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Gideon Levene is head of projects at Styles&Wood Group

Lessons in site safety

Refurbishment companies need to find effective ways to keep people on and around construction sites safe, says Gideon Levene

Posted by Dave Higgitt | April 26, 2015 | Security & safety

Earlier in the year, the government announced that a further £6bn of funding will be made available under the extended priority schools building programme (PSBP) to improve UK school infrastructure. This means that more than 270 facilities will receive the required capital to complete vital renovations, including extensions and remedial building works necessary to improve a pupils’ learning experience.

As was to be expected, the news sent the refurbishment sector into a stir of activity, with some projects that were previously moth-balled due to the budget restraints of the recession being kick-started again.

With these opportunities, however, comes the challenge of finding the time to complete the works. Contractors are increasingly being commissioned to complete works during term time or a scope of work started during school holidays inevitably runs into term time, meaning the issue of health and safety has never been more relevant. 

Creating bespoke health and safety practices to ensure that small children are not only safe at all times, but understand the dangers associated with construction sites, is just one way contractors are anticipating and adapting to working in demanding live refurbishment environments.

As is the case with any scope of works, one of the first and most important tasks when working in a school is to ensure a greater degree of physical separation between the works and the rest of the building. This becomes even more important during term time, when children are using the facilities.

When refurbishing Avon Park Primary School, in Warwickshire, for example, The Styles&Wood team installed solid hoardings, which allowed for the 20-week strip-out and remodelling project to be carried out while keeping the school’s nursery building fully operational at all times. Separate access routes for contractors were also used to avoid any disruption or danger.

One of the most effective safety precautions used during this project was colour-coordinating the school corridors. This helped to educate young children as to which areas are safe to be in – when walking to reception, the bathrooms or classrooms, for example – in the event of a refurbishment.

The team applied green tape along the floors and walls when renovating Avon Park, to indicate which routes the children were permitted to use and red tape to warn children away from the direction of the works. The concept was well-received by teachers and pupils alike, as some of the children were learning about the significance of colour as part of their curriculum.

While refurbishments in sensitive settings like schools are ideally completed out of term time, this is not always possible. The very nature of construction can make it a noisy and dirty process and therefore not ideal around young children who can frighten easily. This meant that maintaining low levels of noise was a priority at Avon Park. It was achieved by using floor-to-ceiling sound-attenuating, dust-sealed screens throughout the site, as well as working with teachers to ensure the children were regularly reminded to expect loud noises. Staff were also given a timetable so that everybody knew what would be happening where and when, which helped teachers to field any enquiries from pupils and parents. The team also held sessions with the children to make sure they felt involved in the process and understood why they were on site.

With a large amount of capital being invested in our schools over the coming years, contractors must ensure they are ready for the challenges and opportunities this will bring. Indeed, gone are the days when every project would span the duration of a summer holiday in a deserted, pupil-free school. Taking the time to understand a building’s occupants, particularly vulnerable people like young children, can go a long way to help come up with creative ways to keep a site safe and the building in use at all times.

Gideon Levene is head of projects at Styles&Wood Group plc

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