Safety: A fundamental right

/ Alistair King / Creative Workspace

Anyone who was in Glasgow for the Commonwealth Games cannot fail to have been impressed with the management of the event across the city. Hosts of enthusiastic volunteers supported officials from the city, specific venues and sports bodies. Everyone benefited from the ambience and welcome, ensuring one of the most exciting public events in Glasgow’s history.

Of course there was method in this apparent relaxed organisation, which succeeded in giving residents and visitors to the city a good and efficient experience, and also a safe one. When large numbers of people are involved, it is paramount that operations are carried out safely and a huge amount of time is invested to ensure that safe setting.

This didn't evolve in isolation. There is a history and background to this organisational emphasis, learnt from the tragedies of Ibrox and Hillsborough. These highlighted the need for a much more fundamentally grounded set of procedures to both establish and run events and venues.

This priority has parallels across a wide variety of sectors including construction and design. The attempt to reduce accidents in construction has placed greater emphasis on the sector to consider carefully the processes and actions of building to promote safe thinking. The priority for all offices must be to bring health and safety to the forefront of design consideration.

There is a big shadow across these efforts - as big as the outfall from the Hillsborough inquiry. Asbestos has enormous implications for the health of a huge number of affected individuals. The dominant time for its use was the 1950s to 1980s affecting many construction workers, in the forms of the fatal diseases mesothelioma and lung cancer and the debilitating asbestosis.

We are now seeing the annual mortality rate of around 4000 in the U.K. with anticipated rise to a peak of 7500 per year - a devastating number and substantially in excess of road fatalities.

It is no surprise that the responsibility for clients with asbestos in their buildings is onerous and its consequences substantial, as it was to be found in so many building materials from pipe insulation and cladding materials to the common artex and backing to vinyl tiles.

And now working with the built legacy is a challenge. In more than the straightforward cases the HSE require to be given 14 days’ notice of a programme of removal, involving a highly technical exercise of full protective clothing and tenting the affected area placing it out of bounds to all. Thankfully processes are now place to make our environments safer and protect those directly involved in their construction.

Everyone must welcome the raft of measures the city put in place for the Commonwealth Games to ensure public enjoyment in a safe and healthy environment. Similarly good architecture needs also to be memorable for the enjoyment and enhanced life experience it brings to users and visitors and not for the cost in health and safety of those involved in its creation.