Safe advice

By - , Build 162

With over 20 years’ health and safety experience at Hawkins Construction and Site Safe, Andrew Confait has seen many changes. He talks to Build about the health and safety challenges and opportunities currently facing the industry.

Q. How did you get into health and safety?

After doing my plumbing apprenticeship in Australia, I worked for a subcontractor. Back in the 1980s, people still had that ‘she’ll be right’ attitude to health and safety, but things were starting to change. Subcontractors were being asked to step up, and I joined an on-site safety committee, which eventually turned into a full-time health and safety role.

Q. What about your current role?

After 10 years at Hawkins as national health and safety manager, it was time for another challenge. I wanted something that would allow me to put into practice what I’d learned but on a broader scale. The role with Site Safe is a great fit. It allows me to work with small businesses, helping them make their businesses safer and more profitable.

Q. One year on, what impact has the new legislation had?

While it’s too soon to call the impact of the new Act in terms of the injuries and accidents, it has definitely made a lot of people sit up and pay attention. It’s helped drive home the message that the old she’ll be right attitude isn’t good enough and that everyone, from owners to workers, is responsible for safety on site.

Initially, a few people were pretty nervous, and one year on, a lot of companies are still getting to grips with what it means for them. But it has prompted people to take a harder look at their health and safety practices – and that can only be good.

A lot of small to medium-sized businesses struggle to access the information and resources they need to improve. With insufficient health and safety systems, they can lose out on contracts. This is more prevalent now as the larger contractors are expected to manage and improve the smaller subcontractors on their sites. That’s why one of our focuses is making our help affordable, accessible and easy to understand.

Q. What’s your key takeaway from the new legislation?

The Act has a strong focus on engaging with workers and contractors, an area that is a real opportunity for businesses to make a big difference. Good communication and worker buy-in is vital and should be at the centre of any health and safety policy.

Consistently sharing information with subbies and workers is something I really believe in. We need to create a workplace environment where workers feel they are being listened to and where they feel they can make a difference.

Q. What are the key H&S challenges?

Research we did recently showed there is definitely room for improvement in the way we manage risk. In a sample of over 200 site audits, more than 28% of subcontractors’ safety plans did not include evidence of a risk assessment. Knowing what your risks are, especially your critical risks, and thinking about how to eliminate, control and monitor them is a key focus for WorkSafe. Businesses need to understand how this works in practice for their workplace.

Another area where we as an industry can improve is in getting main contractors to collaborate with each other and standardise health and safety policies across sites. That’s why Site Safe is helping bring businesses together with the Vertical Leaders Group. This is working towards making on-site safety expectations clearer, easier and more consistent for subbies.

Q. Where would you like to see changes?

Procurement is a big one. Health and safety must be included from the outset of a project, starting with the procurement process. Too often, health and safety is cut back to reduce the bottom line, a situation that can create risk for both the client and the contractor.

We need a culture shift to ensure that price isn’t always the most important thing. Cheap doesn’t always equal value for money.

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