The construction industry presents a huge gap in defeating the legal sheq compliance requirements of the Occupational Health and Safety Act 95 of 1993 and the 2014 Construction Regulations.
Why are there compliance issues in the construction industry? What seems to be the major drivers of non-compliance? Michelle Bowmer takes a look and shed some light on the top drivers of non-compliance:
Risk Assessment and Specification not up to scratch for sheq compliance
Often the client doesn’t complete a comprehensive risk assessment for a work project. Thereby providing a specification to the designer which is not based on the findings of the risk assessment resulting in a specification that doesn’t include all the relevant health and safety risk factors for the designer to consider.
Too often, the designer is unable to submit all the health and safety issues to the client; and the specification provided in the tender doesn’t include all the costs related to health and safety. Many specifications do not define the details of parts of the project (specific work to be completed by competent persons) and the desired outcomes which effects the actual cost of the project. Sometimes no specification is provided and the contractors are “ flying blind” when they submit a tender.
The principal contractor and contractor submit their tenders using the health and safety specification provided or not provided at all. The fallout? Health and safety costs are not sufficiently detailed and addressed; becoming an unplanned additional expense to the contractors, and ultimately, the client.
The infamous Health & Safety Plans and Files
Do the principal contractors provide a specification to the contractors which only contains their specific work related parts? Very seldom. In many instances the entire specification is given, without explanation, and the contractors or their consultants must sift through the specification to find the part that applies to the work the contractor is going to do.
The contractors must present a health and safety plan based on the specification.
Many small to medium contracting companies can’t afford to employ SHEQ professionals due to cost factors. They will either pay a consultant to develop their health and safety plan and provide a health and safety file or use a previous plan and file for the new project.
The continual use of a consultant does not assist the contractor to gain an understanding of the legal requirements nor how to keep the file up to date. They just go from one project to the next; paying someone else to do the job and their entire health and safety program lacks continuity and is often not even aligned to the specifications issued.
The well debated “copy and paste” exercise, is another reason why compliance is not up to standard, as contractors often forget to remove the project information from the previous documents. The specification requirements are often excluded, mispresented or misunderstood resulting in poor sheq compliance.
The consequences of doing either of these exercises is the rejection of the plan and file by the client and/or the agent. This often occurs repeatedly causing delays in project start up and loss of work time. Other delays are caused because the client/agent wants the format of the file to be changed, and changed and changed again, without really changing the content or substance of the information.
Some of the changes demanded by clients or their agents only involve commas, full stops, spelling, use of specific terminology etc. Is this a valid reason for rejecting the plan and file? Causing delays to the project? I think not.
The client, client’s agent and/or prinicpal contractor has the legal authority to stop work on a project when the work being done poses a threat to health and safety or does not comply with the specification.
Often decisions to stop the work are made because of something in or not in the plan or file. This decision is often made for the wrong reasons.
The inclusion or exclusion in a file of a document, procedure or form have no direct effect on the health and safety of the worker, others or the construction process and does not justify a Stop Work Instruction. There is no life threatening situation, when something like a tool box talk is three days overdue.
Shouldn’t an immediate risk assessment at the work site of the issue be conducted to ensure the decision has valid reasoning and practicalities?
Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and the many excuses in sheq compliance
A standard for PPE on construction sites is required by most clients; in that each worker must be provided with overalls, safety reflector vests, safety boots, ear plugs, goggles, hard hats and masks. Other PPE is provided for specific types of work and tasks, such as safety harnesses, gloves, respirators etc.
The norm in some cases seems to be “We comply with the Construction Regulations”, but the Act and other applicable regulations are often ignored.
Some of the reasons given by construction companies for repeated loss and cost of PPE are:
- “We provide the PPE and the next day or a couple of days later the person doesn’t come back to work”.
- “They lose their PPE, or it gets stolen”.
- “They break their PPE.”
- “The PPE gets damaged during work processes.”
- “We think they sell their PPE, but we can’t prove it.”
- “We buy the PPE but it breaks or gets damaged easily”.
PPE is often one of the highest costs in the construction industry.
Most construction companies don’t have a PPE control process.
The question which needs to be asked is: “Was the loss and cost of PPE included in the tender or risk assessment, if so, why were controls not put in place to reduce the possibility; and if not, why not?”
Controlling PPE reduces costs, maintains PPE effectiveness, minimizes PPE damage.
Compliance to the OHS Act and all its regulations is required by all employers immaterial of their category of industry.
How do we address these sheq compliance issues?
Firstly, sheq compliance starts with the client. The client must ensure that the Health & Safety Specification is propertly constructed using the baseline risk assessment as the point of departure.
The designer must ensure that the Specification is delivered on time and includes the risks in construction methods, hazardous work procedures and substances to design towards sheq compliance.
The designer must use the hierarchy of controls to ensure the design reduces the risks as far as possible, and inform the client of the costs associated with those risks which cannot be removed.
Project managers must allow time in the work break down schedule and project plan for the health and safety aspects in order to minimise time over-runs.
The principal contractor must ensure that the contractors they wish to engage is adequately briefed in the specification and their health & safety plans submitted, before the pc compiles its own plan.
The Principal plan, should consolidate the contractor’s plans and address how the pc intends to manage control over the contractor’s compliance with their own plans.
And finally, clients and their agents should take health & safety serious from a construction point of view, and not allow petty decisions which has no affect on the prevention of losses to result in cost and time over-runs.