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Interview: Health & safety precautions on refurbishments

Posted by Steve Coates

Three weeks have passed since the Grenfell Tower fire disaster. It has shaken the entire housing and construction industries, highlighting serious issues that were previously neglected.  Our latest blog post interviews Health & Safety & Compliance Manager, Graham Seed, to find out what regulations are in place when refurbishing a tower block and the best practice that should be applied, to reduce future fire risks and the general safety of residents.

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What are the latest health and safety regulations?

There are three sets of regulations that need to be followed when carrying out installation and or maintenance work in a property:

1. Construction Design and Management (CDM) Regulations 2015.

The CDM Regulations describes the law that applies to the whole construction process on all projects from design to completion. It explains what each duty holder or contractor must do to comply with the law to ensure projects are carried out in a way that secures health and safety.

2. The Building Regulations 2010

The Building Regulations define the minimum standards required during building, maintenance or renovation works of properties. These standards have been developed for access, electrical safety, fire safety, sanitation, energy efficiency, security, etc

3. The Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order 2005

This applies across England and Wales and provides a framework to ensure that people fulfil their fire safety duties.

How should contractors abide by these regulations?

Before works are carried out, it is important to have in place a health and safety plan that ensures the safety of workers on the site but also the residents; should they be living there during the refurbishment. The health and safety plan should explain general procedures and safety advice, how contractors should behave whilst in the building, how equipment should be kept and more importantly, the fire plans should there need to be an evacuation.

It is integral that the right people are selected for the job. Contractors and installers need to be competent, supervised  and have a sufficient amount of information about the works being carried out on the building, and the building itself in order to do their job(s) safely.

How do health and safety regulations ensure the safety of residents?

Well, if residents are not living in the building block it is classified as a building site. However, if residents are continuing to reside there during the refurbishment, then extra precautions and communication is fundamental to making sure that both the contractors at the site and residents are safe.

When Switch2 upgrades a heating system, we try to minimise disruption to the resident as much as possible. It is important that residents are kept up to date with progress, and know what works are being carried out. In some cases we employ local Tenant Liaison Officers (TLOs) that help with keeping residents up to date with progress from initial start of the works to completion. We find that taking this approach makes the general process of refurbishing a heating system much easier, and maintains a clear communication channel with residents.   

It is also important for contractors and installers to produce method statements and carry out risk assessments to ensure the work conducted conforms to best practice.

How many checks must be taken, how often and by whom during a refurb?

Generally, there should be supervision on a site with regular checks occurring throughout the day. The main contractor will have systems and processes already in place that sub-contractors must adhere to. As a minimum standard, contractors should hold a Construction Skills and Certification Scheme (CSCS) card, or similar. This provides proof that individuals working on a construction site have the required training and qualifications for the type of work they carry out.   

What about emergency planning?

Making sure that there is an airtight emergency plan in place falls under the CDM Regulations - meaning that fire plans must be created by the contractor before the start of works on a project.

In some cases when carrying out refurbishments on tower blocks, normal fire standards required can be missing. This may mean absent fire alarms or no electricity; therefore alternative methods need to be put in place to ensure the building site is safe. In some cases, visitors to a site have to undergo further health and safety and site training, this time is used to make them aware of the potential risks and procedures that they need to know to keep them safe and secure.

Key takeaways

  • Make sure you’re savvy with the building regulations, CDM Regulations and the Regulatory Reform Fire Safety Order
  • Ensure that contractors are all  aware of the potential risks associated to their projects
  • Keep residents informed of all works being carried out to ensure that they are safe and secure and understand the work being done and benefit to them
  • No matter what, always have an emergency plan, this is a legal requirement. Health and safety is paramount.

Watch the future of community heating

Steve Coates

Head of Energy Supply

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