Finding a solution for efficient construction health and safety management to reduce risk
Successful delivery of a construction project depends on requirements relating to risk defined in a contract being satisfactorily met, including the risk of adverse effects on worker health and safety – the worse scenario is loss of life through a fatal accident. In this context, the degree of risk a project entails relates closely to the nature and efficiency of an organisation’s health and safety management.
Project specifications generally define health and safety standards and form part of a construction contract. A contract is not fulfilled unless such specifications are met and this underlines the importance of such requirements, standards and health and safety management framework adhered to in any given project. Technical specifications may include reference not only to products and materials in relation to legal health and safety requirements, but also to the execution, satisfactory completion and workmanship of construction works to meet legal occupational health and safety criteria.
Construction businesses need to fully understand what is needed to assess and control risks and to comply with prevailing health and safety law. They can take steps to reduce risk, meet occupational health and safety requirements, certification criteria and standards through digital innovation. The efficiency of their occupational health and safety management can then be certified.
Nonetheless, there are barriers to the successful implementation of an efficient digital process for occupational health and safety management. These barriers need to be overcome by all organisations involved in obtaining certification and/or complying with health and safety standards for construction projects: whether clients, contractors, subcontractors, architects, engineers or other consultants.
Construction businesses need processes and solutions that allow hazards to be identified and actions taken to be recorded, ideally daily, and to be updatable in real-time, directly from site if needed.
Issues faced in occupational health and safety management in construction
The issues faced by those seeking successful implementation of any occupational health and safety management system are closely related to issues relating to reducing construction risk.
The likelihood that a person will be harmed if exposed to a hazard defines risk. If hazards can be reduced, or at least identified earlier, through better health and safety management solutions and processes then risk is reduced.
There are human, physical and project-related factors to consider in relation to this:
- The construction industry is historically adversarial, uncollaborative, conservative and slow to embrace change
- Few contractors are digitally ‘designing safety’ into their management processes
- Supply chains are extensive, multiple organisations have different health and safety visions, values, processes and practices
- Many contractors are Small Medium Enterprises (SMEs), unsophisticated and lack resources
- Many construction companies rely on subcontractors working for them as part of the team
- Staff can change, work is labour intensive, workforces tend to be transient
- Lack of organisational learning (knowledge and skill) is a key issue to the development of health and safety management and can restrict the integration of environmental issues into systems and practices
Physical factors: – Site locations and weather can vary: health and safety risks can be greater in certain conditions and locations
Project-related factors: – Construction projects are unique, subject to change and delays and volumes of work fluctuate: there is a need for flexibility in health and safety management processes
Meeting the need for efficient health and safety management
To achieve efficient risk management in construction, it is easily recognised that effectively managing health and safety requirements plays a major part. There is a real need for efficient, flexible, collaborative, easy-to-use, cost-effective processes and solutions in the industry.
Here we explain three areas construction stakeholders can consider: obtaining health and safety certification, adhering to health and safety standards and implementing a health and safety programme.
1 – Obtaining health and safety management certification and compliance
Health and safety compliance means conforming to health and safety laws, regulations, standards and other requirements.
Construction stakeholders, including contractors, can seek occupational health and safety management system certification, such as the ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System by the International Standards Organisation (ISO) which since 2015 supersedes the BS OHSAS 18001 Health and Safety Management Standard.
This system is aligned with ISO 9001:2015 Quality Management and ISO 14001:2015 Environmental Management Standards as part of the forms part of the Health, Safety, Environmental and Quality (HSEQ) ISO certification suite, to ensure that they work seamlessly together and complement each other.
Health and safety management certification has the following benefits:
- Provides safer delivery of products and services
- Enhances cost control through safer processes and reduced incident number
- Reduces risk of litigation, by improved hazard identification and reporting
- Improves employee training, health, communication and productivity
- Improves image and provides evidence of commitment to health and safety standards
- Compliance with health and safety legislation and regulations
- Improves health and safety performance through risk reduction
- Possibility of reduced insurance premiums
2 – Adherence to health and safety management standards
Second, construction stakeholders, such as contractors, can seek to adhere to health and safety standards, such as the ISO 45001 Occupational Health and Safety Management System family of standards.
Management standards relate to demand, control, support, relationships, role and change. if not properly managed they lead to poor health, lower productivity, higher accident and worker absence rates.
3 – Implementing a Health and Safety Management Programme
Thirdly, to meet health management standards, construction participants should have a robust health and safety management programme. An effective HSMP has the following advantages:
- Creates a process for confirming health and safety standards and requirements
- Establishes means and method for managing the health and safety management process
- Defines responsibilities and accountabilities for health and safety within the supply chain
- Facilitates and manages health and safety project data and information collection
- Reduces the extent and severity of health and safety issues and their resolution time
- Improves health and safety and contributes to a less stressful working environment with improved morale
- Improves team communication and collaboration on health and safety issues
- Enhances productivity and project delivery
- Reduces workers’ compensation costs
Health and safety management certification
Here we consider an internationally recognised health and safety certification route:
ISO 45001 is an international certification route providing assurance to construction organisations that health and safety is being measured and improved. Like other ISO standards, the basic principles of ISO 45001 are based on the Plan-Do-Check-Act (PDCA) cycle.
Health and safety management regulations and guidance
Consider the UK health and safety management regulatory context:
There, under civil law, organisations have a general duty of care towards their employees and people who they deal with during their activities. Under criminal law, the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 (HASAWA), UK employers are required to protect their employees and others affected by their activities from injury, so far as is reasonably practicable.
Under this law they are also legally obliged to identify and manage any occupational health and safety risks. As part of this, for employers with more than 5 people, written risk assessments should be carried to address the occupational risks that might cause harm.
Risk assessments typically include:
- Hazard identification
- Recording significant findings
- Defining who is vulnerable and how
- Risk evaluation and necessary precautions
- Assessment review
The UK Health and Safety Executive (HSE) is the national regulator for work-related health and safety issues and deals with breaches of civil and criminal law.
Organisations should adopt the principles of the HSE and the Institute of Directors’ joint guidance on leading health and safety at work. This promotes senior management leadership and worker involvement in health and safety practices.
ISO 45001 standards are similar in many aspects to those of the UK Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 2015 (CDM 2015).
It is also worth noting that research from the University of New South Wales has shown that increasing expenses on health and safety management is covered by savings from the accident reduction it enables, as well as providing other intangible benefits.
The role of collaborative software in proactive construction health and safety management
By consistently implementing a health and safety management programme, those involved on a construction site need to be able to improve health and safety, in a better way. Set within a lean culture of continuous improvement and a collaborative work environment, proactive health and safety management requires the right tools for execution to minimise risk.
These tools need to allow responsibility to be assigned to managers, supervisors, and workers for risk assessment to assist regular hazard or incident identification, hazard or incident recording and reporting. They can then help organisations determine who is vulnerable and enable workers to eliminate or avoid hazards during their tasks, particularly on site.
A highly efficient way to achieve this and to proactively manage health and safety to meet standards and certification requirements is through digitisation and the use of appropriate software and mobile applications, that automate traditionally paper-based workflows. Paperless solutions can be used for capturing, storing, validating, reporting and sharing, health and safety data/information for a business as part of an overall health and safety management system.
Comprehensive and complete health and safety management systems will benefit from being digital, deployable in the field through mobile devices with locational GIS integration. The most collaborative solutions capitalise on cloud-working, automation and information sharing capability and are developed specifically for use on site or in the field, on mobile devices as well as in the office.
Using intuitive solutions for health and safety management
Useful intuitive solutions for health and safety management will include:
- Multi-OS and multi-device interoperability
- Integrated information/data management (contact, resource, weather and location details and so on)
- Paperless information / data sharing capability
- Paperless reporting capability
Project data and information can be stored in the cloud. This allows you access to it anywhere, at any time, on a mobile device in the field just as easily as on a PC in the office, and for you to communicate and share it with collaborators on site, in the office or anywhere in between.
Script&Go’s solutions for health and safety management
For proactive health and safety management, you’ll need a cohesive team and a versatile solution, such as Site Diary, dedicated to enable you to have a paper-free, up-to-date process to better control your health and safety and reduce risk of litigation. To implement proactive health and safety management such as this also need to adapt paper-based habits to digital ones, offering you the ability to deliver projects efficiently, collaboratively, accurately and cost effectively. This makes the transition worthwhile.
Script&Go supports health and safety design, construction and operation and enables others to solve urgent health and safety challenges while meeting productivity targets. It’s Site Diary clients have testified on how they have changed their processes, digitised, and reaped the multiple productivity benefits of this paperless solution for a range of management scenarios.
The Site Diary web app and mobile app assists contractors and subcontractors with health and safety management, by providing enhanced site progress tracking, incident recording and reporting and daily site diary capability, direct from the field.