Health and safety pitfalls in procurement

Procurement and capital projects pose several health and safety pitfalls. Mabila Mathebula unpacks a railway procurement case study of ‘landmines’.

Operational efficiency, safe railway operations and infrastructure investment projects are inseparably linked. These elements are intrinsically interwoven and failure to smoothly synchronise them may spell disaster for the organisation, government, and the country at large.

South Africa did not invest in its railway system for many years and the current generation has to address the imbalance. The great strides that have been current generation is an aphorism we must accept:each generation must pay for the sins of their fore bearers.

The management philosophy of the then South African Transport Services (SATS) which was highly characterised by ‘blind’ subsidisation and cross subsidisation; is largely to blame for the poor state of our rolling stock and infrastructure on our railway network.

[Mathebula and co-authors Joseph Nethathe and Jonnie Wahl will present this theme at the annual International Railway Safety Conference at Sandton Convention Centre on 4 to 9 October 2015. The conference was an initiative of the East Japan Railway Workers’ Union (JREU). This year the conference would be hosted by the SA Railway Safety Regulator.]

The South African railway industry is trying doubly hard to retrieve itself out of an abyss of hopelessness by investing billions of Rands into capital renewal programmes. Sadly, some of these investments are done on a hoof with the view to achieving efficiency without due consideration being given to the safety implications.

Akira Matsuzaki of the East Japan Railway Workers’ Union (JREU) sounded a warning: “We must emphasise that efficiency without safety is not efficiency at all.”

More often than not, during the roll-out of these investment programmes, mistakes of the past are being repeated similar to the ones made by non-progressive railways who placed more emphasis on utility rather than safety.

Any investment in infrastructure and rolling stock will invariably result in manpower investment, which is called variable capital. Labour without health and safety is palpable evidence that a human being is being compromised. Health and safety regardless of capital projects should be future proof.

Capital projects should not be rolled out at a whim. These issues have to be taken into account:
• stakeholder management,
• personal safety issues,
• smooth transition from the old system into the new system,
• systems engineering issues,
• reliability engineering,
• safety and efficiency,
• whole system design.

Elements of railway or logistics systems.
Elements of railway or logistics systems.

PITFALL 1: POOR STAKEHOLDER MANAGEMENT
One of the deadly landmines that should be avoided at all costs when embarking on infrastructure programmes, is paying lip service to collaborative governance. The relegation of key stakeholders to the background creates a huge social risk.

Up to relatively recently there has been a paradigm shift from corporate governance to collaborative governance and organisations that are entrusted with the rolling out of capital projects should collaboratively engage the stakeholders for the collective good of the project. According to the Public Participation Guidelines for Stakeholders in the Mining Industry; “Stakeholders are those individuals, groups, communities, organisations, associations or authorities whose interest may be positively or negatively affected by a proposal or activity and/or who are concerned with a proposal or activity and its consequences”.

Luyet, Schlaefer, Parlange and Butter [14]suggest the following criteria for evaluating stakeholders:
• Pay attention to those related to the process;
• Pay attention to those related to the outcomes;
• And include those linked to political, social, historical and environmental context.

The easiest way to identify key stakeholders initially is to ask other stakeholders. The mandate of key stakeholders to speak for their constituents can only be established as the process evolves, but their early involvement ensures that the views of all sectors are accommodated. Typically, the following special efforts would be made to ensure their contribution:
• Small-group briefing sessions at venues convenient to them;
• Checking their diaries before setting dates for major meetings; and
• At all times, sending them all documentation for comment, even proceedings of meetings they did not attend or discussion documents they did not request. This would ensure that such people cannot delay the process during the late stages by claiming that they have not been consulted. Electronic documents should be kept for these activities.

According to Vick, these are the golden rules of crisis communication:
1. Tell the truth and tell it quickly.
2. Be seen to be taking action – you need to show that you realise there is a crisis, and are in control of the situation. People will judge you on what you do, not just what you say.
3. Be genuine – show concern and commitment to finding out what caused the crisis, and in particular how you will avoid it happening again.
4. Develop a clear position statement, and distribute it as broadly as necessary. Keep on repeating the same message, as often as possible, so that it sinks in.
5. Make sure you communicate your position to your key stakeholders, in the right sequence. Draw up an ‘influence map’ that outlines who your most important stakeholders are (and that usually has clients and staff on the top of the list), and ensure they understand and embrace your position.
6. Ensure you use the right channels of communication to reach your intended audience. If you are trying to reach decision-makers, for example, do not talking to a useless tabloid.
7. Plan your actions in a way that contain the crisis rather than giving it momentum. That means trouble-shooting – even predicting – possible responses to your intervention, to ensure that one crisis does not create another.
8. Do not speculate or offer too much opinion – stick to the facts. Speculation could get you into trouble further down the line – for example, if there is some form of inquiry into the causes of the crisis.
9. Focus on the people affected by the crisis, and what they would want to know or need to know. Put yourself in their shoes, and communicate what they need and want to know.
10. Think ahead. Develop a plan for how you intend to turn your reputation around once the crisis is over.

PITFALL 2: SELECTING A WRONG CONTRACTOR
It is a truism that a decision made in haste is often regretted. The awarding of tenders out of expediency to none compliant contractors and not out of principles is a serious pitfall. Utility should not take priority over safety and the speed of execution should not be executed at the expense of safety.

Procurement systems are important as they affect contractual relationships, the development of mutual goals, the allocation of mutual goals, and the allocation of risk.

These systems ultimately provide the framework within which capital projects are executed. The traditional procurement system which entails, inter alia, the evolution of a design by designers, the preparation of bills of quantities and related documentation by quantities and related documentation by quantity surveyors and the engagement of a contractor through competitive bidding, invariably on the basis of price, does not complement health and safety.

This may be due to the separation of the design and construction processes, the incompleteness of design upon both preparation of documentation and the commencement of construction, and the engagement of contractors on the basis of price.

Various authors advocate pre-qualification of general contractors and subcontractors on health and safety by clients and general contractors and subcontractors on health and safety by clients and general contractors respectively.

The purpose of pre-qualification in the health and safety sense is to provide a standardised method for the selection of contractors on the basis of demonstrated safe work records, health and safety commitment and knowledge, and the ability to work in a healthy and safe manner. This will ensure that only health and safety conscious contractors are selected.

Hatami, Rahimi and Soleymani suggest the following:
• Tender evaluation. No contract should be signed unless all the railway safety standards have been complied with.
• Hold a meeting before signing a contract. It is suggested that a meeting takes place with contractors to analyse their competencies as well as their commitments. In signing the contract, the contractors must guarantee to improve safety.
• Safety inspection before signing a contract. An organisation should inspect the installations and equipment of a contractor before signing the contract and this inspection should be done through checklist which will serve a safety road map.
• Dangerous information cards. All tenders for providing equipment must contain dangerous information card. These cards usually contain information about physical dangers, health risks, warning systems and machinery instructions.

The client also has responsibilities. The International Labour Office (ILO) recommends that clients should:
• Inform all contractors of special risks to Health and Safety of which they are or should be aware.
• Require contractors submitting tenders to make provision for Health and Safety.
• Consider Health and Safety when estimating dates for stage and overall completion of the project.

The Business Roundtable recommends that clients should;
• become committed to health and safety,
• support contractors’ health and safety financially;
• include health and safety as a criteria for pre-qualification;
• schedule Health and Safety requirements prior to the bidding process;
• structure documentation to ensure equitable provision of health and safety by contractors;
• require a formal Health and Safety programme,
• and the use of permit systems for potentially hazardous activities,
• and the designation of a contractor health and safety coordinator,
• and reporting and investigating of accidents;
• conduct health and safety audits during construction,
• adopt a partnership approach.

PITFALL 3: LACK OF HOLISTIC UNDERSTANDING OF SYSTEMS ENGINEERING ISSUES
According to Senge there are two types of complexity, namely detail and dynamic. Detail complexity entails exposure to many variables, whereas dynamic complexity includes situations where cause and effect are subtle, and where the effects of interventions over time are not obvious.

Smallwood argues that the real leverage in most management situations lies in understanding dynamic complexity, not detail complexity.

Senge argues that reality is made up of circles, but the people see straight lines. He further argues that language shapes perception, and that what we see, depends on what we are prepared to see. Furthermore, in order to see systems wide interrelationships, a language of interrelationships is required, a language of circles.

The key to seeing reality is seeing circles of influence rather than straight lines. By tracing the flows of influence, the patterns that repeat themselves, either contributing to an improvement or deterioration, can be identified.

Occupational health issues are important in procurement. Poor ergonomics contributes to hazards and risk, result in strain, which in turn results in both absenteeism and ill health. Hazards and risks contribute to the probability of exposure and accidents.

Exposure can result in disease, and consequently ill heath, and in turn absenteeism. Absenteeism can result in reduced productivity, rework, and falling behind schedule due to the absence of key crewmembers. Accidents, the outcome of which is largely fortuitous, can result in any, all, or a combination of the following: exposure; fatalities; injuries; reduced productivity as a result of work stoppages; rework as a result as a result of damage to completed work, or work in progress; falling behind schedule as a result of work stoppages, and damage to the environment.

Benefits of a systems approach include:
• Awareness and acknowledgement of the role and importance of client/Project Manager/designer to Health and Safety, is a pre-requisite for commitment and change. Such awareness and acknowledgement engenders and/ or reinforces government, client, Project Manager, designer and contractor commitment to Health and Safety.
• Consideration for Health and Safety increases the likelihood of the selection of an appropriate procurement system/conditions of contract, and appropriate design/details/specification/optimum constructability.
• Pre-qualification on Health and Safety and budgeting should engender the engagement of a Health and Safety conscious contractor.
• Health and Safety engenders all, any or a combination of the following: reduced strains/injuries/disease; reduced fatalities; improved productivity; enhanced quality; enhanced schedule, and preserved environment, which ultimately result in enhanced overall performance and reduce cost.

Example of designing stations without factoring in safety and security issues
The designing of station with a ‘rear view mirror’ mindset without taking into account global security challenges as well as safety issues is a colossal mistake.

The Founder and Chairman of Guardsmark, Ira Lipman said: “The world isnot a safer placetoday than in the past, and the United States of America and its people and its people are at extreme risk”. If one thought that the cold war was over, one should think again, the cold war been transform into global terrorism.

When the stations were built many years ago, the risk of terrorism as well as the train platform interchange were not taken into account. According to the Railway Gazette International stations have become targets of terrorist attacks around the world.

A useful framework for the planning of station security can be found in the United Kingdom, where counter-terrorism is categorised under four headings;
Pursue – to identify and stop terrorist activities;
Prevent – stopping people becoming terrorists;
Protect – to protect against terrorist attack;
Prepare – to mitigate the impact of a terrorist attach.

According to Jeffrey and Douglas it has been accepted that there is a causal link between design decisions and health and safety construction. This is based on research conducted by the European Foundation for the improvement of living and working conditions, which concluded that 35% of site fatalities were caused by falls that could have been reduced through design decisions.

Schneider and Susi say that constructing a new building is, by its very nature, a problem in ergonomics as construction involves work at floor and ceiling level requiring kneeling, bending, reaching out, twisting and the adopting of uncomfortable work posture. However, deliberation of the impact of design could result in the adoption of an alternative design thus mitigating, or even eliminating the ergonomics problems.

Conductibility is a further design related issue. ‘Design for safe construction’ is one of 16 constructability design principles listed by Adam and Ferguson. However, most of the other 15 principles are indirectly related to, and consequently influence health and safety. Method of fixing, size, mass and area of materials, position of components, inter alia, amplify the relevance of constructability to health and safety.

Designers also influence the pre-planning of health and safety. Pre-planning all the ingredients of and resources required for health and safety programme to be effective and efficient.

However, the design of aproject has a major influence on determining the method of construction and the requisite health and safety interventions. Consequently, designers need to make sufficient design related information available at pre-project stage to facilitate budgeting for adequate resources.

Designers influence health and safety directly through design specific, supervisory and administrative interventions. Design specific interventions should include:
• Concept design
• General design;
• Selection of type of structural frame;
• Site location;
• Site coverage
• Details;
• Method of fixing, and
• Specification of material and mixing.

PITFALL 4: IGNORING PERSONAL SAFETY ISSUES
Investing money into a capital programme does not mean that personal safety issues have to be relegated to the background. People make safety possible. The managers should be excellently equipped to energise their employees. Managers must be “high touch” with their employees during this “high tech” era.

People do not perform well when they are not motivated. Managers must create a supportive and a safety work environment to foster desired behaviours and outcomes. Employees should be given the authority to make decisions. Employees should also be allowed to make mistakes because mistakes are part of the learning curve.

Pepsi CEO Wayne Calloway said that his company had celebrated occasions were people failed publicly. His argument was that he wanted them to take risks. Rubinstein and Firstenberg encourage people to learn from errors. “Experience” they write, “is not only to know what will work…but also to know what will not work. Railway safety has always been characterized by the box approach. Policies and procedures that fail to energize employees must be replaced with simple versions.

Safety should not be assumed, but it has to be demonstrated. The human factor strategy should be factored in for the collective good of a safety work place. These human factor activities are suggested:
• Functional allocation; proper allocation of functions between human and machines;
• Task analysis;
• Job design;
• Interface design;
• Design support material, and
• Workplace design.

CONCLUSION
The management of capital project is not a sprint, but a marathon. It is a complicated process that requires holistic thinking.

The success of the large scale and often viewed as herculean projects; currently underway in South Africa railways should be conducted systematically and holistically.

It is also vital to ensure that in the rolling out of these capital projects, continuous improvement; what the Japanese call Kaizenshould take place, to ensure that organisations do not fall into these possible identified pinfalls which could derail project that are paved with good intentions.

• The authors thank Dr Cornel Malan and Dr Peaceman Sopazi for assistance with their paper.

• Mathebula and co-authors Joseph Nethathe and Jonnie Wahl presened the above theme at the annual International Railway Safety Conference at Sandton Convention Centre on 4 to 9 October 2015. The conference was an initiative of the East Japan Railway Workers’ Union (JREU). This year the conference would be hosted by the SA Railway Safety Regulator.

• Mabila Mathebula (BA, BA Hons, PGDPM, MBA, completing a PhD inConstruction Management) is a senior researcher at the South African Railay Safety Regulator.

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Mabila Mathebula

Mabila Mathebula (BA North West University, BA Hon UNISA, MBA Milpark Business School, Post Graduate Diploma in Advanced Project Management at Cranefield College), is currently engaged in a PhD study in construction health and safety management.

9 thoughts on “Health and safety pitfalls in procurement

  1. Excellent article Mabila. Some really good points raised, and this highlights that setting / agreeing the standards prior to finalising the contract is highly important. There should be no room for tenderpreneurs.

  2. It’s great to have these principals, which do not apply solely to rail projects of course, reinforced at an international forum using international references and examples, as indicated above.
    However, is anything stated here that is not adequately covered by our very own Construction Regulations and specifically the duties of Client/Pr CHS Agent, Designer and (Principal) Contractor?
    Naturally, it remains for the parties involved to comply with the Regulations – and there’s the rub!

  3. Excellent Article. I am see this all the time in RSA.
    The first pitfall causes the entire breakdown on site, I am seeing it daily.
    Thanks once again

    Shane

  4. Great article l enjoyed these key learning points:
    KLP1: “Efficiency without safety is not efficiency at all.”
    KLP2: “Labour without health and safety is palpable evidence that a human being is being compromised.”
    KLP3: “The speed of execution should not be executed at the expense of safety”

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