Health and Safety at the Olympics

The 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games are virtually upon us and soon all eyes will be on the UK. With the vast numbers of people due to arrive in the capital, health and safety issues are inevitably at the top of many people's concerns. So as Olympic fever takes over, how does the Health and Safety record look so far?

The construction of the Olympic village and all of the London 2012 venues and has been carried out by the Olympic Delivery Authority (ODA). The ODA has been working in partnership with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) in order to make sure that the construction work was carried out as safely as possible. It has turned out to be a huge success. The construction of the Olympic venues was a vast undertaking which took place over 80 million working hours. Despite this scale and the demands of the project, there were fewer than 130 reportable health and safety incidents. The ODA and the HSE are also particularly pleased to report that there has not been a single fatality.

Judith Hackett explains, "The project as a whole has shown that high standards of health and safety can make a positive contribution to the delivery of an extremely demanding project".

Lawrence Waterman, the head of Health and Safety for the ODA explained that, "Managing health and safety well is not a cost. It's an investment".

This attitude is one which many businesses could benefit from adopting. Adopting effective health and safety measures does not need to mean a reduction in productivity or cost effectiveness, in fact it can bring significant benefits to any project. 

However health and safety and the Olympics haven't been entirely comfortable bedfellows. In April of this year a sculptor spent four days building a giant sandcastle on Weymouth beach. Although LOCOG, the organising committee for the 2012 Olympics, funded the building of the castle in order to mark 100 days before the start of the games, officials feared that it was unsafe. The fear that it could collapse and cause injuries meant that it was destroyed shortly after its completion.

The castle was photographed before its demolition, with a spokesperson for Weymouth and Portland Borough Council stating that that was its purpose all along: it was never meant to be an interactive attraction. Locals, however, especially those involved in the tourism industry, are reported to have been amazed that the castle had been removed so rapidly.  

In another apparent health and safety blunder, the plan for the Olympic flame to be carried down the River Thames on a boat which was a replica of an ancient Greek ship was cancelled on health and safety grounds.

A leaked e-mail from LOCOG is reported to have explained that the warship replica was likely to be so popular that it would be difficult to manage the crowds which would turn out to view it and the spectacle was cancelled to avoid these crowd management problems. The cancellation is even said to have caused a diplomatic incident between London and Greece, with Greek ministers reported have complained to LOCOG and the Mayor of London.

Despite these incidents, the main message in the run-up to the Olympic Games has been one of health and safety success. Workers and visitors to the construction sites did not have their health and safety compromised and the construction programme looks like it has benefited from this. The next few weeks will certainly be a logistical challenge for many different organisations in London but with good planning and management, everyone is hoping that the exemplary health and safety record held so far will continue unblemished. 

Photo Credit: Alba Rincón

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