UK-based aerial platform rental company AFI held the second edition of its annual conference last week, (4 September).
Entitled, A Platform for the Future, the one-day conference focused on the MEWP market and the state of the UK construction industry in the morning, before concentrating on mental health issues in the afternoon.
Brad Boehler, group president of Skyjack opened the conference with an honest look at the history of incidents and improvements made from a manufacturer’s perspective. In the interest of promoting the safe use and operation of access equipment generally, he spoke openly about the types of incidents that occur with his company’s machines, and how that has dramatically changed for the better over the years.
He compared the number of incidents in the EU to those in North America and highlighted a declining trend in safety incidents after the implementation of the 1999 ANSI standard. Commenting on the lower rate of incidents in Europe compared to the US, he puts it down to Regulations, Standards and Attitudes towards working with access equipment. He concluded that standards are raising, attitudes are shifting and the upcoming ANSI standards should bring the North American market closer to Europe and on the basis of evaluating historical statistics, Skyjack machines manufactured today are statistically less likely to be involved in incidents, provided of course that owners and operators of access equipment fulfill their obligations in the safe operation of machines.
Philip Godding, manager of product safety and reliability manager at JLG, and the company’s chief engineer NPD and BIM delivery Neil Doherty, covered safety in an increasingly digital world.
Andrew Delahunt, IPAF’s director technical and safety, continued the theme of accident prevention and urged contractors and other MEWP users in the room to use IPAF’s anonymous online incident reporting scheme, to allow the industry to understand how accidents happen and improve safe working conditions.
Then, James de La salle, associate director of CIL, responsible for construction forecasting, provided an alternative and positive view of the UK construction sector, compared to the more sensationalised version often portrayed in the UK media.
The afternoon was given over to mental health with a range of presentations covering the subject. Martin Coyd, head of health, safety and wellbeing at Mace Construction, covered some frightening statistics, showing there are 40 fatalities on constructions sites each year, while 400 people who work in the construction industry take their own lives. He gave an oversight of the Building Mental Health Charter, which encourages companies in the construction industry to sign up to it and raise the awareness of the related issues in the industry.
Dylan Skelton, shared his experiences of suffering life-changing injuries after falling from a roof on a two-storey residential building. He had been pressurised to work at height without the required safety equipment, which had led to the accident. Skelton explained how he had suffered financial pressures and mental health issues since the accident and now carried out tool-box talks with construction workers on the subject and encouraged them to speak up about dangerous working conditions.
Mental health campaigner and entrepreneur Rob Stephenson talked about his ongoing battle with bipolar disorder. He said it was important to share your feelings and pointed out, “that I may have a mental illness but that does not make me mentally weak.” He started Inside Out UK (www.insideoutorg.co.uk), which aims is to increase mental health awareness among young people and create a supportive environment.
Mark Davies, founder of 7Futures, consults on workplace resilience, wellbeing and performance. He said day-to-day life and work had a major impact on mental health and the feeling of wellbeing and self-esteem, including the need to provide for your family. He explained that you could be mentally strong, but not mentally resilient, in that it is possible to put up with stress or traumatic experiences at the time but ultimately it will catch up with you.
People should ensure they provide themselves with adequate recovery time, following periods of stress at work, for example. Stress + recovery = resilience, he said.
David White, group health, safety and sustainability director at Galliford Try, shared his company’s experience of creating a bespoke mental health framework for its employees, which includes flexible working hours, volunteering days, gym discounts and a ride to work scheme, among others, all in one package.
Since its introduction two years ago, there have been 7,700 less sick days in an organisation that employs over 5,000 people. White said that for such a framework to be succesful, companies must create their own plans, suited to their company culture and not copy others.
The afternoon session ended with a talk from Alistair Campbell, journalist and former Downing Street press secretary and director of communications while Tony Blair was UK prime-minister. He campaigns vigorously on mental health issues, following experiences of his own. He said mental health in the workplace and broader society must be focused on, including our attitude to it. For example, he said there is still a habit of saying people ‘commit suicide’, giving the impression it is a crime. He pointed out suicide has not been a criminal offence in the UK for some time and therefore must not be described as such.
The day concluded with a dinner and a second speech by Alistair Campbell, this time on another campaigning topic of his - Brexit and his desire for a second referendum.