Can The Success Of London 2012 Be Repeated With Manchester’s Airport City?

Manchester Airport is set to become the first airport in the United Kingdom to build an airport city. The airport city hub is forecast to cost £800 million, creating a total of 1600 jobs through building  offices, industrial units retail and leisure sites.  Major multi- million pound construction projects like this present major challenges in terms of ensuring the health and safety of all involved. Ambitious plans, strict deadlines and large numbers of independent and sub- contractors  can lead to slippage in health and safety standards.

Whilst there were 10 deaths during the construction work required for Beijing 2008 and 14 construction-related deaths related to the Greece Olympics in 2004, the London 2012 Olympic Park was completed without a single death when more than 12,500 workers helped construct the venues.

The Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents (RoSPA) honoured the Olympic Delivery Authority in May 2012 with the special Diamond Jubilee Award for the safest Olympic Stadium build ever completed.  The RoSPA’s Occupational Health & Safety Awards are internationally recognised and are the most sought after accolade by organisations wishing to prove their commitment to raising health and safety standards.

This record for London 2012 seems all the more commendable when compared with the construction work at The Qatar World Cup stadium with a death rate of one worker every second day throughout 2014 ( The Guardian 23.12.2014).

Large airport developments in recent history have had a poor safety record, tending to lead to many serious injuries  – 14 workers were injured and 5 killed during the construction of Dubai airport when in September 2004 a reinforcement cage that was holding up a new wall being built collapsed bringing down the wall and trapping the workers. More recently in December 2014 at Baltimore, Washington, an airport construction worker died after being injured by a paving vehicle while working on a project. In the UK, in October 2014, a construction worker died after being hit by a lorry at the recently re-opened Heathrow airport.  

So how was the construction of the Olympic Park for London 2012 completed without serious injury, what is the secret formula?

During the construction work of London 2012, 62 million hours of work were performed with an ‘Accident Frequency Rate’ of 0.17 per 100,000 hours – this was less than half the construction industry average.  The ODA’s (Olympic Delivery Authority) approach to occupational health in particular, provided a shining example that the construction industry at large should learn from and follow.

The task facing the construction industry and particularly large scale multi- million pound projects like Manchester Airport City is to learn more from the Olympics and to make this benchmark the industry standard rather than the exception to the rule. Construction sites unfortunately all too frequently have fatalities and serious injuries such as amputation, spinal injuries and head injuries.

A robust Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is one key to preventing serious injuries and deaths.  The HSE carry out routine building checks and will, if they find it essential, close buildings they believe are unsafe and will take action against those employers who put workers at serious risk of death illness or serious injury.  Prosecutions in the UK remain high with 56 breaches and fines handed down in County Courts throughout 2014 with fines ranging from £3,300.00 to £200,000.00 for serious breaches.

I personally will be closely following the airport city project being built near to our Cheshire head office. Having worked as a Quantity Surveyor in the construction industry for 7 years before becoming a solicitor with expertise in claims arising out of accidents on building sites, I am well aware of the health and safety issues involved in projects of this scale. Can Manchester Airport City buck the trend in construction and maintain the safety record set at London 2012? It remains to be seen.

Gary Boyd, Partner at Hilary Meredith Solicitors