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Health and safety specification is not cut-and-paste law

Risk assessment involves health and safety specifications and quantities, requiring competence beyond copy-and-paste of some laws.

Risk assessments are also required in the Construction Regulations that came into effect on 8 August 2014, starting with the duty of the Client to perform a baseline risk assessment, writes consulting body Nioccsa chairperson Rudy Maritz.

According to a publication of the Safety First Association titled ‘Risk Assessments: Guide to understanding the basics’, by Leighton Bennett, risk assessment is “identification of undesired events, their causes and analysing their likelihood and potential consequences – considering existing control measures – in order to make a valued judgement as to the risk’s acceptability.”

Bennett states that “Assuming a Baseline Risk Assessment, it permits the assessment being performed at an organisational level or at a site level depending on the objective for holding the risk assessment.

This enables the operational level being considered to be communally or separately risk assessed to identify the potential risk issues, the magnitude of these risks and the likely impact these risks could have ranging from a specific site to across some or across all of the enterprise’s management disciplines operations to give a enterprise-wide risk assessment perspective”.

Tinus Boshoff, health and safety specialist to the SA Labour Guide, defines a baseline risk assessment differently; “to establish a risk profile or a set of risk profiles. It is used to prioritise action programmes for issue-based risk assessments”.

His view differs from Bennett’s in that “it should be performed to obtain a benchmark of the types and size of potential hazards, which could have a significant impact on the whole organisation. They need to identify the major and significant risks, then prioritise these risks and evaluate the effectiveness of current systems for risk control.

“It must be emphasised that the baseline is an initial risk assessment that focuses on a broad overview in order to determine the risk profile to be used in subsequent risk assessments. A baseline risk assessment focuses on the identification of risk that applies to the whole organisation or project.

“This type of assessment could be performed on a site, region or even on a national basis concerning any facet of the organisation operations or procedures. This assessment needs to be comprehensive and may even lead to other and more in-depth studies.”

The Occupational Health and Safety Act does not define risk assessment, but mentions it in several regulation as a process for the identification of risks and hazards to which persons may be exposed to, and an analysis and evaluation of the risks and hazards identified, based on a documented method (CR 9-2014).
It should include a documented plan and applicable safe work procedures to mitigate, reduce or control the risks and hazards that have been identified; a monitoring plan; and a review plan.

The process described in law makes no mention of “baseline”. Statistics define “baseline data” as the initial collection of data which serves as a basis for comparison with the subsequently acquired data.

It is therefore important to understand the actual construction processes before engaging a person to perform the baseline risk assessment.

When the client has to perform the baseline risk assessment, it is therefore done on the initial information pertaining to the “anticipated hazards” of the planned project.

Design competence and assessment

A construction client will never start a project without a drawing of some sort. They will have some idea of what they want constructed; be it a skyscraper or a new distillation plant. Then they will call in a designer to come up with a “construction drawing”.

The designer has the duty not to include anything in the design necessitating the use of dangerous procedures or materials hazardous to the health and safety of persons, which can be avoided by modifying the design or by substituting materials and in the event that this do happen, they have to inform the client of any known or anticipated dangers or hazards relating to the construction work, and make available all relevant information required for the safe execution of the work.

During the design stage, the designer should also take cognisance of ergonomic design principles in order to minimize ergonomic related hazards in all phases of the life cycle of a structure and take into account the hazards relating to any subsequent maintenance of the relevant structure and must make provision in the design for that work to be performed to minimise the risk.

This process will also have to be repeated when the design is subsequently altered.
It is during the planning stage that the construction health and safety agent are to provide input on the proposed design and highlight some of the risks associated with the designer’s “idea” of how to build the structure.

It may require the construction drawing being altered a few times before everybody agrees that all the risks have been “designed out”.

Baseline risk assessment

The baseline risk assessment can now be performed based on the initial data available from the designer, the structural engineer and geotechnical reports. From this risk assessment, the health and safety specification can be developed.

In assessing the risks, the baseline should focus on the “construction work” risks as well as the “project management” risks that may have a negative impact on health and safety.

The latter specifically pertain to the management of contractors in relation to time and costs, as delays in construction would result in time constraints that will ultimately result in health and safety falling by the wayside. Emergency preparedness should also be included in the baseline risk assessment.

Health and Safety Specification

The client will then, after preparing the health and safety specification, provide the designer with a copy thereof to finalise the design. In essence, the health and safety specification forms an instruction manual for the designer, based on the initial agreement on the risks already designed out, thus ensuring these risks are not designed back into the drawings.

The designer then needs to prepare a report on the all relevant health and safety information about the design of the relevant structure that may affect the pricing of the construction work; the geotechnical-science aspects, where appropriate; and the loading that the structure is designed to withstand.

Only now can the health and safety specification be sent out with the tender documents.

Health and safety competent person

The definition of competent person defined in Construction Regulation 1, states that a person must have knowledge, skills and experience coupled with a qualification listed on the NQF.

While the designer may be a professional architect, structural engineer or an interior designer, the information he relies on during the design is not prepared by a person of similar standing. There is nothing in the regulations preventing a client from appointing a “risk assessor” with a certificate issued based on unit standard 244287 at NQF level 4.

Yet the risk assessor only needs to be a competent person and not a registered professional under any of the Built Environment Professions Councils.

Common sense would however dictate that the competent person performing the baseline risk assessment should have the knowledge, skills and experience of sufficient extent pertaining to the project and only apply the qualification in the “mathematical techniques” needed.

Competence is not related to NQF alone

There is a general misunderstanding of the unit standards under the NQF. It is not regarded as a certificate of competence or a qualification, but only a unit making up a qualification. Unlike Unit standard 244287, the National Certificate in Occupational Safety (ID 79808) is a recognised qualification.

The risk assessment for building a 40 storey building is far more involved than the construction of a new water reticulation system, limited to trenching at a depth of 1 to 1,5 metres. It is thus important that the competency of a risk assessor is judged accordingly.

Documented method

The OHS Act calls for an analysis and evaluation of the risks and hazards identified based on a documented method. This is a very important aspect in risk management. It describes the method used to analyse the risks and to evaluate the potential exposure based on the existing controls.

Commonly referred to as the Risk Methodology, it is important that all risk assessments done for a project by the various contractors follow the exact same method. It is the only way to ensure a risk value has a standard interpretation.

Tender documents

I have often been asked what the client is required to provide in their tender documents. Although the regulations do not specifically call for it, the baseline risk assessment should be included in the tender documents in order for the bidding contractor to prepare a suitable OHS plan and to ensure the risk assessment is properly communicated.

The general health and safety specifications currently in circulation are mere copies of the Construction Regulations from Coega Development Corporation and the DPW, and mutations thereof. Very few specify anything other than what the law requires.

Bill of Quantities

The regulations impose a duty on both the client and principal contractor to “ensure” the cost of health and safety requirements are provided for in the tender documents; CR 5(1)(g) and CR7(1)(c)(ii).

The general rule of thumb is that legal compliance is a business overhead and not a project cost element. However, where an OHS specification calls for a specific item, not part of the core business of a contractor, or indifferent to the contractor’s normal compliance program, these costs should be added to the Bill of quantities as line items.

OHS Specifications thus cannot simply copy legislation and refer to legal requirements. They have to specify the items, and link to the bill of quantities.

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