Q) How long have you worked with WM Donald?
A) I’m guessing, but I think my first involvement with W M Donald was at least 25 years ago. At the time I was working for SAFE, an organisation that provided health and safety support for SMEs based on a subscription model. W M Donald’s main activity at the time was earthworks for clients like Stewart Milne.
In 1997 I founded Wood Murray Associates and continued being W M Donald’s competent source of health and safety advice. Over time my role evolved to include site inspections, safety audits, and supporting Willie and Elaine at tender meetings.
Q) How has construction health and safety evolved over the past twenty years?
A) There has been a fundamental change in culture. When I started out, health and safety was typically viewed as an administrative ‘bolt-on’, a ‘need to have’. There’s no doubt that many organisations viewed it as an inconvenience that got in the way of, as they saw it, operational efficiency. Today, thankfully, health and safety has a high profile. In the best companies, like W M Donald, it has become embedded in their culture.
Q) Has this change had an impact on the incidence of accidents?
A) A huge impact. Twenty years ago we used to average around 300 deaths a year on construction sites. Today that figure is down to around 30. Obviously that is 30 too many, but construction can now promote health and safety as a good news story. There is still work to do for the industry to get that message across to the general public.
Q) What about W M Donald’s health and safety journey?
A) Willie and Elaine have a shared passion for health and safety. They have always invested in training and they wouldn’t ask one of their team to do something they wouldn’t be happy to do themselves. I trained Willie and Elaine on their first SMSTS (Site Management Safety Training Scheme) training course many years ago, and since then I’ve trained their managers and delivered the compulsory refresher training. Willie completed his latest refresher training course just a couple of weeks ago. It’s a matter of record that Elaine outscored Willie when they first took the SMSTS qualification!
The training is much more in-depth and stringent these days. When Willie first started he would have received a single A5 booklet. Today, the course materials stretch to seven volumes.
Over the years I have derived great pleasure in tracking the progress of key W M Donald employees as they have grown and developed. I remember, for example, training Ian Gray when he was on the tools and encouraging him to develop his technical and management skills because he clearly had the intelligence and drive to reach the top.
With the recent recruitment of Fraser Morrison as its full-time health and safety adviser, W M Donald has now grown to the point that I have become, from an advice perspective at least, largely redundant. I view this as a positive, not least because Fraser is my niece’s husband!
Q) What about the future of health and safety?
A) As I mentioned earlier accidents - particularly fatalities - are at an all time low. There is already a trend towards showing the same focus on occupational health as has been previously devoted to health and safety.
Whilst fatalities on site may be around the thirty mark, the industry ‘kills’ about 7,000 people a year through illnesses acquired as a direct result of working in construction. The highest profile example is the lung diseases associated with exposure to asbestos which account for over 50% of the total. The increased awareness and precautionary measures which are now in place will see a decline in asbestos related illnesses over time, and the focus will switch to silica dust. Silica is present in a huge array of building materials and products: sandstone, granite, concrete, tiles, blockwork to name just a few. I believe there will probably be restrictions on the use of high-speed cut-off saws (Stihl saws) and the introduction of new working practices. This also provides huge scope for product and process innovation.
However, I am unlikely to witness these changes personally as my own plans involve being in close proximity to silica – preferably on a beach in the Caribbean – enjoying my retirement!