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NAO attack heaps safety pressure on profession

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The National Audit Office (NAO) has launched a searing attack on the health and safety record of architects and construction designers.

A new report by the agency - Improving health and safety in the construction industry - claims that most 'designers show little or no interest in understanding the health and safety implications of their work'.

The report estimates that up to 60 per cent of accidents could be traced back to decisions taken before building work begins, including during the design process.

'We found that the overwhelming majority of stakeholders supported this view, ' the report says. 'For example, the Major Contractors Group believes that in many cases poor health and safety can be traced back to poor design.

'And the Strategic Forum for Construction told us that designers' education on health and safety issues needs to be improved. The Federation of Master Builders was also critical, saying that of all the stakeholders, designers had made the least progress in improving.

'The RIBA, however, questioned whether there was sufficient incentives for designers to fidesign outfl hazards, ' the report adds.

The NAO attack comes just weeks after the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) released its latest figures pointing to a failure of architects to take the issue seriously (AJ 29.4.04).

Speaking at the time, Joy Jones, the HSE's principal construction inspector, said: 'There is still a long way to go before we can say designers are making a real contribution to reducing the death toll and injury caused by falls from height.

'We are concerned some designers want to rely on harnesses to prevent people falling when it is much better to design out the need to work at height or, if needed, ensure it's done from a safe place with proper guardrails, ' she added.

The AJ has also learned that HSE inspectors are coming under increasing pressure to haul architects and their clients in for questioning before construction work starts on site.

An HSE source revealed that the executive's bosses are increasingly determined to force architects to 'take the health and safety issue seriously'.

'They are instructing individual inspectors to focus on the architect and client end of the process, ' the source said. 'They see it as increasingly important.'

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