Health and safety takes centre stage with industry law overhaul
24 April, 2015 | By Greg Pitcher
Major changes to industry’s health and safety rules underscore continuing demand for expertise. A major overhaul of the laws governing health and safety on construction sites came into force this month.
The 2015 Construction Design and Management regulations set out the responsibilities taken on by different parties in a construction project, and the relationships between them.
Later this month, a major campaign will be launched by the British Occupational Hygiene Society in a bid to slash the huge number of construction workers dying from exposure to silica dust.
Clearly then, health and safety remains a critically important topic for construction bosses for a number of moral, legal and business reasons.
With the recovery in full swing, demand for professional knowledge of this complex environment is high.
“Effective health and safety policy relies on having the right people in place and engagement with health and safety at the very top of a business,” says Tom Anthony, senior recruitment consultant at jobs agency Hays Health & Safety.
“As more and more construction companies realise this, the demand for qualified health and safety professionals will continue to rise.”
Mr Anthony says salaries for top construction health and safety staff are pushing towards the six-figure mark.
“Across the UK, good health and safety advisers in construction can command £35,000 to £45,000,” he says.
“We have seen health and safety director salaries reach up to £85,000 in London and the surrounding areas, such is the demand.”
But it’s not only senior staff that are required.
“We have seen health and safety director salaries reach up to £85,000 in London and the surrounding areas, such is the demand”
Tom Anthony, Hays Health & Safety
“Employers are looking for ambitious entry-level advisors with the potential to become the next generation,” Mr Anthony says.
Although project experience is a benefit, it is not the only route for people wishing to get into the sector.
“Organisations are now looking for someone with the right attitude and soft skills, who they can upskill into a specific industry,” Mr Anthony adds.
“Successful health and safety professionals have the right health and safety knowledge combined with the ability to communicate, influence and challenge within an organisation.”
Contractors expect good safety staff to find homes in the industry for some time.
In demand, and growing
Keith Prince, head of health, safety and environment at trade body the UK Contractors Group, says demand is likely to grow with output.
“As the industry moves out of recession I can see general demand increasing for both generalists and specialists,” he says.
“The modern day safety professional needs to have health and often environmental competence.
“Occupational health knowledge – but also practical application – is something health and safety professionals are going to be under more and more pressure to demonstrate.”
Project leaders have upped their game on health and safety, Mr Prince adds, and want advice and ideas rather than education.
“Modern project managers want to be challenged and given practical measures that will help them improve standards and culture on their site.”
“As the industry moves out of recession I can see general demand increasing for both generalists and specialists”
Keith Prince, UK Contractors Group
Willmott Dixon head of health, safety and environment Mark French has a team of more than 50 staff distributed through head office, regional and sector-based teams.
Although he doesn’t expect it to grow in size this year, the team experiences a degree of natural churn, which creates job opportunities.
When it comes to recruitment, Mr French seeks someone who can communicate effectively inside and outside the business.
“I don’t look for policemen,” he says. “It’s not about quoting chapter and verse of regulations. I look for how someone can intervene in the right manner.”
A common goal
Different companies will look for subtly different things from their health and safety teams, but ultimately most now recognise the importance of the role, Mr Prince says.
“Health and safety professionals are massively important to construction firms as they support every firm with what is often a key value of every organisation.
“No company, no client, no customer wants to be linked to a fatality on their project.
“Reputations for attracting repeat work or in attracting new talent to the organisation can be severely damaged.
“So health and safety professionals are critical to helping a business remain sustainable.”
Mr Prince rubbished the notion that eventually all construction staff would have enough knowledge to make specific health and safety workers extinct.
“In practice you find there are merely new challenges on the conveyor belt that require health and safety professionals to help overcome them as we strive for an ever healthier and safer working environment.”
This month’s law change and safety campaign launch are cases in point.