises from the operation that the team member is carrying out, not from what they happen to be building.
The other part of preparing the safety method statement is collecting up-to-date information about the contract team. This is submitted either with the tender or, more usually, in advance, and held on file with clients. The types of information required are:
- a list of team members and their experience;
- the contractor’s history, with details of previous contracts and clients;
- certificates held by team members, e.g. first aid, plant operation and SVQ certificates;
- public liability insurance certificate and receipted copy of current premium;
- health and safety policy for the company;
- a folder of site rules for common operations and conduct on site.
The most important information in the safety method statement is the sequence of operations and the particular operations breakdown for the project in hand. Most effort should go into describing the sequence of work and the risk assessments that are needed to accompany it. It is also good practice for contractors to point out changes to the project that will enable them to work more safely. This may include changing the timing of the work, or using machinery instead of manual construction if experienced operators are in the team who can carry out the work without damaging the site. It is also quite possible that the planning supervisor might have overlooked significant safety hazards on the site, or included risks that the contractor does not think are significant. You should discuss these with the planning supervisor and suggest including them or omitting them from the safety plan.
The process of looking at the safety issues across the whole site, from the perspective of both the client and the contractor, may throw up issues that are difficult to reconcile with the work. It is often necessary to change the design or the alignment of a path so that it is safe to build and safe for walkers to use. It may be necessary to change the timing to avoid busy periods or poor weather conditions. Mechanised working may be needed to reduce the repetitive, heavy work of excavating borrow pits, and the emphasis may therefore move to minimising the site impact of using machines, rather than minimising the people impact of shifting 200 tonnes of gravel by hand. Some of these issues may require other solutions and imaginative thinking from both sides of the contract partnership. In recent years, work in very remote locations has introduced the use of remote accommodation, where cabins are flown in to accommodate teams on site; these generate their own safety issues as the team is ‘at work’ even when ‘at rest’ in the cabins, and extra evacuation, fire and radio cover is needed.
Avoiding one danger, such as moving large blockstone across steep slopes, may give rise to other dangers, such as using an aerial runway system to move the stone. Any new method of working will need careful risk assessment, and a trial must be carried out to assess safe working practice. The new procedures should be written up for future use.
Every site will need its own safety solutions. Risks should be identified in advance rather than coming across them on site; they should be thought through step by step, and the ways in which risks to the workforce can be minimised should be considered. After completion of the work, a design that will enable easy maintenance and safe public use of the site is preferred. By planning ahead, seeking advice, writing down your thoughts and actions, and looking for new solutions, you will demonstrate your competence and fulfil your responsibilities for safe management of outdoor access and construction work.