To ensure chartered architects are reaching a higher standard of knowledge in health and safety and the life safety of building users, the RIBA will be introducing an online test based on a comprehensive curriculum for all members to demonstrate their competence.
This guide is designed to improve the safety of practitioners on site and their understanding and application of health and safety processes to create buildings that are safe to build, operate and use. It will help prepare architects for the forthcoming RIBA health and safety test, providing practitioners with the guidance they require regarding site safety, both before and during construction, significant hazards and design risk management to discharge their professional services and legal duties competently and safely.
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Undertaking site visits is vital to our role as architects and fulfils several functions, from enabling us to understand and analyse the context within which our projects will reside through to inspecting the progress of work on site to ascertain that a construction project is proceeding in accordance with our designs and in meeting our clients’ requirements.
Our interaction with the environment and the unexpected circumstances it might present is one of the most challenging, exciting and enjoyable aspects of being an architect. However, it is also when we are most likely to face potentially hazardous situations that pose a risk to our safety, health and well-being.
When we talk about visiting site, we tend to envisage visiting managed demolition and/or construction sites. Whilst these pose particular risks, arguably it is vacant sites you will visit before construction has commenced – or possibly even before a project has been conceived – which are not under active daily management, that present greater risks.
Naturally, returning safely from any site visit is always our intention. Ensuring this happens requires common sense, responsible site behaviour and being ready to respond to hazards if and when they arise.
In this chapter, we consider six aspects of how to prepare for every site visit you intend to undertake – whether to an unoccupied or occupied site – to ensure you are adequately equipped to undertake your visit safely:
1.1 Site surveys and research
1.2 Plan of work
1.3 Site occupation and vacant sites
1.4 Clothing, equipment and personal protective equipment (PPE)
Gathering site information before your visit, based on formal surveys or previous experience (your own, that of your colleagues or of the site owner), is invaluable. Familiarise yourself with all available information regarding the site before your visit.
Request copies of all site information in the possession of the site owner. This may include site plans, site photographs, footage from digital drone surveys, condition survey reports and details regarding the presence and nature of any known or suspected site contamination, in particular any asbestos-containing materials (ACMs).
Consult any historic maps, satellite images and/or survey information to identify ancient structures and landscape features that may be present on site, bearing in mind once you are on site that such structures and features may be unstable due to decomposition, weathering or vandalism.
If you are aware of existing buildings or structures on the site that you are due to visit, obtain as much up-to-date survey information regarding their condition prior to your visit as is practicable. Identify any confined spaces or unsafe structures that you will need to avoid. This is especially important for vacant, disused, derelict or semi-derelict structures where there may be the risk of fragile floors, stairs or roofs, or where demolition has already taken place and there may be risk from partially concealed basements, the presence of asbestos or live unknown services. If you need to inspect or gather information from these areas, consider how you may do this without putting your safety at risk, for example, by utilising drones and digital technology.
If you are visiting a building that was constructed or refurbished before 2000, request a copy of the site owner’s asbestos management survey to establish whether there is any risk of exposure to asbestos during your visit. The site owner has a legal duty to determine if an asbestos survey is needed.1 If asbestos is present on site, the survey will record what it is, where it is, how much there is and the condition it is in. If asbestos has been identified on site, make sure you are familiar with its location and condition. Check the survey for details of any caveats or limitations regarding its use, including any areas of the site that may not have been surveyed. Never visit a site where there is a risk of exposure to airborne fibres that are released when asbestos is damaged or disturbed.
All employers have a duty to provide adequate asbestos awareness training to anybody visiting site. Ensure that you undertake this training before your site visit so that you understand how to avoid the risk of exposure to asbestos. Risks associated with exposure to asbestos are covered in more detail in Chapter 3.
Verify the accuracy and currency of all site information you receive from others and bear in mind that conditions may have changed since the site was last visited or surveyed. Consider the age of any record information – in particular any as-built plans – and reflect on whether there may have been subsequent alterations on site since the records were produced.
If you have any concerns regarding the quality or accuracy of site information at your disposal, speak to the site owner or person in control of the site and identify what further information you require for consideration prior to your visit.
Establish whether there are any live services or mechanical plant that may pose a risk on site or whether such services/plant have been safely decommissioned and/or disconnected.
Once you are aware of and understand the potential hazards that may be present on site, prepare an action plan to determine how you will respond to hazards, should they arise. Make sure this is agreed and understood by any colleagues who intend to accompany you on your visit. Your
action plan should be site-specific, recorded in writing, reviewed and, if appropriate, updated prior to every site visit. Provide copies of the action plan to others who you know will be visiting the site, for example, survey companies that you may have instructed on behalf of your client.
Ensure that you are aware of any regulatory restrictions or duties that the site owner or you, as a site visitor, need to be knowledgeable about. This includes any legal duties you may have as an employer with respect to safe-guarding the welfare of your employees (explored in more detail in Chapters 3 and 4).
Before you go to site, determine and appropriately plan the purpose of your visit. Ensure you have adequate time to undertake the tasks you propose to embark on without rushing, bearing in mind how site conditions may compromise how efficiently you may be able to work. This is particularly important during the winter when inclement weather or limited daylight hours are more likely to restrict how long you can work safely on site. Avoid the temptation to continue your visit beyond the time it is safe to do so in an effort to get your planned task completed if it takes you longer than anticipated.
Pre-plan the activities you intend to undertake to ensure you have access to any survey equipment that you require once you are on site. This might include arranging for appropriate temporary working platforms, lighting and/or power to be installed before you arrive.
If you require any destructive opening-up to be undertaken on site to complete any intrusive survey work, wherever possible arrange for the opening-up works to be carried out prior to your visit. If the site owner’s asbestos management survey has identified the presence of asbestos on site, ensure that a refurbishment/demolition survey is completed prior to any destructive opening-up work. If asbestos is identified, confirm with the site owner that it has been removed by a licenced contractor and that the area you are visiting has been certified fit for reoccupation prior to your visit.
If you require access to be provided via mobile plant, such as a mobile elevating work platform (MEWP), ensure that you are accompanied by an operative qualified to assist you in the use of such plant and that the terrain is suitable to ensure the plant can be used safely.
Check whether you need any specific training or a permit to work to enter the areas of the site you intend to visit, as these may be required for high risk activities. For example, work in a confined space such as a culvert or sewer will be subject to management controls.