How To...

How to achieve zero harm in construction

Prof Fidelis Emuze of the Central University of Technology (CUT).
Prof Fidelis Emuze of the Central University of Technology (CUT).

Construction people agree on 38 practices, and six factors for preventing fatalities, injuries and diseases, towards zero harm in construction.

Current influences in construction work, have made hazards, risks, stressors, accidents, illnesses, and eventual harm, systemic in the construction sector. Achieving zero harm in construction targets requires a multi-stakeholder effort, throughout the six stages of projects, including design, procurement, and construction processes, and clients, project managers, designers, quantity surveyors, and contractors, report Prof John Smallwood of NMMU, and Prof Fidelis Emuze of CUT.

They recommend a partnering approach to focus the efforts of all project stakeholders on health and safety. Risk management plans should be developed within related management systems. Design and construction must be integrated, specifically in terms of H&S, and grey areas resolved.

A range of zero harm targets must be pursued, as any lower targets imply willingness to entertain non-conformances, and to promote excuses.

Requirements should be scientifically developed and communicated. In parallel, the required surface competencies must exist, and be assured through formal registration, as required by the six South African built environment councils.

Registration of contractors should interrogate H&S, quality, and risk management systems and practices. Contractors should be pre-qualified.

The report on the opinion research, provides feedback to respondents, and to the South African construction industry, in August 2016.

Zero harm in construction is achievable

Zero accidents, injuries, fatalities, and disease in construction are achievable. Thirty-eight actions /beliefs /interventions /practices /states are all important in terms of achieving zero accidents, injuries, fatalities, and disease in construction.

In the opinion of a range of construction people who responded to an academic survey, the relative importance of 38 actions /beliefs /interventions /practices /states, in terms of achieving zero harm in construction, are:

1 People are our most important resource

2 Zero harm in construction

3 Continuous improvement

4 Zero accidents

5 Zero incidents

6 Consciousness and mindfulness

7 H&S management system

8 Respect for people

9 Hazard identification

10 Risk assessments

11 Vision of a ‘fatality, injury, and disease-free workplace’

12 Core competencies

13 Conformance to requirements. However, quality management and Quality Management System, are ranked twenty-fifth and twenty-eighth.

14 Adequate financial provision for H&S

15 Construction Management competencies (knowledge and skills)

16 Client H&S requirements

17 Designing for construction H&S

18 H&S specifications

19 Goal of zero deviations

20 Design and construction method statements

21 Belief that all accidents are preventable

22 Client focus

23 Integration of design and construction

24 Pre-contract planning

26 H&S training

27 H&S education

29 Constructability /Visualisation

30 Environmental management system

31 Environmental management

32 Pactice H&S as a value, not a priority

33 Belief that accidents are failures of management

33 Appropriate conditions of contract

34 Pre-tender planning

35 Tertiary education in built environment and construction H&S

36 Appropriate procurement system

37 Project duration.

Builders agree with some false statements

Two untrue statements, namely ‘Accidents are unplanned events’, and ‘Construction is inherently dangerous’, attracted mostly agreement.

One of the true statements that attracted mostly disagreement, is ‘accidents occur by default, or are planned’. It should have attracted mostly agreement, since when accidents are reviewed, invariably among the causes are acts or omissions, thus they are planned by default, as they could have been prevented.

Two ‘untrue’ statements, namely ‘accidents are part of the job’, and ‘accidents are project requirements especially on complex projects’, attracted mostly disagreement, as they should have.

Construction people agree that:

1 H&S does not happen by chance, it must be planned

2 The goal of zero harm in construction is an integral part of H&S culture

3 The goal of ‘zero fatalities, injuries, and disease’ complements the vision of ‘A fatality, injury, and disease-free workplace’

4 The vision should be ‘A fatality-, injury-, and disease-free workplace’

5 Zero fatalities is achievable

6 The goal of ‘zero fatalities, injuries, and disease is a pre-requisite for optimum H&S performance’

7 Zero accidents is achievable

8 Zero injuries is achievable

9 Accidents are unplanned events. (This follows international definitions, however, current perspectives are that they in fact are not, as if actions or omissions, which are invariably ‘knowingly’ taken or occur, then in fact they are planned, hence ‘Accidents occur by default i.e. planned’. Schwartz (1995) cites a traffic engineer’s contention that there is no true accident. An accident is a result of human or mechanical failure, or a combination of both – nothing happens without a cause).

10 Hazards and associated risk can be quantified

11 Excuses marginalises H&S

12 Zero incidents is achievable

13 Zero fatalities, injuries, and disease is achievable

14 Zero disease is achievable

15 Zero deviations is achievable

16 Focus on cost, quality, and time marginalises H&S

17 Construction is inherently dangerous. (However it is untrue, and implies that risk it is not manageable)

17 H&S is a value, not a priority.

Factors in health and safety interventions

Six factors in the actions /beliefs /interventions /practices /states, influence the ability to achieve zero harm in construction:

Factor 1 includes respect for people, people are our most important resource, pre-contract planning, adequate financial provision for H&S, construction management competencies (knowledge & skills), core competencies e.g. values, aptitude, and integrity, environmental management, environmental management system, conformance to requirements, and H&S management system.

Factor 2 includes a vision of a ‘fatality, injury, and disease-free work place’, a goal of ‘zero deviations’, a goal of ‘zero incidents’, a goal of ‘zero accidents’, and a goal of ‘zero harm’.

Factor 3 includes appropriate procurement system, appropriate conditions of contract, project duration, pre-tender planning, pre-contract planning, quality management system, environmental management, environmental management system, and tertiary education (all built environment) that includes construction H&S.

Factor 4 includes client focus on H&S, client H&S requirements, H&S specifications, designing for construction H&S, design HIRAs, ‘design and construction’, method statements, integration of design and construction, constructability / visualisation, appropriate conditions of contract, and construction HIRAs.

Factor 5 includes design hazard identification and risk assessments, ‘design and construction’ method statements, quality management system, H&S management system, H&S education – short learning programmes, and H&S training – workshops and seminars.

Factor 6 includes people are our most important resource, integration of design and construction, constructability /visualisation, and consciousness and mindfulness.

Analysis identified five factors in terms of the extent to which respondents concur with statements relative to construction H&S:

Factor 1 includes, ‘Zero deviations’ is achievable; ‘Zero incidents’ is achievable; ‘Zero accidents’ is achievable; ‘Zero fatalities’ is achievable; ‘Zero injuries’ is achievable; ‘Zero disease’ is achievable, and ‘Zero fatalities, injuries, and disease’ is achievable. The aforementioned are all zero target oriented, and indicate that such targets are achievable.

Factor 2 includes, the vision should be ‘A fatality, injury, and disease free workplace’; The goal of ‘Zero fatalities, injuries, and disease’ is an integral part of H&S culture; The goal of ‘zero fatalities, injuries, and disease’ complements the vision of ‘A fatality, injury, and disease free workplace’; The goal of ‘Zero fatalities, injuries, and disease’ is a pre-requisite for optimum H&S performance, and excuses, marginalises H&S.

Factor 3 includes, Accidents occur by default i.e. planned; H&S is a value not a priority; The focus on cost, quality, and time marginalises H&S, and excuses, marginalises H&S. The aforementioned relate to H&S culture and the ‘thought processes’ of participants’.

Factor 4 includes, Accidents are unplanned events; Accidents occur by default i.e. planned, and Construction is inherently dangerous. The aforementioned also relate to H&S culture and the ‘thought processes’ of participants’.

Factor 5 includes, Accidents are part of the job; Accidents are project requirements (especially on complex projects), and ‘Zero harm in construction’ is achievable. The aforementioned also relate to H&S culture and the ‘thought processes’ of participants’.

Construction health and safety conclusions

Although all thirty-eight actions /beliefs /interventions /practices /states are important in terms of achieving zero harm in construction, identification of six groups of factors indicate that the requisite ‘cocktail’ of actions must be in place, and be operational in every entity.

The important clusters, or individual actions relative to achieving zero accidents, injuries, fatalities, and disease in construction, are:

Respect for people

people are our most important resource

planning in general

adequate financial provision for H&S

competencies (surface and core)

Sheq management systems

conformance to requirements

‘zero target’ vision

a range of ‘zero target’ goals

appropriate procurement systems

conditions of contract

project duration

planning at all stages

tertiary education in built environment and construction H&S

client focus on H&S

H&S specifications

A range of ‘designing for construction H&S’ aspects

HIRAs

H&S education and training

consciousness and mindfulness

avoidance of excuses

status of H&S on projects.

Ultimately, the thoughts, beliefs, and commitment of project stakeholders, and the creation of an enabling environment, are of paramount importance.

Current reality includes fatalities, injuries, and disease. Continuous improvement is necessary to achieve the vision and goal of zero harm in construction.

Opinions indicate that the ’zero fatalities’ goal is more achievable than ‘zero incidents’ and ‘zero deviations’, the less severe goals must be targeted due to the ‘multiplier’ relationship between the latter and the more severe. A reduction in these will reduce the incidence of fatalities.

Harm is systemic in construction

This suggestion is premised on the realisation that influences around construction work have made hazards, risks, stressors, accidents, illnesses, and eventual harm, systemic in the construction sector.

Invariably, achieving ‘zero’ targets requires a multi-stakeholder effort throughout the six stages of projects, which include the design, procurement, and construction processes – clients, construction project managers, designers, quantity surveyors, and contractors.

Construction health and safety recommendations

H&S must be a ’project value’ as opposed to a contractor responsibility’, and ideally a partnering approach which focuses the efforts of all project stakeholders on H&S should be adopted.

Given the aforementioned, multi-stakeholder project H&S, quality, and risk plans should be evolved under the umbrella of related management systems.

Design and construction must be integrated in general, but certainly in terms of H&S, and the ‘grey areas’ relative to achieving same must be addressed.

However, tertiary built environment education (all disciplines) that includes construction H&S is a pre-requisite for multi-stakeholder contributions.

A range of ‘zero targets’ must be pursued as any lesser targets imply willingness to entertain non-conformances and promote excuses.

Ultimately, conformance to requirements is the key, however, a pre-requisite for conformance to requirements is that the requirements should be scientifically evolved and communicated.

In parallel, the required surface competencies must exist, else the aforementioned cannot be achieved.

Competencies in turn can only be assured through a formal registration process such as that required by the six South African built environment councils.

Registration of contractors should interrogate H&S, quality, and risk management systems and practices.

Contractors should be pre-qualified

Clearly, contractors should also be pre-qualified in terms of H&S, quality, and risk management systems and practices if the range of ‘zero targets’ becomes an integral part of a project.

Core competencies as pre-requisites for maintaining focus on H&S, ensuring compliance, and realising of ’zero targets’, are:

1 Self-concept: values; aptitude; attitude, and self-image

2 Traits: self-confidence; team player, and handles ambiguity

3 Motives: focus on client success, and preserves organisation /personal integrity.

Prof John Smallwood is one of the authors of the survey and the results report.
Prof John Smallwood is one of the authors of the survey and the results report.
  • Prof John Smallwood (PhD (Constr Man); Pr CM FCIOB; MACPM MESSA; MICOH; MIoSM MSAIOSH) is professor of Construction Management at the Summerstrand North Campus of Nelson Mandela Metropolitan University in Port Elizabeth.
  • Prof Fidelis Emuze is at the Department of Built Environment, Central University of Technology (CUT). The research results report is a joint paper.

REFERENCES

Schwartz, D.J. 1995. The Magic of Thinking Big. London: Pocket Books.

Tryfos, P. 1998. Methods for business analysis and forecasting: texts & cases. New York: Wiley.

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