Health And Safety Issues On Construction Site Construction Essay

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In spite of so much attention given to health and safety issues in several developed countries, the statistics remains to be alarming. The fatal injury rates in the United Kingdom are reported to be four times higher in the construction industry (Rowlinson, 2004). The construction industry comprises many organisations such as property developers, architects, engineers, quantity surveyors, accountants, lawyers management contractors, civil engineer contractors, labours only subcontractors and specialist trades. The industry also operates on regional, national and international scales. Certain projects may involve only the client and the builder while other projects may involve hundreds of suppliers, contractors and consultants. Presence of small firms, subcontracting, fragmentation, irregular employment, limited training and poor supervision are characteristic features of the construction industry. As per HSC (1993), the management of health and safety is basically dependant on the occupational risk related attitudes and behaviours of the organisations board of directors, managers as well as the workers. There are several reasons which directly or indirectly have an impact of the health and safety issues in the construction industry (Rowlinson, 2004).

2.1 Causes of H&S incidents

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2.1.1 Subcontracting systems - It is one of the reasons which affect site safety (Rowlinson, 2004). Generally, most of the work in the construction industry is undertaken on a subcontract basis. This is a system in which a work is awarded to a main contractor, who does not perform the works itself but employs various subcontractors. But this subcontractor firm is rather small compared to the size of the project. These small size firms lack in providing adequate training and education to the workers which in turns affect the productivity, quality as well as safety of the site. Therefore, when the organisations of such a small size firm falls below a critical mass then the resources as well as facilities to enable safe construction is not available. According to Mayhew (1997), firms where subcontracting is common, have a higher incidence of serious injuries and fatalities. Also the subcontracting firm are relatively much smaller firm compared to main contractors. Therefore, are less organised and have less amount of resources for implementing OHS systems. Furthermore these subcontracting firm are less committed as their involvement on site is less.

2.1.2 Contracting system - Generally most of the construction works are awarded to the lowest bidder through the contracting tenders (Bentil 1990). Thus making this system as the cause of cost cutting and claim generation. This in return affects the project time, cost and quality as well as safety. The first thing which is affected in the competitive bidding system is the safety budget which in turns result OHS to suffer. Also the injury rate is high on the projects which were competitively bid (Hinze, 1988). He also commented that focus on these project concentrate on production and as safety does not help production, it suffers when project runs over budget.

2.1.3 Location - most of the construction companies have their head offices and the sites functioning completely independent. The company's safety policies work ineffectively on the construction sites because most of the decision making is taken on the site level. Therefore, however, well organised the head office safety management systems may be this systems is not implemented on site (Rowlinson 2004)

Introduction to Occupational Health and Safety

Many hazards in the construction are well known and most of them are been deeply studied as well. But despite of it, the construction industry keeps showing poor statistics every year related to health and safety (Lingard et al, 2004). One reason for these poor statistics is that the same method of working that has been used generation to generation, thereby giving rise to the same hazards resulting in the same type of incidence of death, injury and illness. Also, the structure and management methods used in construction industry work out against the implementation and identification of innovative solution to the industry's Occupational health & safety problems (Rowlinson & Lingard, 2004). OHS cannot be reduced until and unless new methods of working are adopted. The barriers to the OHS are the organisational structure and the culture of the organisation. As per Lingard, Yesilyurt and De Munk (1999), both safety culture and safety climate are significantly important contribution from perspective of behaviour and social context in the understanding of occupational health and safety.

Safety Culture

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Safety culture can be defined as the product of individual and group values, attitudes, perceptions, competencies, and patterns of behaviour that determine the commitment to, and proficiency of, an organisation's health and safety management (Health and Safety Commission, 1993). Waring (1992) defines safety culture in a very simple terms as aspects of culture that affect safety. Safety culture is generally influenced by factors like attitude and behaviour of people about safety which includes group, technology, economic, religion, location, community and race (Glendon & Mckenna, 1995). According to Rousseau (1990), culture is about experience and interaction of humans, it is very complex. There are 2 aspects related to safety culture viz. Macro and Micro. Macro aspects include language, laws, rituals at the societal level whereas Micro aspects include motivation, trust and violations at the level of individual or group.

The construction sector is an important part of the economy but yet it is considered as the most dangerous, dirty, hard and unreliable (Peckitt, 2001; Glendon & Booth, 2002). Construction industry employs 10% of the working population in the EU, but produces 30% of fatal industrial accidents. According to Cooper (1998), the impact of organisational safety culture not only affects the accident rates but also has significant effects on work methods, absenteeism, quality, productivity, commitment, loyalty and satisfaction. According to Pidgeon (1998), safety culture can act as both the precondition for safe operations and the cause of failures that can lead to accidents. Waring and Glendon (1998) differentiate between two safety culture approaches as top down and bottom up perspectives. Top-down approach is one which views safety culture as a well organised system for managing risk imposed by the management. Bottom-up approach is one which views safety culture as a complex phenomenon emerging from workplace social interactions. To attain an effective OHS risk management, both the perspectives are important i.e. involvement of formal management system and social issues such as trust, blame, risk perspective, learning commitment and motivation.

Fig 2.1 Positive influences on Safety Culture [source: IAEA, 1998]

According to (Jorma, Suvi & Kai, 2004), 2.4 billion working people in the developing countries have to face poor employment conditions, which even does not meet the basic occupational health and safety (OSH) standards. The lack of work safety, excessive amount of work loads and exposure to occupational physical, chemical and biological environment results in to occupational diseases, injuries and approximately 1.2 million fatalities each year. Only 15% of workers in the developing countries have access to occupational health and services. Nearly from 3 decades, there has been some collaboration between the industrialized and developing countries in the field of occupational health and safety but its volume has been very little as compared to other sector of development assistance. Moreover from this 30 years of experience are that the important factors improving OSH in developing countries are legal and policy instruments, national OSH programs, infrastructure for OSH implementation and services. The other key factors that can be considered are establishment if OSH expert human resources, centres serving as engineers for research, training and information and registration systems, convincing government policies and cooperation between the social partners and the government.

As stated by Lin and Mills (2001), Construction is a dangerous industry and therefore increased emphasis needs to be placed on Occupational health and safety (OSH). Most of the research that has been carried out in the field of OSH has shown that the high rates of injury are primarily due to inadequate or non-existent of OHS systems. Though an application of an effective management can lead to safer systems of construction and reduce accidents and work related diseases (Davies and Tomasin, 1999). According to investigation carried out by Nishgaki (1994) in 35 cases of construction injuries between 1981 to 1985, he found that 'Humanware' accounted for much of the occupational accidents while interviewing with construction managers and workers. 'Humanware' means a function composed of leadership, fellowship and the interaction between them. His research suggested that the major causes of OHS failures are; inadequate safety education, inadequate instruction and poor housekeeping. His finding showed that employers' and employees' attitudes play a major role in safety on site. He also commented that management commitment is responsible for the majority of the 'Humanware' problem. Safety records reflect how upper management perceives the causes of safety performance (Dejoy, 1985). He also suggested that safety program is effective when a two way communication is involved between the workers and managers. Also the high level management have little knowledge and experience of site, therefore it is difficult for them to understand to understand the needs of the workers (Dejoy, 1985).

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As per Wilson (2000), safety attitudes varied by the size of the company. He commented that it is difficult to understand whether smaller companies can benefit from higher standards of OHS practise as the implementation cost involved will be high. On the contrary Lingard and Rowlinson (1994) stated that firms having more resources and experience can deal effectively with issues related to health and safety. OHS regulations requiring formal documentation procedures do not fit the traditions, competence and needs of very small companies (Hale and Baram, 1998).

Heinze (1988) stated that more than the employers, it is the employees that are more aware of hazards on the site. They can therefore easily relate the hazards to safety program. Also regular meetings held on site can help to find OHS problems and solutions thereby preventing accidents. Generally a safety committee consists of the employer, worker and subcontractor. Such type of committee encourages interaction between the parties and also improves that trust and communication of the parties involved. Also the expertise of each party can be put to use. These committees have been found to be very effective in discovering unsafe problems and practices. Nishgaki (1994) commented that management commitment should be backed up by hardware such as safety equipment and software such as standard work procedures, safety regulations thereby improving OHS. As per Lingard and Rowlinson (1994), sophisticated scheduling methods improve OHS standards. Though they can only be carried out by larger companies as they have sufficient amount of resources and expertise.

According to Davies and Tomasin (1999), the company safety policy statement issued by the employer should be clearly understood by the employees'. The statement should clearly specify the organisational structure in regards to health and safety responsibilities. It should also state the managers duties and commitment to provide safety information, training and advice to employees. Wilson (2000) stated that companies having poor safety performance often leave safety training to site experience, which may be inadequate to prevent occupational accidents. In the construction industry effective training in one mean through which safety can be improved and also the management team of the company should be pro active in order to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities (Davies and Tomasin, 1999).