Promoting Health And Safety Management On Construction Sites Construction Essay

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Introduction

"To build is to be robbed": Johnson's edict still carries much weight in the modern age. The Latham Report (1994) paints a picture of distrust and conflict, not just between client and contractor but between the design and construction team and within the construction team itself.

The UK Government has attempted since the Latham Report was published in 1994 to change the ethos of the construction industry and make it less conflict orientated. Legislation followed on from Latham in the form of the Housing Grants, Construction and Regeneration Act 1996, and further initiatives in the form of The Egan Report and most recently the Movement for Innovation (M4i). The focus for these initiatives was the performance of the construction industry, principally its inability to satisfy customer expectations, the apparent lack of teamwork between the various contracting parties and the lack of post contract liability. In short, the emphasis was on value for money.

At the same time, initiated by European social legislation, the Construction (Design Management) (CDM) Regulations has provided a focus on health and safety in the design, construction and maintenance phases of construction projects allocating specific responsibilities to those named as function holders under the CDM Regulations.

The issue for consideration within this paper is whether both sets of initiatives can change the culture and focus of the construction industry and act in concert to promote health and safety on construction sites and improve the performance and image of the industry in this respect.

Latham and Egan: A Construction Industry Perspective

Both Latham (1994) and Egan (1998) have concentrated on the concept of the team. Sir Michael Latham's Report "Constructing the Team" was commissioned jointly by the Government of the day and the industry itself and represented an in-depth review of the procurement systems and contractual arrangements which permeated the industry. In doing this Latham considered the position of the main contractor as the focus for many of the long standing problems in the industry: principally, that it is conflict orientated and beset by poor working practices (Baden-Hellard, 1995, Critchlow, 1998). The problems highlighted by Latham in terms of poor level of service, poor end product and poor after sales service are linked to the main contractor and the transactional power afforded to him by his central position in the contractual framework (Berry 2000). It is of little surprise, then, that the aftermath of the Latham report was a series of legislative measures designed to limit this transactional power.

It could be argued, however, that the focus on the contractor as the cause of the ills of the industry ignored a more fundamental issue - the effect on the attitudes of the parties to the contract of the use of a procurement system which is based largely on securing the contract at the lowest price. The common view of the industry was that it was competitive on price but not on quality (Barrie, 1988). Other researchers, Hatush and Skitmore (1997) and Lingard and Holmes (2001) support this view.

The Egan Report "Rethinking Construction" was the report of the Construction Task Force chaired by Sir John Egan (Egan 1998) commissioned by John Prescott to advise him on strategies for improving the performance of the construction industry. Like the Latham Report, Egan was concerned that the Construction Industry was not performing to the best of its abilities and was concerned with customer satisfaction and process and product development. It highlighted a number of drivers for change: committed leadership, a focus on the customer, integrated processes and teams, a quality driven agenda and commitment to people. It also stated that the industry must provide "decent and safe working practices and improve management and supervisory skills at all levels" (Egan 1998 @ p.7). Egan spoke also about commitment to people and the need to motivate operatives through a mixture of supervision and training in a "no blame culture based on mutual interdependence and trust" and set a target to reduce the number of reportable accidents by 20% per year " (Egan 1998 @ p.19).

Equally importantly, Egan made a number of points regarding the attitude of clients and the nature of the industry. Clients were seen as being overly concerned with cost, equating it to value, making selection decisions in relation to both contractors and designers based solely on price (Egan 1998 @ p.10). The industry was seen as being fragmented with the vast majority of companies in the construction industry employing less than eight people (Egan 1998 @ p.11). The picture is one of an industry dominated by small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs), a picture reinforced by Egan's comments regarding a "crisis in training" and the dearth of research and development. These two issues of client orientation and industry fragmentation are, it is suggested, central to the problems facing the construction industry in seeking to change attitudes and performance in respect of health and safety on construction sites.

Key to the achievement of the targets set was the strategy outlined by Egan of Partnering. Inherent in this is the role of the client and the focus on the client as the lead player in implementing change.

Latham and Egan: A Research Perspective

Latham and Egan focused upon partnering as a key strategy in promoting change. Partnering has been described in a number of ways. Typically, the CII (1991, p. iv) refer to it as "long-term arrangements between companies to co-operate to an unusually high degree to achieve separate yet complementary objectives"; Day (1996) saw partnering as the essential element in helping conflict through the eradication of the traditional barriers between client and contractor. The emphasis in these and other definitions of partnering (CII 1991, NEDO 1991) is essentially financial: savings in cost, increases in productivity

To be effective, therefore, partnering must produce tangible benefits for all parties (Critchlow 1998) and to do this requires, it is suggested, a radical reworking of the culture, attitudes and mind-set of all those engaged in the construction process (Marler 2000). Atkinson (1998) identified the importance of the individual in reducing errors on site and as a result improving health and safety and the quality of the construction process as a whole. The question remains, however, as to whether a solution which addresses business objectives is compatible with achieving a solution to health and safety issues which are essentially human relations orientated.

Berry (2000) in a case study based research project investigated the nature of conflict in the construction industry and came to a number of conclusions: that, given the nature and structure of the present procurement methodology, conflict in the construction process is unavoidable; that the dimensions of conflict identified are largely negative and that this negative conflict manifests itself in the form of stress and that negative stress leads to errors which themselves have repercussions which are time, cost and quality related; that management of the individual, though proved to be effective, is often neglected in the construction industry; that the contractor is in a central position to positively control conflict for his own and the client's benefit

In arriving at these conclusions Berry undertook a study of six projects maintaining for each a site conflict diary in which events were initially recorded. From this the events were classified according to four operating levels. From this initial classification the conflict diary was re-written retrospectively and the events reclassified to identify both the causes and effects of conflict. A narrative was also provided and a flow chart of events was prepared to enable a clear picture of the chronology of events and to enable conflict and its financial and operational effects to be accurately traced back to the initial cause.

The advantage of this approach was that it provided depth of analysis to the somewhat one-dimensional level provided by the quantitative analysis of the diary events alone

From this combined analysis it was clear that the particular type of contract had little effect on emergent conflict within the case studies. More prevalent than inter-organisational conflict was intra-organisational conflict arising from both the client and the contractor. For the client this originates with his method of procurement of design and other consultants and continues with the on-going concentration on cost as being the dominant factor in the project. This attitude demonstrably influenced the behaviour of all parties to the contract and contributed to dysfunctional behaviour at critical points in the project life. For the contractor such behaviour exhibited itself inter alia through allocation of resources: failing to match resources to requirements through the inappropriate choice of site management personnel, inappropriate transfer of risk and responsibility at subcontract level.

The issues raised in this and other research (Djebarniu 1996, Loosemore 1999, Loosemore and Tan 2000 and Fraser 2000, Bresnen and Marshall 2000a) all support the points made by Latham and Egan in respect of the main drivers for change; committed leadership, a focus on the customer, integrated processes and teams, a quality driven agenda and commitment to people. All, however, are essentially critical of the focus of the procurement process which is essentially cost and, by extension, conflict orientated.

It can be further surmised that current methods of management within the construction industry appear to owe more to Taylor than to Locke. This is an important distinction when one considers that the drive in health and safety is towards personal responsibility and behaviour based safety management (Lingard and Rowlinson 1998) and poses fundamental questions regarding the ability of the industry to change. An important issue is the attitude of client and contracting organisations towards partnering and the benefits it will provide.

Attitudes to Partnering: Survey and Results

Bresnen and Marshal (2000b) make the point that there is little empirical evidence of the effectiveness of partnering in practice. Indeed, there is little agreement on the form partnering should take: strategic or project based. For the most part the benefits are expressed in terms of profitability, productivity, cost and quality The disadvantages are also couched in the same terms: lack of competition (Davies 1995); additional partnering costs through workshops (Bennett and Jayes 1995, Barlow et al 1997); lack of flexibility in the market place (Critchlow 1998); the domination of existing adversarial attitudes (Berry,2000). The negative comments apply equally to the contractor/subcontractor as well as the client/contractor interface raising concerns about the construction industry's ability to adopt supply chain management as part of its partnering strategy. The implications for the creation of a health and safety culture on site are, it is suggested, a cause for some concern.

In an attempt to further investigate the issues raised above, an investigation was undertaken into the attitudes of parties to the construction process was undertaken to determine their attitudes towards partnering and the benefits its produces.

A total of 86 questionnaires were sent out: 40 to contractors, 46 to client organisations. In selecting the sample group a combination of purposive and systematic sampling was used. The questionnaire was designed to test a number of hypotheses: that partnering is infrequently used in the construction industry; that partnering has the potential to improve client/contractor relations; that partnering has the potential to improve product quality and reliability; that attitudes to partnering from the client side tend to focus on their own accountability; that attitudes from contractors tend to focus on the profit element; that partnering can convey to the parties a number of benefits.

The questionnaire was selected as the most appropriate method of data collection given the time limits imposed on the study and the intention, which was to provide empirical evidence of the use of partnering. The questionnaire content expanded on the hypotheses given and was comprised mainly of closed questions with only two open questions which asked the respondents to expand on their responses to questions relating to the impact of partnering on quality, reliability and supply chain management.

Of the 40 questionnaires sent out to contractors 35 were returned a response rate of 87%. Of the 46 questionnaires sent out to clients 26 were returned a response rate of 56%. A response rate overall of 71%. The breakdown of the respondents is as shown in Table 1 below:

Client %

Contractor%

Quantity Surveyor

38

29

Project Manager

27

28

Director

11

23

Client Manager

8

0

Engineer

8

2

Architect

4

0

Designer

4

0

Recruitment Manager

0

2

Head of Procurement

0

16

Table 1

While Quantity Surveyors and Project Managers dominate the sample, the sample is, it is submitted, representative of organisational structures in client and contracting organisations (Berry 2000). All respondents felt that they were aware of the general principles and objectives of partnering with 73 % of the client group and 91% of the contractor group having had involvement with partnering in the past. For the most part partnering appeared to be client driven with only 20% of respondents reporting contractor driven partnering arrangements.

81% of the client group and 91% of the contractor group were aware of the Latham and Egan Reports though 75% and 51% of the groups respectively felt that it was too early to tell if the targets were being achieved. Confidence in the effect of the reports was marginally higher in the contractor group who were also more confident that the relationship between client and contractor had improved since the Latham Report: 60% compared with 38% in the client group and that the potential for conflict was lessened.

The vast majority of the sample group felt that partnering to succeed must be applied throughout the supply chain. This was one of the questions where the respondents were requested to expand on their choice of answer. The written responses echoed fairly closely the rationale for partnering provided by Egan and other researchers: cost reduction; elimination of waste; improvement in quality and value; fair apportionment of risk. This was supported in a further response where 77% of the client group and 72 % of the contractor group felt that partnering was an aid towards quality enhancement and increased reliability. Again this was expanded upon in written comments which cited the following reasons: clearer communication; clearer risk apportionment; greater commonality of objectives. Overall, a high degree of synchronicity with the findings of Egan and the findings reported by Bresnen and Marshall (2000a) in their critical review of partnering in construction.

Given the level of compatibility with existing research this allows a number of conclusions to be drawn from the data gathered in the survey relating to issues of accountability, profit and specific effects. The results are shown in Table 2 below.

Client

Contractor

Do you feel that a true partnering arrangement can never exist owing to the opposing interests of he two parties

Yes

No

38

62

28

72

Do you agree that partnering has been well received or disagree and feel that is there still a degree of apathy and cynicism

Agree

Disagree

31

69

23

77

Where partnering is used do you feel that clients place too much emphasis upon their own accountability at the expense of the true aims of partnering?

Yes

No

Sometimes

15

27

58

43

8

49

Would you say that contractors pay too much attention to the profit element that is generated rather than embracing the overall objectives of partnering?

Yes

No

Sometimes

77

15

8

34

57

9

Do you feel that partnering will one day replace the more traditional competitive tendering process?

Yes

No

15

85

14

85

Table 2 (From Hughes 2001, p.61)

Despite the clear appreciation of the benefits of partnering there still remains a strong suggestion of cultural problems within the construction industry. There is clearly a reluctance to depart from the traditional methods of cost control through competitive tendering. This, combined with evidence that the contractor is still overly concerned with profitability and the client team with accountability, does not portray a picture of an industry likely to put health and safety first. This was reinforced to an extent by a further series of propositions put to the respondents the results of which are shown in Table 3 below.

Client

Contractor

Partnering….

True

P/T

False

True

P/T

False

Aids speedy resolution of contract disputes

Avoids costly overruns

Promotes better design criteria

Produces safer working practices and sites

Produces increased turnover and profit

Produces increased productivity

Apportions risk fairly

Helps promote teamwork

Merely provides a means to an end

Reduces exposure to litigation

Helps parties to understand each others

Objectives

38

15

23

31

27

27

38

62

38

15

65

58

69

46

23

65

46

42

27

31

53

27

4

16

31

46

8

27

20

11

31

31

8

40

29

40

26

11

29

43

85

29

37

74

54

69

43

49

57

57

49

13

40

51

24

6

2

17

25

32

14

8

2

31

12

2

Table 3 (From Hughes 2001, p.63)

Whilst it may be argued that providing a middle option enables the respondent to avoid a decision it can be proposed that any entries in the true or false columns carry further weight. This being said some interesting conclusions can be drawn from these responses.

On the positive side, there is a definite reinforcement of the utility of partnering in fostering communication and teamwork, this is supported by the small percentage of respondents who felt that there were no benefits in the form of either the avoidance or speedy resolution of disputes. Beyond this general position, however, the messages are considerably more divided and potentially negative

The contractor group were in general less enthusiastic about the financial impact of partnering; 32% did not feel that it increased turnover and profit and only 29% felt definitely that it increased productivity. In the same context 46% of the client group and 25% of the contractor group felt that partnering did not produce safer working practices and sites: only a minority, 31% and 26% respectively felt that there was an improvement. It is suggested that the contractor group responses reflect something of a split between attitudes to the client and attitudes to subcontractors and that whilst there may be better communication between contractor and client, the same does not necessarily hold true for the interface between contractor and subcontractor.

This suggestion is supported by statements made by respondents to the questionnaire where the relationship between contractor and subcontractor was still seen as confrontational despite the importance of the supply chain philosophy. This, it is further suggested, has fundamental implications for the implementation of effective health and safety management systems.

Implementing Health and Safety Management

The overarching strategy for implementing health and safety is legislative; principally the Health and Safety at Work Act 1974 and the Construction (Design and Management) Regulations 1994 (HSE 1994) (CDM) which became active in 1995. There is some debate, however, regarding the effectiveness of the CDM Regulations in improving the safety record of the construction industry. The HSE (1997) in investigating the effectiveness of the CDM Regulations found that both clients and contractors were generally supportive of the regulations and had reacted positively to them in terms of amending their own policies but that there were some concerns which existed relating to the increase in bureaucracy which the regulations imposed which had no apparent impact on efficiency.

The role of the Planning Supervisor was understood as was the need for the Pre-tender Health and Safety Plan but this was undermined by comments contained in the evaluation which suggested that clients were more concerned about the financial benefits to be gained from any new management control system and that contractors were concerned about the application of the regulations to subcontractors and the quality of the information with which they were provided. The results were to some degree inconclusive: there was support for the regulations and a feeling that they provided the vehicle for an increased awareness of safety issues but that it was too early to decide whether they were effective. Further research, however, has provided support for the issues raised by the HSE survey.

The central role of the Pre-tender Health and Safety Plan has been considered by Tam et al (2001) in the context of the Hong Kong construction industry, which has a poor safety record comparative with the UK. They considered the effect of the introduction of the Supervision Plan (comparable with the Construction Health and Safety Plan) and recorded a positive response in terms of awareness on site of health and safety issues. The research findings were qualified, however, by comments regarding the strength of the change and the need to reinforce the message of safety against competing messages of cost and time. Tam and Fung (1998) had earlier established a correlation between the use of sub-contractors and the incidence of accidents on construction sites. These were related also to a lack of safety training and a lack of awareness of the operational and financial effects of accidents amongst small contractors.

Dainty et al (2001) considered the difficulties surrounding effective supply chain management in the construction industry where SMEs employing 24 or less workers comprise almost 98% of companies operating in the construction sector. Like Bresnen and Marshal, Dainty et al found that partnering was restricted to the Client-Contractor interface with the SME section of the industry, who are largely subcontractors having little managerial input. In addition, they found that the SME section was itself layered with varying levels of managerial competence. Supply chains were in themselves fragmented with many SMEs working for a range of contracting organisations. It was clear from their investigations that relationships at the contractor-subcontractor interface were problematic and conflict orientated stemming from the transactional power of the contractor and the tendency of the contracting organisation to focus on costs rather than value. A view supported by Heath et al (1994) and Heath and Berry (1996).

In the same context, Bresnen and Marshall (2000b) investigating the utility of financial incentives as a basis for behaviour modification in the context of partnering, concluded that the financial incentives that form the basis of partnering agreements are of insufficient valence to effectively influence individual behaviour given the complexity of the social and organisational structures normally present on construction sites. The culture on site is not, it is suggested, one which promotes compliance as a normative response.

Griffith and Phillips (2001) in examining the influence of the CDM Regulations on the procurement and management of small building works commented upon the increase in managerial workload imposed by the Regulations, a workload which could not always be borne by the SME. They also found that this top down legislative control did not act to positively change the culture of the organisation and that the way forward to improved health and safety practice was through better training, clearer contractual accountability and improved workplace control.

In a general sense it is accepted that the most effective implementation of health and safety takes place at the level of the individual (Duff et al 1994). This viewpoint has been supported by Lingard and Rowlinson (1998), who linked the improvement of safety on site with motivation of the individual, and Lingard (2001) who associated site based first aid training with improved safety performance on site. The implication being that strategies for improvement must be centred on the individual, suggesting that a top-down approach to behaviour modification on site will be of limited effect. This results in something of an impasse for an industry dominated by top down management and populated by operatives who are traditionally resistant to change and often oblivious to the need to work safely .

Conclusions

There is evidence to suggest that the Government's legislative initiatives in respect of health and safety management in the construction industry have been beneficial in the sense that the CDM Regulations do have a positive effect on safety on site. It is not as easy to establish, however, that the effect is both wide ranging and long lasting - a change in culture. It appears that a number of barriers exist which act to prevent this. The structure of the construction industry, the financial orientation of the procurement process and the adversarial nature of contractual relationships within the industry all combine to limit the effect of health and safety initiatives in the workplace.

Partnering has been proposed as the strategic mechanism through which the culture of the industry will change. The research evidence presented in this paper suggests, however, that this is not the case. It is clear that partnering has some beneficial effects on the client-contractor interface but it is equally clear that this does not extend to the contractor-subcontractor interface. The result is an industry with a fragmented approach to the management of health and safety on site where the cost of health and safety is secondary to considerations of time, cost and quality.

Although the research would suggest that long term improvements can only be achieved through strategies that encourage the individual to be come more safety conscious and establish a minimum level for individual behaviour in this context, a top down strategy is, it is suggested, needed to provide the environment within which this change can occur. Despite the emphasis placed upon the pivotal role of the contractor in determining the culture of contractual relations, the key issue for health and safety lies in the pivotal role of the client in influencing the status of health and safety management as a key issue in the procurement process rather than its present position as being one item on a list dominated by the lowest cost as a criteria for selection.

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