Olympic Health and Safety: Record Breakers

When the most dangerous thing associated with a programme employing 12,000 staff and involving 80 million man hours over five years is a sandcastle, you know you’ve done a good job in terms of health and safety. While the 13 ft-by-6.5 ft sand sculpture on Weymouth beach – built to mark 100 days to go until the Games in April – had to be knocked down for health and safety reasons, the rest of the structures back in east London were standing firm. The London 2012 Olympics continue to be hailed as exemplar – the greenest, the fastest and, perhaps most importantly, the safest.


Over the 80 million hours worked on the big build, there has been an accident frequency rate (AFR) of just 0.15 and the AFR over the last 12 months has been 0.1 – the industry average is 3.4. And for the first time in Olympic construction history there has not been a fatality, a feat recognised last month by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (ROSPA), which presented the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA) with an award for completing the big build without a single death.

I hope firms look at our reports and learn from them. I don’t want them to praise us blindly and not apply the lessons

Lawrence Waterman, ODA

These impressive statistics – particularly on a huge scheme spread over a 500-acre site and a five-year time period – are in stark contrast to the industry norm.

A Health and Safety Executive (HSE) report published in January 2012 said that 50 workers were killed in the construction industry over the 12 months from March 2011. This is the highest number of deaths across any industrial sector and an increase from 41 deaths in construction in the previous year.


It’s clear more needs to be done to protect the UK’s construction workers on site, and many are holding the Olympics up as a shining example of what can be achieved.

Lawrence Waterman, head of health and safety at the ODA, said: “I hope this project will contribute to the next generation of development in construction by showing how we can be slicker, leaner and safer.”

But there are questions over whether this is realistic or whether the “Olympic Effect” drove the impressive health and safety figures rather, than a repeatable system. The Olympics has been in the public eye more than any other scheme in the UK for decades and there have been commitments to be upheld to the government and the International Olympic Committee (IOC) which are likely to have resulted in more attention being paid to health and safety on this project than is usual.

Despite the strong evidence that this increased attention resulted in a glowing health and safety record, the concern is that the time and money might not always be readily given over by clients and contractors on future projects that have tighter budgets and less profile.

“I would hope that companies will look at our reports and actually learn from our success,” says Waterman. “I don’t want people to blindly praise us and not apply the lessons.”

But with the Construction Clients Group (CCG) already in talks with major firms – especially those in the nuclear sector who are most likely to be developing and building on a large scale soon – to ensure the lessons are not lost, the hope is that the Olympic record will live on and make a difference.

Here we consider just how the ODA and its delivery partner CLM ensured that the London 2012 big build was the safest in Olympic history, and whether the rest of the industry is ready to meet the new, high bar that has been set.

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